There is no panic like “moral panic”, a term coined by sociologist Stanley Cohen in the 1960s and defined as: “a widespread, often irrational fear that someone or something poses a threat to the values, security and interests of a community or society â. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s because we frequently experience such panics, whether caused by Aurat March, smartphones, occasional commercials / series / movies, or more recently TikTok. Moral panics are fun for (almost) everyone and are (almost) always designed by an elite eager to maintain (and increase) their authority.
First: something or someone is referred to as a âpopular devilâ; a threat to social values ââand norms. Second: The media and the community at large present the problem in the most simplistic and black and white way possible, adding apocalyptic flavoring and predicting the impending collapse of society in the face of this trumped-up threat. In response to this “symbolic representation of the threat,” public sentiment is stoked, and in the final phase, politicians, regulators, and the judiciary spring into action, simultaneously fanning the flames and responding disproportionately to the threat by. laws, prohibitions and, in cases, persecution, with the end result of increasing their own power and authority.
Lily: Moral panic and social change
It’s a story as old as civilization. Ancient Rome experienced a moral panic over the âforeignâ cult of Bacchanalia, which operated outside the confines of the Senate and the moral codes of Roman society. It started with a complaint from a woman whose lover was planning to join the cult and therefore should break up with her, and, once the Senate started a frenzy, culminated in the massacre of thousands. This overreaction was aided by the fact that the Senate and State, reeling from Hannibal’s invasion and the threat of victorious generals gaining public favor, had to reaffirm their authority and invent a common enemy against which to stand. unite. It worked wonderfully.
Similar are the 14th-17th century European witch hunts; here we have seen a moral panic stoked by the church, aided by entrenched patriarchy, which has resulted in the murder of countless women. Here, too, we see the need to assert authority playing a key role: the worst persecutions have taken place where rival Christian sects fought for domination, and each clung to this “cause” in order to prove his religious references. The Inquisition, short of Jews and Moors to persecute, also found this new frenzy useful to maintain its importance and the secular courts, unwilling to see their authority weakened, went further and led the charge when it came to to execute suspected wizards. . Everyone had a great time except the thousands of women who were tortured and killed as a result.
In Pakistan, moral panic usually culminates in bans.
Fortunately, such panics have become considerably less genocidal over time, if not less ridiculous. Take 17th century England where a fear was created that people readâ¦ too much. You see, advances in printing methods and papermaking have made books (usually pulpy novels) available to the masses. And my Lord, was there a panic: these cheap novels have been blamed by politicians, activists and clergy, all avidly amplified by the tabloids, for crime and vagrancy and even murder and suicide and, in retrospect , the language used reflects the contemporary language used against mass and social media.
When Victorian England encountered the bicycle, panic ensued with the clergy shouting that these newly mobile women would now engage in all manner of licentious behavior like infidelity and prostitution. There were also concerns that cycling would make women infertile. (Interestingly, these are all pretty much the same arguments made by Saudi clerics against women driving.) The panic ended once the clergy realized that the cycles allowed more people going to church just like religious people in our part of the world rejected television until they realized that they could use it to their advantage.
We’ve seen global panics over the youth subculture, activism, comics, movies, and most recently smartphones and social media. In Pakistan, these typically result in bans by hyperactive regulators or bans imposed by courts in response to frivolously frivolous petitions. Take TikTok which has (so far) been banned and not banned three times due to its “obscene and immoral” content. It doesn’t matter that such content is to be searched, or that it is displayed as the algorithmic result of your search history and not because evil TikTok wants to corrupt this pious nation. Never mind that TikTok removed over six million such videos from its Pakistani service in the first half of the year. Never mind that such arbitrary prohibitions are frowned upon by international investors. What matters is that amplifying such panics allows you to present yourself as a savior of society and morality while also empowering yourself. Why use common sense when panic pays off?
The writer is a journalist.
Posted in Dawn, le 5 July 2021