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Posts tagged ‘moral panic’

A recent dispatch from the continuum of moral panic

One of the latest “it” books for Young Adults to receive moral panic from parents is the dystopian sci-fi trilogy The Hunger Games.  In the novels, children must fight for their respective geographical regions in violent, homicidal contests.  The books have become very popular, leading to a soon-to-be-released film.  But since this novel is aimed at YA readers, its depiction of children waging war upon each other – even killing one another – has ruffled the feathers of some parents.  In this article dating from October, 2010, a New Hampshire parent of an 11 year old daughter has called for her local school district to remove the book from its reading schedule.  The mother claims that her 11 year old had nightmares after reading some of the novel.  She also claims the violence depicted could numb some children.

These concerns fit into class discussions on moral panic.  Such worries over violence are echoed in our studies on comic books.  Worries over a detrimental numbing effect coincide with our studies on parental fears of television.  In both cases, the New Hampshire parent prefigures negative ramifications on her child – and other children – due to exposure to what she deems questionable subject matter involving violence.

The article goes on, however, to voice others’ opinions about the propriety of the novel and the demands one parent can have over a group of children.  A censorship expert cautions against this tyranny of the minority in the article.  She claims that these issues are very delicate, but ultimately it isn’t right for one parent to hold sway over a curriculum involving 20 or more children.  This underlines an important aspect of class discussions on moral panic.  Who exactly is right?  The parent (or parents) objecting to material or those who refuse to censor creative expression?  At the time of the article, neither side is victorious.  A committee had been formed to discuss the book and make a decision.  What they decide will effect whether the book is banned, or if it will continue to be read.

 

On an interesting side note, the article mentions that the book is being read as an alternative for children who choose not to take a foreign language class.  In my opinion, that should be what the outrage is about.  How a pop culture, YA book can stand in for exposure to another culture’s language is beyond me.  It seems silly to get into an uproar over “appropriate content,” but not to be concerned with a lack of interest children have (or are motivated to have) in learning a new language.

Television and Children: Health Concerns

Photo from almightydad.com, a parenting website.

An article from Time magazine claims that watching television is sedentary behavior, which leads to obesity and bad health. The author of the article, Alice Park, says that researchers in the U.S. and in Spain studied 111 children 3-8 years old and concluded that of all the kinds of inactivity they studied, tv-watching was worst. The study showed a higher blood pressure in kids who watched a lot of tv, whether the kid was overweight or healthy. Other activities such as computer usage did not show the same blood pressure issues. The researchers tracked the childrens’ inactivity over one week using accelerometers. They found that kids who watched 90 – 330 minutes of tv per day had systolic and diastolic blood-pressure readings that were much higher than children who watched less than half an hour per day. The author quotes Dr. David Ludwig of Children’s Hospital Boston, who says, “These results show that TV-viewing really is the worst of all possible sedentary activities”. She also cites the American Academy of Pedriatrics, which recommends that children under 2 should not watch tv at all and that older children should watch only 1 or 2 hours a day. The researchers also explain that tv-watching is often accompanied by eating ‘junk food’, which can also raise blood pressure readings.

The author, Alice Park, is a staff writer for Time magazine. She generally reports on health and medicine issues. Perhaps as a result of her background, the article seems much more focused on the medical/health effects of watching too much tv rather than the psychological effects. This differs from most of the readings, which have been more focused on psychological impacts.

According to Lynn Spiegel, adults attacked television for several reasons. One reason is that graphic violence, sexuality, and bad behavior have unwholesome effects on children which threaten “the need to maintain power hierarchies between generations and to keep children innocent of adult secrets” (144).  Parents also worried that tv did not promote family values, and felt a lack of control over what the children were exposed to (147).  Adults had “a marked desire to keep childhood as a period distinct from adulthood”, so they were extremely concerned about children aquiring knowledge of adulthood before they should (150). And, of course there were fears of children imitating on-screen violence and becoming juvenile delinquents (146). However, there is some overlap between these two sources. Spiegel mentions the idea of “telebugeye”, or “a pale, weak, stupid-looking creature who grew bugeyed from sitting and watching telvision too long” (147). Parents were convinced that telvision was becoming an addiction for children, which would “reverse good habits of hygiene, nurtrition, and decorum, causing physical, mental, and social disorders” (147). I think the Time article reveals something new about the adverse effects of television, (the blood pressure findings) although the topic of health concerns as a result of watching tv is not new. These worries voiced in the Spiegel reading and the Time article have been constant since the 50’s.

In SOPA/PIPA debate, Paramount seeks out young allies

After the widespread reactions against the anti-piracy initiatives SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act), supporter of the bills, Paramount, directed its efforts towards educating the educated by reaching out to universities with prominent law schools in a letter sent out earlier this month. Paramount hopes to address the issue of “content theft, its challenges, and possible ways to address it” either in a “formal presentation followed by an open discussion period or to participate in a class session”.
The author of the article, “Paramount Wants To Talk To Students About How They’re All Thieves & Then Ask For Ideas On What To Do” and its follow up “More Details About Paramount’s Offer To Law Schools To Teach Them About The Evils Of ‘Content Theft’”, Mike Masnick, interprets the effort as a way of convincing ”the next generation of lawyers to come help them try to cripple the internet”  and further spreading the moral panic phrase of “content theft” by presenting the destructive effects of copyright infringement.

Many websites participated in the strike against SOPA and PIPA. Bills that are supported by companies like Paramount Pictures.

This seems fairly similar to the discussion over the moral panics caused by comic books in the 1950s. The “defendants” in both cases have had to defend freedoms and their right to expression -be it through horror/crime comics or through a video mashup of “The Fighter” and “Mark Wahlberg talks to animals”. In either case, it appears that those who have been rallying against the methods of expression have had intimidation on their side -either threatening with jail time, fines, or shutting down the hosts- to further their cause. Hopefully this time, there aren’t as many casualties.

Pog Panic

 

POG matches played on school playgrounds during the 90s often resembled gambling.

During the early 1990s a game emerged from Hawaii that would, like a Hurricane, take the nation’s youth by storm. From coast to coast, children of the 90s were playing “Pog”—a simple, bizarrely popular game that was traditionally played with milk bottle caps. The caps were originally made of cardboard and stapled shut onto the lids of the containers. Hawaiian children would collect these caps, stack them, and take turns throwing a heavier cap to slam on top of the stack. Overturned caps were counted as points, thus, the object of the game was to flip over as many caps as possible. When the stack was depleted, whoever retained the most caps was proclaimed the winner.

In 1993 Alan Rypinski turned the idea into a multi-million dollar business venture known as the World Pog Federation. Pogs were so common that the Federation’s lawyers compared the legal battle for the Pogs trademark similar to the ones endured by Coke, Kleen-ex, and Q-tip. With many imitators vieing for the “Milk Cap” market, World Pog reached marketing agreements with major companies like Warner Bros. to differentiate their product. According to the New York times, “A packet of caps cost a quarter and up, while collectibles could run as high as several dollars.” It was only a matter of time before this value system translated to the school playground, creating problems within grade schools across the nation.

More often than not, the game was played primarily for fun and all caps were returned to their rightful owners as the match came to an end. Though, to some, playing for fun was not enough to elicit the feeling of true excitement (or competition). When children discovered the exchange value for highly sought after Pogs, a moral panic struck a nerve in the elementary educational system across America. More and more children were playing for “keepsies” on the playground. Adding to the already violent motion of “slamming” plastic and metal objects onto concrete, children who did not adhere to the rules, or who were not accustomed to losing often, would duke it out to reclaim their prescious Pogs. Due to the violence and resemblance to gambling, parents and school administrators saw the game as a threat to the moral interests of their children. As a result, Pogs were banned indefinitely from schools and the trending game quickly died out shortly thereafter.  

 

Eminem

 

Eminem wanted poster

Eminem wanted poster (poster.net)

When the white rapper Eminem, formerly known as Marshall Bruce Mathers III, came on to the hip-hop scene in 1998, he quickly became every parents’ worst nightmare; he was overtly homophobic, excessively violent, and blatantly misogynistic, but most importantly, in a hip-hop culture largely dominated by African Americans, he was a face that middle-class, white children could relate to.

For a mere fifteen dollars, which could easily be saved up from allowance and lunch money, any kid (myself among them) could purchase one of Eminem’s albums on their own, despite the Parental Advisory sticker on the cover of the album, which was supposed to prohibit children under seventeen from buying the album but which was loosely enforced.

Much like the moral panic of the 1940’s and 50’s surrounding comic books, the controversy surrounding Eminem and his impact on children became a national talking point, with much of the public split between whether he should be considered a poetic genius or whether he was simply corrupting the minds of the youth. Just as comic books were thought to have been “the direct contributing cause of many incidents of juvenile delinquency and to the imbedding of immoral and unhealthy ideas” (144), so too were Eminem’s vulgar lyrics, though perhaps with a bit more merit.

Following the release of Eminem’s second album, The Marshall Mathers LP in 2002, the Eminem controversy boiled over even further as Eminem began to receive criticism from an audience he had not expected: kids. Students at Sheffield University decided to ban their own radio station from playing any of Eminem’s songs because, according to Dan Morfitt, the head of music at the station, “three people out of a student community of 20,000 complained.” This event, similar to the comic book burnings cited by David Hajdu, begs the question of whether kids themselves were actually offended, or whether the decision to ban Eminem was actually just “the puppetmastery of reactionary adults exploiting children too sheepish to defend their own enthusiasms” (119).

The controversy surrounding Eminem hardly hurt his sales, however, as he went on to be the best selling artist of the decade, proving, just as comics had during their golden era, that the more parents hate something, the more kids can’t get enough of it.

 

 

Doll Dilemma

This is a replica of the Workout Barbie from Toy Story 3.

It appears that most decades have been marked by some sort of moral panic outbreak. Most of the time, the hysteria stems from adults fearing that some object of pop culture is harmful in one way or another to the younger generation. A February 6, 2012 article found on Reuters.com, “Aww, man! Bart Simpson joins Barbie in Iran ban”, addresses the recent move by Iran to ban the selling of “The Simpsons” dolls, as well as Iran’s last month decision to crack down on Barbies. The article states that: “The Simpsons are corroding the morals of Iranian youth” (“Aww, man! Bart Simpson joins Barbie in Iran ban”). In the article, Mohammad Hossein Farjoo, Secretary for Policy-making at the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, expresses his dissatisfaction with the longest-running American sitcom, “The Simpsons”. Farjoo is unwilling to promote this animated sitcom, and in turn has put a ban on the importation goods associated with it. The article mentions Farajoo’s disapproval of the values held by the Simpson family, which are “self-centered and irreligious” (“Aww, man! Bart Simpson joins Barbie in Iran ban”). The selfish and inappropriate conduct of one of America’s most well-known families, the Simpsons, is contrary to Iranian standards; therefore, Iranian officials deem it necessary to take all precautions in order to avoid losing their youth to “Western intoxication” (“Aww, man! Bart Simpson joins Barbie in Iran ban”).

All 5 members of the Simpson family from the animated sitcom, "The Simpsons".

This fear of an animated television show corrupting the Iranian youth parallels a great deal with the comic book scare of the 1950s in America. In the 1950s, many adults feared that comic books were negatively influencing the younger generation, as was mentioned in David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague. Hajdu quotes a statement made by Chief Chris K. Keisling: “They [mothers] are helpless to protect their children from the lurid booklets through [which] cavort half-nude women…[and which]…belittle law enforcement and glorify crime” (Hajdu 89). American adults feared that adolescents were easily influenced, and thus believed that the content and values found in comic books resulted in misbehavior and juvenile delinquency. As a result, attempts were made to ban certain comics books and write up legislation that controlled the content written in them. This is quite similar to the current events taking place in Iran, which are driven by Farjoo and others who share his concern with “The Simpsons”, and their potential to corrupt the Iranian youth by instilling values that are disagreeable with those of the Iranian culture.

Iran has taken further action to protect their traditional values, such as their previously established ban on the importation of Barbies. The apparel, or rather lack of apparel, worn by Barbies differs a great deal from the traditional dress code of an Iranian woman; the article states: “The American doll’s full figure and revealing wardrobe particularly offend Iran’s leaders, who decree that women must be fully swathed in loose-fitting clothes in public” (“Aww, man! Bart Simpson joins Barbie in Iran ban”). The Barbie doll is offensive to Iranian officials who do not want to risk young girls being influenced by their half-dressed Barbie doll, for fear that such a toy might prompt girls to question or even rebel against the conservative dress code that their culture expects of them. Sharing the same concern, the Hajdu passage mentioned above addresses the American adult concern with the images of scandalously dressed women that adolescents were exposed to in comic books.

Both the Iranian adults of today and the Americans of sixty plus years ago share the belief that some object of pop culture, whether it be television shows, dolls, or comic books, are having negative impacts on the younger generation. Neither culture, American or Iranian, would or will stand by and allow these pop culture sensations to “brainwash” their youths into acting in ways adults perceive(d) to be shameful without putting up some sort of fight to try and stop it.

Goosebumps

A "Goosebumps" series favorite among readers.

 

The Goosebumps book series is a mammoth collection of children’s horror novels published by youth literature giant Scholastic and written by author R. L. Stine (real name Jovial Bob Stine) between 1992 and 1997. The series rocketed to popularity and inspired a few spin-off book series as well as a TV show that had me glued to the set in the same vein of programs like Are You Afraid of the Dark and So Weird. While the series is supposedly intended for middle school readers (or older readers in terms of some of the spin-offs), I seem to recall there being a certain pride and competition in comparing the number of Goosebumps books in your repertoire early in elementary school while cautiously avoiding the eyes of disapproving teachers.

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