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Moral Panics Are Caused In Mainstream Society Media Essay

Moral panics was a concept introduced by Stanley Cohen in his book Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and the Rockers. Cohen (2002) defines moral panic as a condition, episode, person or groups of people who emerge to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests. Moral panic can either pass by and not return or change policies and legal standards in a society. The framework of moral panic comes from the sociology of law and social problems and the sociology of collective behavior. What Cohen means here is that behaviour and law have a strong effect on how a moral panic is constructed. The behaviour of a society can determine how a moral panic will be created. If the condition is uncommon and persists enough in society, it can create mass hysteria and uproars. The center of the problem is the definition of deviance. In Cohens work he claims that, although most sociologists would believe the opposite, social control leads to deviance. Deviance is created by society. Deviance is formed through harmful actions and consequences. Folk Devils are created to show a society what they should not be. The folk devils are the deviants who break up the moral status quo. The moral panics are caused through their actions.

Moral panics can spread not only through common law, but through mass media. The media can present the facts of a case and generate mass panic and despair. Mass media can also create stereotypes of the deviants and form segregation against them and the rest of society. The media mostly shows stories about crimes, scandals, and epidemics, which cause a moral outcry. The news may not be received first hand; it can be stereotyped and altered. Mass media is used to teach society about what is right and what is wrong. The media presents this moral discourse to society and makes it possible for a widespread panic to occur. Once this panic has occurred, the deviants are isolated from society. Cohens (2002) study shows that a moral panic is simply a cycle; a warning, a threat, the impact, the rescue, the remedy, and the recovery. This is how the panic is carried out.

The discovery and diagnosis of the AIDS and HIV virus caused widespread panic that started in the 1980s. This moral panic was caused by an underlying fear of how AIDS could be contracted and who were already infected. Little information was out about how one person could become infected. The source of the moral panic begins with the social construction of sexuality. The LBGT community, particularly gay men, was found to have the most cases of AIDS infection. Gay men became the folk devil for AIDS/HIV. This led to the alienation of the gay community, effectively stereotyping them as AIDS carriers. In his own study of moral panic in observance of AIDS, Simon Watney (1987) found that the media reacted to AIDS by stirring up panic. The media framed AIDS by focusing on fear rather than allaying it, dramatizing anxiety rather than alleviating it. Media pundits also chimed into the epidemic by calling for drastic measures. Watney quoted one New York Times writer, William F. Buckley, that called for the branding of victims. Buckley said that everyone detected with AIDS should be tattooed in the upper fore-arm, to protect common needle users, and on the buttocks, to prevent the victimization of other homosexuals (Watney, 1987). This panic created mass homophobia. The blame is placed on gay men because they refuse to change their lifestyles, thus creating the disease. Most of the moral panic around AIDS is centered around the gay community. The discovery of the disease has turned homosexual men in folk devils.

Sociologists find a problem with moral panics because they induce irrational fear. A person can not contract AIDS from close, non-sexual contact with other victims. This fear gave AIDS a particular power in its ability to represent a host of fears, anxieties and problems in our current, post-permissive society (Weeks, 1982). The risk factor of AIDS drove people to prejudice. In research of prevention, Sue Scott (1995) found that there were two types of responses to AIDS/HIV: the authoritarian response and the liberal response. The authoritarian response called for the restriction of employment and residences to those infected with AIDS. This response also called for forcible testing and penal isolation. The liberal response did not ask for restrictions, but instead it asked for education and voluntary HIV testing. Safe sex was found to be the main way to prevent AIDS, next to abstinence, but was not being taught. Screening for HIV became a central focus for fear in the moral panic. Scott found that doctors thought they were in severe risk. Many doctors performed tests on their patients without consent. This led to a breach in patient relations. Those who were identified with the AIDS virus also underwent severe mistreatment. The non-threat of AIDS patients infecting others through close contact overshadowed the real threat of AIDS patients contracting diseases due to a weak immune system. This kind of mistreatment and irrational fear made the moral panic grow.

Gay men were the primary target for the AIDS epidemic, and because of this other victims were forgotten. In research conducted by Lesley Doyal (1994), heterosexual intercourse was found to be the most common route for the transmission of the HIV virus. Many women all around the world, especially in Africa, were contracting AIDS at a faster rate than gay men. Women are at greater risk of catching HIV than men due to greater biological vulnerability. Women do not show signs of being infected until it is too late. Doyal also found that many women felt insecure about asserting safe sex with their partners. Men could convince their partner that they do not have a risk, or they can get defensive if the subject of condoms comes up. Scott (1995) found a similar conclusion that straight men did not believe they are at risk due to their own sexuality. Due to the moral panic surrounding gay men and AIDS, evidence showed that straight men felt that they could not get it. Straight men felt that condoms were unnecessary. Scott also found that trust between men and women were at jeopardy due to the moral panic. Trust issues produced high risks for the HIV virus. Scott found that trust became a functional substitute for knowledge. Couples, particularly women, were contracting AIDS because they trusted each other enough to not have safe sex. Trust replaced learning about how one could contract the virus. What this shows is that moral panic causes ignorance to what is really happening and who it is really affecting. The moral panic over AIDS and the gay population overshadowed the growing number of women that were being infected. When the people are not learning about the real risks and the prevention, the disease and the panic grows.

Moral panics have the capability of changing a society. The panics induce fear and threats to a society which lead to prejudice and persecution. Moral panics are socially constructed to make people stray way from deviance and aspire to stop it. Victims of AIDS/HIV have faced prejudice for being affected with the disease. The moral panic has taken away the rights of those infected and placed them into the category of folk devils or deviants. The hysteria over the AIDS epidemic made people live in fear, wondering who could have the disease or not. Sociologists have found that moral panics can be crippling to a society. Without proper education of safe sex and how to contract the virus, the moral panic over HIV/AIDS could have continued. Moral panics can end if the true facts are let out by the media and the government. To end a moral panic, one must learn about what is actually happening and become informed. Ignorance over an issue is what makes it continue to be a social problem.

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