Moral Panics

One of the readings for this week in my course: Media and Communication Futures is that of Chapter 1 from Folk Devils and Moral Panics by Stanley Cohen.

I thought this text offered an interesting angle on what moral panics involve and their implications.

In relation to the R18+ Classification issues here in Australia, a particular statement in this chapter points out something that is actually, when translated into a video games context, reinforces the opposed views on this campaign.

…being caught and publicaly labelled is just one crucial contingency which may stabilize a deviant career and sustain it overtime. (pg. 7)

Whilst this statement refers to deviants of society being placed into a stereotype, it also raises the issue as to why more people are jumping to oppose the classification then embrace it. Politicians have spent so much time, effort and resources in labeling the explicit games that they want to so desperately prohibit us from purchasing, that it has created this canonical society where because what we are being told, is to the point of unquestionable authority – a psychologist states that violent video games make you children potential killers and we accept it, we don’t question it and enter what Cohen calls a sceptical revolution. (pg.5)

Why is this bad? Why should we not accept that those of high academic status are warning us about these issues and enter what is defined as moral panic?
There are two sides to the story. There are psychologists writing articles and papers about the effects of video games, namely shooters, indicating the way they have enhanced the physical structure of our brains, allowing us to develop better cognitive skills. Whilst on the other hand, like I previously mentioned you have psychologists and public figures claiming that video games are the “terrorists playgrounds” they teach you skills on how to kill people, they train you to be murderers. Time and time again you find articles about how killers used video games as training tools. Naturally as a result of moral panic, everyone jumps on the bandwagon, pitchforks and torches ready to burn the proverbial witch – the violent video games. As a result, this synonymous linking between video games and murderous escapades stabilises, the more often then not, negative opinion that video games are dangerous.

Cohen points out writings of Lemert, who distinguishes between the differences of primary and secondary deviation: Primary deviation is where an individual does something that is troublesome but does not get recognised in society for their actions as a deviant; whereas, secondary deviation is where society labels an individual as a type of deviant and therefore they act upon it in a means of defense, attack and adjustment to the problems created by the societal reaction to it. (pg. 7)

If you place this in relation to classifying video games, could the constant emphasis that video games make us violent, result in secondary deviation?

All page numbers are in reference to this source: Cohen, Stanley. Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers. Routledge, 1980.

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