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Moral panics – video nasties

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MORAL PANICS ESSAY - VIDEO NASTIES The term 'moral panic' suggests a dramatic and rapid overreaction to forms of deviance or wrongdoing believed to be a direct threat to society. The most common definition of a moral panic is the opening paragraph of 'Folk Devils and Moral Panics' by Stanley Cohen: Societies appear to be subject, every now and then, to periods of moral panic. (1) A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; (2) its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; (3) the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people; (4) socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions; (5) ways of coping are evolved or (more often) resorted to; (6) the condition then disappears, submerges or deteriorates and becomes more visible. Sometimes the object of panic is quite novel and at other times it is something which has been in existence long enough, but suddenly appears in the limelight. Sometimes the panic passes over and is forgotten, except in folk lore and collective memory; at other times it has more serious and long-lasting repercussions and might produce such changes as those in legal and social policy or even in the way the society conceives itself. ...read more.


The first such panic occurred between 1982-1984 during the influx of video cassette recorders (VCR), one-third of households owned or rented a VCR. Coincidentally, Hollywood produced a crop of gruesome horror films which prompted many complaints, due to the extreme violence of such films, including sadism, mutilation and cannibalism. Laws were set up to prevent children from renting or buying 18 certificate films, and The Daily Mail's 'Ban The Sadist Videos' campaign was set up. During the course of this first 'video nasty' moral panic, the term 'video nasty' was unmistakably synonymous simply with horror films and by 1984 the Video Recordings Act had been set up and became law. During the Bulger trial the press used emotive language to create a moral panic about the influences of video nasties. The press wanted to blame the moral decline on liberal permissiveness, the collapse of family life and the failings of schools, but the real culprit in the Bulger case was the arguments about the effects of the media. Every newspaper focused in detail on the alleged influence of 'video nasties'. The Sun declared that "An x-rated video may have sown the seeds of murder in the mind of one of James Bulger's killers" and the Daily Mirror ran the headline "Judge Blames Violent Videos". 'Child's Play 3', a film about a doll which comes to life and commits a series of murders, had been rented by one of the parents of one of the boys shortly before the murder. ...read more.


The press, using sensational media scaremongering, as they do to sell more papers, focused entirely on how violent films and in particular 'Child's Play 3' incited the two boys to commit murder. Describing the film using words such as "sick" and "evil", and even drawing parallels between the killings in the film and how James Bulger was murdered, of which none were proved in court. Moral panics tap into the public's fears for their safety and the safety of their society around them. In many instances the press coverage of such events doesn't help in alleviating the public's fears, more often than not the press heighten these fears. They do this through sensationalism reporting. As tragic as it was that a young toddler was killed it allowed the people who hold power in this country to enforce their ideas and rules - more CCTV cameras were installed in the country because of how essential they were in identifying James' murderers. Many panics result in official change and have long-lasting repercussions, as was the case of the video nasties moral panic. The Video Recording Act 1984 was set up introducing the regulations of videos through the British Board of Film Classification. The debates upon the lack of parental control in monitoring children's viewing and the dangers of young children watching films intended for a mature audience led to further regulations in 1994. ...read more.

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