Moral panicA moral panic is a semi-spontaneous or media-generated mass movement based on the perception that some individual or group, frequently a minority group or a subculture, is dangerously deviant and poses a menace to society. These panics are generally fuelled by, although not always caused by, media coverage of social issues. A widely circulated and new-seeming urban legend is frequently involved. These panics can sometimes lead to mob violence. The term was coined by Stanley Cohen in 1972, who coined the phrase to describe media coverage of Mods and Rockers in the United Kingdom in the 1960s.
Recent moral panics in the UK have included the ongoing tabloid newspaper campaign against paedophiles, which led to the assault and persecution of a paediatrician by an angry mob in August 2000, and that surrounding the murder of James Bulger in Liverpool in 1993.
Examples of moral panics, or real or imagined phenomena that spurred moral panic:
- Cocaine (drug) - esp. urban legend of the "Negro Coke Fiend"
- The Columbine massacre led to many schools over-reacting against imagined deviance among their pupils
- Ecstacy (drug) - for example, after the death of Leah Betts in the UK.
- Horror comics caused a moral panic in the 1930s
- Marijuana (drug) - see Reefer Madness (movie promoting an urban legend)
- Mods and Rockers caused moral outrage in Britain in the 1960s
- Prohibition - a period in the United States when alcoholic beverages were prohibited.
- Rock 'n' Roll music
- Rap music
- Satanic ritual abuse
- Snuff movies
- Video nasties - films depicting violent acts supposedly released on VHS in Britain in the 1980s
- Videogames and violence
- War on drugs
- War on Terrorism
- Witch hunts
- White slavery
- Folk devil
- Mass hysteria
- Oh, we got trouble!
- Right here in River City!
- Cohen, Stanley. Folk devils and moral panics. London: Mac Gibbon and Kee, 1972.