Youth/Subcultures and Moral Panics

Here is a really interesting look at moral panics/youth culture and the house/rave scene.

In youth culture, Teds paved the way for Mods. The youth market now had the economic power to rebel. Then it became the Mods versus the Rockers and it was at this point the media became obsessed with youth culture.

In his book ‘Folk Devils and Moral Panics’ Stanley Cohen (1972) suggests In every era there are groups of people who are ritually villified and the media plays a significant role in this process. He says there are several stages:

  • someone or something is defined as a threat to values or interests;
    • this threat is depicted in an easily recognisable form by the media;
    • there is a rapid build-up of public concern;
    • there is a response from authorities or opinion makers.

This group is seen as a threat to the order of society and the the media is constructing  this threat. Cohen says there is a mood of public anxiety. The media creates folk devils to blame for the ills of society (Mods/Rockers). It could be a bust up at the seaside (stage1), followed by an unusual press interest and this is exaggerated in the national press (stage2). It becomes an outcry, a public mood,  that is then closed with more legislation. Legislation by tabloid. It goes on to the next moral panic.

This happens when society is unsure of itself. When the rules of society are changing and leaving something of a vacuum. The media is known for exaggerating the moral panic.

We can look at the ‘Rave’ scene as an example of this.

The acid house revolution originally came from Chicago (the term “house music” comes from Chicago club the Warehouse). In the mid-80s, the UK embraced acid house. It was the biggest youth revolution since the 60s. People were meeting in masses at warehouses and fields, and danced for hours, some taking drugs (acid was a popular drug choice in the early days).

The rave scene was first embraced by the media. ‘The Sun’ sold smiley t-shirts and described it as ‘cool and groovy’. I went to one or two myself, they were!

A marginalised youth were coming together in a massive way in a  Margaret Thatcher’s authoritarian Britain. It was hedonism in hard times. Social life had moved beyond constraints of normal life.

It wasn’t long before it became a challenge to authority. The establishment became worried it was becoming mass. So began a tabloid ping pong.

The media sensationalised the dangers of acid house and ecstasy, prompting parliament to pass new laws aimed at curbing the revolution and the police to establish a unit dedicated to stopping unlicensed parties.

By July 1990 increased police powers and fines were introduced. The Broadcasting Act made it illegal to advertise on pirate radio. In 1994 the Criminal Justice Act was introduced.

The rave scene was the longest running moral panic.


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