The Anatomy of a Moral Panic | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED

The Anatomy of a Moral Panic

In these episodes, there is a widespread fear and anxiety over a perceived threat to society and order. The fear and anxiety are excessive and unreasonable (hence “panic”). This is because either the threat or problem is completely imaginary or its extent and severity is seriously exaggerated even when there is a real phenomenon. The threat is often associated with a specific deviant group or identity. These are the “folk devils” of Cohen’s title.

Again the group may be a real, actually existing one that is demonized and caricatured, or it may again be completely imaginary, with no actual existence. Confusingly though, in some cases an initially imaginary group or subculture becomes real, as people start to adopt the behavior and appearance of the invented and imaginary deviant group.The final crucial element is that the supposed threat or problem and the group supposedly responsible for it are discussed and described using the language of morality; the group is seen as evil or malevolent or as reflecting a moral failure of some kind (hence “moral”).

So there is a recurring social phenomenon in which many people are gripped by the fear that social order is threatened by some behavior or practice that is both harmful and immoral or motivated by ill will. This state of panic exists despite there not being any real foundation for it.