In class, we discussed the moral panic surrounding rap groups such as NWA in the 80’s and early 90’s. Older black and white people, and many middle class moms were disgusted by what they assumed was violent, vitriolic, gang-related, and purposeless music. They assumed the message was “kill the pigs”, and that it had no purpose beyond inciting violence in young black youth. Of course, as anyone who has listened to the classic, “Fuck the Police”, knows, these songs were political statements and testaments of the conditions these young man had been forced into. However, many people in the US looked at the music through a racially charged lens. Black men are scary. Black men yelling “Fuck the Police” are terrifying. It makes no difference whether or not their families are being torn apart by police violence; they are scary and dangerous, and they are the enemy. This belief, held by a large segment of the population, led to the message of the song being lost in the shuffle for a lot of people.
Unfortunately, here we are 20 years later, and these types of stereotypical beliefs are still causing problems. They aren’t leading to the banning of rap songs anymore, they are leading to the deaths of young black males. Some people in this country still fear the black male, regardless of where they are or what they’re doing. That fear led George Zimmerman to shoot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager walking back to his dad’s house. Zimmerman has not been arrested, and this has led to protests around the country, especially since the release of the 911 tapes show that Zimmerman may have had a racial bias when it came to his suspicion of Trayvon. Stereotypes and assumptions are bad enough when they lead to moral panics over rap music, but when they lead to the death of a teenager, they’re inexcusable.
Today I decided to post about our favorite class topic: moral panic. Keeping it light, I decided to feature Cracked.com’s top six most ridiculous moral panics in America. Low and behold, comic books is at the sixth spot. You’ve also got a reference to a drug made from excrement, Dungeons and Dragons, and backward rock and roll messages, among others. What the site is getting at, and which I think is pertinent to class discussions, is the fact that often times moral panics don’t really need to exist anywhere but in the mind of wary adults. As society increasingly becomes more saturated by information (without too much of a stop-gap) and becomes more overworked, it seems the reliability of actual moral panics fade into the background.
The very nature of moral panic is the thought that something is corrupting the youth. There seems to be a predisposition amongst adults of a certain stripe to fear what possible influences the outside world may have upon their children. This is referenced in Bradbury’s short story “The Veldt” which we read some time ago. In that story, the children turn into monsters through their addiction too technology. In that story, the parents don’t understand the tech as well as the children. This ignorance – and fear of it – seems to be essential to moral panic. Instead of having a freakout over rainbow parties, parents could instead converse with their children. This may not be the most comfortable thing, however. In this light, we can almost see moral panic as a knee-jerk reaction standing in place of true understanding of children and the actual repercussions of the stimuli presented to them. Yes parents should look out for their children, but this act requires the very simple function of looking. This Cracked list points out the absurd lengths crazed adults will go to to put fictive fears to sleep without actually checking to see if such panics have a leg to stand on in reality.
Being a 90’s child, we grew up with Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. We were the children of Barney, Winnie the Pooh and the Mickey Mouse crew. As we grew, so did all of our TV shows. One staple character that will forever stay with me, is Goofy’s son- Max. Max made his big debut with A Goofy Movie featuring him as a pre-teen in high school with an embarrassing dad and a crush on a beautiful girl. A story everyone would come to relate to in their own time. The music from the movie was not the main point, but it did however play a big supporting role in the trials and obstacles Max finds himself in througout the film. Powerline was the name of the biggest rockstar in the movie, anybody who was anybody knew him and loved all of his songs. Max was not the most popular kid in school, but after interrupting a school meeting ran by the principal, by blaring a Powerline hit and lipsyncing along- his life was transformed and he became the coolest kid on the block. What child didn’t want to be like Max Goof?
Max’s actions definitely had consequences- the principal claimed Max “dressed like a gang member and caused the entire student body to riot”; if Max’s father did not fix his son’s attitude, Max was going to end up in the electric chair. Thus, the rest of the movie takes it from there.
I chose to bring this movie up because in recent class discussions we have moved onto the topic of music- more specifically hip-hop. We touched a little on how music will influence youth, and this movie shows the perfect example of a kid who has iconized this particular musician, and uses it to impress his peers. While the song holds no bad words, it is still a presentation of a person being “cocky” and demanding attention from those around him so that he can get what and who he wants in life. With crazy cool dance moves and a beat that makes you want to dance along, it’s no wonder kids would have wanted to surround themselves with this type of music that creates a quiet confidence when you sing along. (Yes, I’m guilty of knowing every word!)
In the boat of hip-hop and gansta rap, much of the older generation blames hip-hop music for corrupting the youth. In George Lipsitz article “The Hip Hop Hearings” he mentions all the adults that were against the music because it would encourage disrespect towards the law and only encourage delinquent and criminal behavior. All that gangsta rap was truly doing was rebelling against law enforcement. NWA is the main group the hearings were against, but they were not the first to use music to create “rebelious behavior”. While the gangsta rap may have stirred up some change in the children with how they talked and dressed, when has there been a time in history when music didn’t? Young adults rebelling against the government goes as far back as 1969 with the Woodstock concert in New York. People only feared gangsta rap because they brought on a more explicit and violent tone to their rebellion.
Artists using music to influence adolscents has been a constant trend throughout American history. We can not forget about when Elvis Presley first became a big shot- he danced using his hips. Moves like his were never seen on television before, and he had to be censored from the waist down so that the youth would not be exposed to such scandalous behavior. Yet, he became an icon. Same story with Madonna and how she embraced women’s sexual freedom and sang and dressed in ways that mothers and fathers never wanted their daughters to. Yet again, she is an icon. NWA paved the road for later artists like Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. to be able to express their opinions about young kids that grow up in these low socioeconomic status neighborhoods and the discrimination they felt.
Music is always changing with every new generation that comes forth, however it’s effects on the listeners will always remain strong and constant. I feel that by adults always labeling certain types of music as the catalyst for madness and mayheim, they should reflect on the music they listened to and grew up with (Elvis, The Beatles, Marvin Gaye, Nirvana, etc…) and remember how looked down upon they were at one point.
The Associated Press report in their creatively titled article “Berenstain Bears Co-creator Jan Berenstain Dies” that Jan Berenstain, one of the creators (the other was her husband Stan) of the beloved Berenstain Bear book series has passed away. On Thursday Feb.23, Berenstain suffered from a severe stroke which ultimately resulted in her death, at the age of 88, on Friday.
Selling over 260 million copies from it’s start in 1962, the Berenstain Bear book collection was often applauded for educating, and soothing, children on common childhood concerns “like dentist visits, peer pressure, a new sibling or summer camp.” Prior to this series, however, the couple made quite the lucrative living by participating in another popular children’s medium, comics. The Berenstain couple was well known for their children targeted comic, “All in the Family”, which ran in magazines such as Good Housekeeping and McCall’s.
Mike and Leo Berenstain had recently collaborated on a few books with their mother that also tackled the modern issues of “online safety and childhood obesity” and furthermore reenforce their mother’s lifetime of making children happy through her own love of writing. Because of his mother’s desire to continue this type of entertainment for children, Mike also says he will maintain his illustrative an writer’s position with Berenstain books.
This connects so closely with not only our continuing theme of whether or not different popular mediums are successful at teaching kids educational tools as well as moral values conducive to Western culture, but it also lets the reader know just how influential the comic book industry was. It provides a stark contrast to what critics of comic books maintained about the lack of moral content in this type of reading. It has also now been picked up by PBS as an educational show for children of younger ages.
The Berenstain Bears and Too Much TV, book by the Berenstain family
In this recent installment of the popular Fox News segment “The Unmentionables”, pundit Lou Dobbs attempts to convince viewers that Hollywood-produced children’s movies of recent times, specifically The Secret World of Arietty (based on the British, mid-century children’s novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton)and The Lorax (based on the picture book by Dr. Seuss), are rife with “liberal media bias”. Dobbs makes the argument that The Secret World of Arietty, whose story revolves around a miniature family scavenging the leftovers of full-sized “human beans” to create and sustain a secret world within our world, implicitly supports a sort of communistic mentality of involuntary wealth redistribution. He even draws a direct correlation between the animated film and the Occupy Wall Street movement, which he seems to view as an insidious coalition, though the protests associated with Occupy have largely pushed broader contemporary issues of governmental corruption in lieu of any well-defined agenda. Dobbs goes on to criticize the second children’s film, The Lorax, for extolling the virtues of environmental awareness in the attitude that this message is anti-business and thus counter-conservative. Read more
As a child, Grease was one of my most watched movie, mostly because it was one my grandma’s favorites, so I’d see it every time I went over to her house. The film was produced by Paramount Pictures and released in 1978. A PG13 film due to sexual content and references, teen smoking, and drinking, Grease exemplified many of the fears that were present in the delinquency and rebellion of the generation of adolescents. The film, although released in the late 70s is set in 50s America, traces the lives of a couple rebellious high school seniors, the T-Bird boys and the Pink Lady girls. Throughout the movie, the T-Bird boys are seen pushing their masculine and rebellious role, spending their time working in the school auto shop, chasing girls, and causing trouble along the way. The Pink Lady girls, on the other hand, are shying away from some of the more typically female characteristics, within the realm of maintaining their womanhood.
In the back, Sandra D sits in the pink skirt, before her rebellion; in the front, smoking, is the new Sandra D after the influences of modern pop culture have influenced her. Created by a Grease fan at fanpop.com
Most notably, Rizzo spends her time trying to act like one of the guys; chasing guys instead of letting them chase her, and promoting the “sexualization” of the teenager through her actions and dress. By the end, Rizzo has not only exemplified a change in the meaning of womanhood, but she has also transformed good-girl Sandra D into a rebellious girl like herself. The growing movement of female gender roles expresses the clear change that was occurring in the 50s. Parents were no longer able to restrict the pop culture of the generation’s adolescents. In addition to the importance of changing gender roles, the film expresses some clear moral panics of the ages through the story. The rebellious girls are able to take in Sandra D and transform her from a feminine ideal girl to a rebellious, sex-driven teenager, which exemplifies the fears of the previous generation of parents. Even the most feminine and traditional of girls could lose their way in modern pop culture. The film clearly shows the moral panics of the previous generation of parents and the ever changing gender roles of the newer generation in the 1950s.
On a website called “Media Awareness Network,” there is an article entitled “Television’s Impact on Kids” about the dangers or concerns related to tv. The article addresses the various ways that tv can have a negative impact on the minds of children. The issues that it presents are violence, sexual content, and healthy development. It points out that television has more violence than everyday life and can cause aggression, desensitization, and fear among children. The article also explains that tv allows children to be much more sedentary than children from previous decades and promotes unhealthy food in commercials. The combination of these things could be a factor in the rising rates of obesity. While I have never heard of the argument that advertising plays a part in obesity, it seems like a logical complaint. It stems from the rising rates of childhood obesity and the concerns parents have other this new issue in today’s society.
The article has no author mentioned, but it is directed to parents or adults. The entire website seems directed at teachers and parents. This article is a form of moral panic because it bemoans the increased emphasis of television in children’s lives and explores any negative consequences tv might have. The piece is meant to be informative and to succinctly articulate the negative aspects tv has on kids.
The article emphasizes violence as a negative consequence, which is also a negative consequence of the nursery in “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury. The children in the story become desensitized to violence and end up killing their parents rather ruthlessly in the end. In this way, the two pieces are similar. While Bradbury’s story doesn’t really explore sexual content aspects the nursery might have had, it does seem to go into the health concerns relating to tv and technology. The family members are all lazy and when threatened with turning off all the appliances, the little boy, Peter, asks if he’ll have to tie his own shoes (167)! The roles that technology played in the family’s life changed each member into lazy and spoiled people who were used to having everything done for them. The article worries that tv could cause similar laziness.
In these ways, Bradbury’s story and the article are extremely similar. Both fret over the role that technology, particularly tv, plays in people’s lives and the eventual effect it might have.
This is the course website for Rebecca Onion's American Studies seminar at the University of Texas at Austin, convened during the spring semester of 2012. You can see the website for last semester's version of this course at this link.