The Media and Moral Panics: 3 Short Films

These films developed out of a range of interviews we did with a number of leading academics on the topic of the media and moral panics, one of which subsequently became the film “The Cannibal on Bus 1170 (Rethinking Moral Panics)” featuring the Canadian academic Heidi Rimke:

More-generally, a key theme coming from many of the interviews was the relationship between media-generated moral panics and childhood – a reflection of the contemporary idea that children, in particular, are increasingly seen as “vulnerable individuals” who require adult protection from a range of dangers, not the least being the twin-headed threat of video games and social media.

Sociologically, however, I was more-interested in looking at the historical development of media panics around technology in general because I think it both highlights our ambivalent relationship to powerful media, such as cinema and television, and also illustrates how moral panics around childhood don’t simply reflect contemporary fears but are rooted in long-standing power relationships between those who consume media and those who want to regulate that consumption.

These three films, therefore, provide a broad overview of debates about media consumption and its relationship to a supposedly vulnerable group: children.

Although the series focus is specifically the media and moral panics, the films are also useful for teachers and students looking for a different take on audience effects – particularly those models, such as the hypodermic syringe / magic bullet, that argue for direct and long-lasting media effects on susceptible audiences.

Children and the Media 1: Inventing Innocence

The first film in the series lays the groundwork for further films by looking briefly at how, over the past 200 years, the idea of children as a vulnerable social group was socially constructed.

The film includes contributions from Prof. Chas. Critcher (UK), Prof. Catharine Lumby (Australia) and Dr. Charles Krinsky (North America).

Children and the Media 2: Cinema – The Darkness on the Edge of Town.

The second part of our sprint through media and moral panics in the 20th century builds on the notion of childhood innocence established in Part 1 by linking ideas about age to the rise and development of cinema.

In particular, Prof. Chas. Critcher outlines some of the forces – such as moral entrepreneurs / cultural guardians – and ideas behind the development of various forms of “soft censorship” through age classifications.

Children and the Media Part 3: Television – Adam Raised A Cain.

In the third instalment of our examination of the media and moral panics Prof. Chas Critcher looks at the role of television since the 1950’s.

Here the focus is on various aspects of social and psychological harm: from anxieties about child socialisation and development to fears about copy-cat violence and exposure to sexually-explicit material.  

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