A moral panic is a term used to describe a sudden flurry of conservative attitudes towards the media (usually film or music) when something which is perceived as too shocking or graphic is released to the public. For example when the film Reservoir Dogs was released in the UK there was a “Moral Panic” because many thought that the wanton violence, and in particular the way the violence was treated by director Quentin Tarantino was offensive and repulsive. This moral panic spread like a forest fire and within a couple of weeks of its release the film was successfully banned.
It stayed banned for several years until a slightly edited version came out on video, such was the strength of the furore surrounding its original release. This is a textbook example of a moral panic. In more recent days there has been an ongoing moral panic against violence in the media as a whole instead of against any particular film. The main champions of this recent panic, notably watchdogs and voluntary parents associations, say that there is good reason for this sudden morality crusade.
Robert Peters, president of Morality in Media, inc. says that violence in movies today is wrong for four main reasons “The first problem is that there is too much of it (violence) the glut of media violence desensitises viewers and contributes to ‘Mean World Syndrome’ (a wholly negative view of the world) secondly much of it (media violence) can be easily imitated, especially by young children a third problem is the manner in which violence is depicted.
It is one thing to show a shooting or a stabbing; it is another to show it in sadistic slow motion with the bullets actually penetrating the body The fourth problem is Hollywood’s infatuation with guns, instead of portraying guns as, at best, a necessary evil, handguns especially are portrayed as a means of empowerment” Moral panics are usually inspired by real life events and tragedies for which the media, and usually the director of the most violent film of the moment, receive blame and condemnation. Recently, the Columbine High School massacre sparked a moral panic into two areas of the media, violent films and violent music.
This particular moral panic is still ongoing, as America decides which to ban, guns or screen violence. This problem was at least partially solved earlier this year when the United States senate unanimously agreed with a bill to prohibit violent videos. The bill has not been passed yet, indeed it has only gone through the first part of a long legislation process, but the ball has started rolling and I can’t foresee it coming to a halt when you consider the amount of violence which is actually available for public consumption.
Yes, the media of today IS extremely violent and the music of today (in particular Marilyn Manson, Cradle of Filth etc ) does send out unorthodox messages to the people who listen to it. However, the question we are faced with, the question we keep coming back to, again and again is Does It Have A Negative Effect On People? The people who instigate and support moral panics might say yes, there is evidence all around us, from the unconventional dress sense of young people who listen to music like Marilyn Manson, Cradle of Filth etc to tragedies such as the Columbine High School Massacre.
However, in spite of all of the studies which have been carried out and suggest otherwise, there is no real tangible link between cinematic “fake” violence and real life actual violence. Therefore, are moral panics unjustified? There are good arguments to be made for both cases but I would say that there are certain times when moral panics ARE justified. Take the case of A Clockwork Orange for example. Whilst I don’t think that the film caused people to act any more violently than they usually did, I DO however think that the general public was not ready for a film of that kind to be released.
It was too controversial, too close to the edge and was not suitable for cinema audiences because they had never seen anything like it before. Whether you think the film is a philosophical masterpiece or ultra-violent trash depends on your point of view but whatever your opinion of the film, it WAS much too violent for the time when compared to other violent films of that era. The violence was not only extremely abundant and graphic but it was taken lightly and brutal rape scenes were filmed with the main instigator of the rape performing a rendition of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ and violently beating his victims in time with the music.
This was an unacceptable way to show violence and was the main reason for the huge moral panic surrounding the film. In conclusion I will say that although moral panics are becoming more and more frequent with each passing year as films, and crimes, get more violent. I personally don’t feel that the majority of them are justified. There are cases, however, when appropriate action should be taken if a film is too ahead of the curve, as A Clockwork Orange was but in retrospect films of that nature can be judged more impartially and be released when in it generally felt the viewing public at large can cope with it.