Moral Panics Media Effects and Audience


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MAC201 session slides on the trouble with 'media effects' work. Updated Nov 2011

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Moral Panics Media Effects and Audience

  1. 1. Media Effects, Moral Panics and Audiences MAC201 Rob Jewitt
  2. 2. Essential reading: <ul><li>Martin Barker & Julian Petley, 2001, Ill Effects: the Media/Violence Debate – 2nd Edition, London: Routledge (esp Introduction) </li></ul><ul><li>David Gauntlett, 1998, ‘ Ten things wrong with the “ effects ” model ’ </li></ul><ul><li>Karen Ross & Virginia Nightengale, 2003, Media and Audiences: New perspectives , Berkshire: Open University Press (esp chapter 4) </li></ul>
  3. 3. Models and Research <ul><li>The Hypodermic Syringe Model </li></ul><ul><li>The Two-step Flow Hypothesis </li></ul><ul><li>Experiments </li></ul><ul><li>Claims </li></ul>
  4. 4. Violence and the Media Debates <ul><li>Desensitisation </li></ul><ul><ul><li>You are more likely to commit acts of violence as you have overcome your inhibitions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Violence is normalised – we tolerate it </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Common sense approaches </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Newson Report (1994) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>James Bulger murder </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. The Newson Report claims: <ul><li>Murder of James Bulger was so special as to deserve special explanation. </li></ul><ul><li>Such an explanation has to be some singular change. Easy availability of sadistic films </li></ul><ul><li>These films convey a distinctive message and one that correlates with the behaviour of the killers. </li></ul><ul><li>There is a new kind of film that makes the viewer identify with the perpetrator not the victim. </li></ul><ul><li>What is experienced vicariously will have some effect on some people – otherwise advertisers would be wasting their time and money. </li></ul><ul><li>The situation is worsening – producers are exploiting new technologies in increasingly sophisticated ways.  </li></ul><ul><li>Large amounts of research have established there is a link between “heavy viewing” of “media violence” and “aggressive behaviour” </li></ul>
  6. 6. Rebuke? <ul><li>The Byron Review 2008 </li></ul><ul><li>Literature Review by Prof. David Buckingham </li></ul><ul><li>Expert on children and media-use </li></ul>
  7. 7. Rebuke? <ul><li>“ Broadly speaking, the evidence about effects is weak and inconclusive – and this applies both to positive and negative effects. Of course, this does not in itself mean that such effects do not exist. However, it is fair to conclude that directly harmful effects are significantly less powerful and less frequent than they are often assumed to be, at least by some of the most vocal participants in the public debate.” </li></ul>
  8. 8. Nevertheless… <ul><li>Neuroscientists are studying the brain looking for effects </li></ul>
  9. 9. Nevertheless… <ul><li>However, these studies are lacking evidence </li></ul>
  10. 10. Issues <ul><li>Martin Barker (2001: 27) compares process to medieval witch trials .  </li></ul><ul><ul><li>You can only have a witch-hunt if you believe in the existence of witchcraft.  You must have already decided in negative media effects if your question is “does this product have the potential to deprave its audience?” </li></ul></ul>
  11. 11.
  12. 12. Kip Kinkel (age 15), Springfield Oregon <ul><li>It is … a drastically different world from the childhood days of his parents, when toy soldiers and cap guns fulfilled fantasies of violence. On an internet service site he created, Kip described his hobbies as ‘role playing (video) games, Heavy metal music, violent cartoons, television, sugared cereal, throwing rocks at cars and DC comics.’ </li></ul><ul><li>The Guardian , Saturday May 23 1998 </li></ul>
  13. 13. Key Themes <ul><li>Pearson (1983) outlines a cyclical repetition of fears about collapse of family, religious and moral decline, youthful insubordination and a looming crisis of civilization. </li></ul><ul><li>Entertainments have effects on behaviour and social attitudes. </li></ul><ul><li>Sheer numbers of users are the problem. </li></ul>
  14. 14. How to understand all this <ul><li>Mass society and rise of mass media and mass communications </li></ul><ul><li>Not just size but relationships and societal organisations </li></ul><ul><li>Movement from traditional societies to industrial and urban social formations </li></ul>
  15. 15. Traditional Industrial Land/rural Urban Artisans Factory worker Family Unrelated Skilled Unskilled Organic Mechanistic Informal Bureaucratic Warm Chill Community Individual
  16. 16. How to understand all this <ul><li>Anxiety of authorities regarding societal control, law & order </li></ul><ul><li>Fear of the unskilled, uneducated crowd forced together by industrialisation </li></ul><ul><li>Perceived of as passive and easily manipulated ( to what end? ) </li></ul><ul><li>Looks to emergence of mass communication for corruptive influence/blame </li></ul>
  17. 17. Effects research <ul><li>Starts from a premise based in morals </li></ul><ul><li>Central question: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ how much harm is done to vulnerable viewers by improper media materials? ” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>See Gauntlett ’s “10 things wrong with the effects model” for critique </li></ul>
  18. 18. Problems <ul><li>Assumes media affects behaviour, but this needs to be argued and evidenced. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Distinctive message - can we assume there is ‘a (singular) reading’? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Conceives of audience as passive </li></ul></ul>
  19. 19. Problems <ul><li>Identification… but “distinctive message” of Child’s Play 3 is that standing up to evil and helping others is right even if it means risking personal sacrifice.  </li></ul><ul><li>Proof of media effects lies in advertising… </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Why would people pay for advertising if it had no EFFECT? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Common mantra of advertisers is that it doesn ’t work as we expect </li></ul></ul>
  20. 20. What is Violence? <ul><li>What is “media violence”?  Rank the following in terms of the most to the least violent: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Itchy and Scratchy </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Saving Private Ryan </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The Sopranos </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sin City </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Rambo </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>News (war) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Boxing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>WWE wrestling </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Modern Warfare 3 </li></ul></ul>
  21. 21. Define <ul><li>The point is are we even talking about comparable features, let alone are they the same?  </li></ul><ul><li>Because “media violence” exists only in the context of narrative, characters, genres, etc it is simply a term that is impossible to define. </li></ul>
  22. 22. Context <ul><li>The idea that violence is disturbing and traumatic is bad for the audience is similarly unsustainable as it must surely depend on its function (see Schlesinger et al 1992) </li></ul>
  23. 23. Violence in The Sopranos: Essential or excessive?
  24. 24. Violence in The Sopranos: Essential or excessive?
  25. 25. Think of the children! <ul><li>The common sense argument is based on the need to protect children. </li></ul><ul><li>Difficult to question as within our society children are regarded as vulnerable, ignorant and irrational </li></ul><ul><li>BUT Buckingham (1996) observes that children become extremely sophisticated in reading media texts from an early age.  Many children are frightened by horror but this is also true of the news.  The ability to develop coping strategies for fiction but not for factual programmes shows the sophistication of children in reading texts. </li></ul>
  26. 26. Think of the children!
  27. 27. Charlie Brooker Gameswipe
  28. 28. <ul><li>“ It is now perhaps more interesting not to ask what the effects of television are, but rather why there is so much concern about the question” (Gauntlett) </li></ul>Moral Panics and Media Effects
  29. 29. <ul><li>“ It is now perhaps more interesting not to ask what the effects of television are, but rather why there is so much concern about the question” (Gauntlett) </li></ul><ul><li>Moral Panic – “a condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges as a threat to societal values and interests: its nature is presented in a stylised and stereotypical fashion by the mass media: the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions; ways of coping are evolved or (more often) resorted to.” (Cohen 1972, p.9) </li></ul>Moral Panics and Media Effects
  30. 30. Identify problem Authority response Media campaign Stigmatise Simplify Moral Panics and Media Effects
  31. 31. Main Features of a Moral Panic <ul><li>Concern: behaviour of a particular group represented as having threat. </li></ul><ul><li>Volatility: short-lived.  Panics erupt dramatically but are difficult to sustain. Negative consequences for the rest of us. </li></ul><ul><li>Hostility: “folk devils” constructed to create a clear division between “them” and “us”. </li></ul><ul><li>Consensus: widespread acceptance of the threat posed by this group.  Not necessarily reflecting national concern, but the campaigner will be very vocal whilst the opposition will be weak and disorganised. </li></ul><ul><li>Disproportionality: wild exaggeration of evidence.  Not only the number of people involved but also the scale of the </li></ul>
  32. 32. Moral Panics and Media Effects <ul><li>Moral panics involve the construction of “folk devils” that need controlling, which leads to increased social control (ie regulation: BBFC, ELSPA, Ofcom, etc).  </li></ul><ul><li>This occurs during periods when powerful groups or the ruling classes face troubled times.  The panic then becomes a substitute for the real (and more problematic) social issues. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Eg: Manhunt 2 vs BBFC </li></ul></ul>
  33. 33. Moral Panics and Media Effects
  34. 34. Moral Panics and Media Effects Identify problem Authority response Media campaign Stigmatise Simplify Anxiety about media use ADHD! Autism! Addiction! Video games! Public’s knowledge of science Censor/regulate
  35. 35. Historical Perspective <ul><li>Greek poetry, 470bc – alphabet and allegory as corrupting </li></ul><ul><li>Music halls, 1880s – lawlessness and immorality </li></ul><ul><li>Comics, 1890s – crime in London </li></ul><ul><li>Football, 1910s – hooliganism </li></ul><ul><li>Rock and roll, 1950s – “the Negro’s revenge” </li></ul><ul><li>Video Nasties, 1980s – “ban this sick filth” </li></ul><ul><li>Video Games, 1990s-now </li></ul><ul><li>Internet (IM, SMS, SNS), 2000s-now </li></ul>
  36. 36. The better angels of our nature <ul><li>‘ Believe it or not, violence has been in decline for long stretches of time, and we may be living in the most peaceful era in our species' existence. The decline has not been steady; it has not brought violence down to zero; and it is not guaranteed to continue. But it is a persistent historical development, visible on scales from millennia to years, from world wars and genocides to the spanking of children and the treatment of animals’ </li></ul><ul><li>Steven Pinker, 2011, Guardian </li></ul>
  37. 37. Conclusion <ul><li>Vested interests in appropriating blame at the doorstep of the media </li></ul><ul><li>Most frequent concern is new media/cultural behaviour and practices </li></ul><ul><li>All media content is not the same or even for everyone </li></ul><ul><li>Simplistic cause and effect claims are problematic </li></ul>
  38. 38. Reading List <ul><li>Martin Barker & Kate Brooks , 1998, Knowing Audiences: Judge Dredd, Its Friends, Fans and Foes , Luton: University of Luton Press </li></ul><ul><li>Martin Barker & Julian Petley , 2001, Ill Effects: the Media/Violence Debate – 2nd Edition, London: Routledge </li></ul><ul><li>David Buckingham , 1996, Moving Images: Understanding Children ’ s Emotional Responses to Television , Manchester: Manchester University Press. </li></ul><ul><li>Stan Cohen , 1972, Folk devils and moral panics . London: MacGibbon and Kee </li></ul><ul><li>David Gauntlett , 1995, Moving Experiences: Understanding Television ’ s Influences and Effects , London: John Libbey Press </li></ul><ul><li>David Gauntlett , 1998, ‘ Ten things wrong with the “ effects ” model ’ </li></ul><ul><li>Bob Hodge & David Tripp , 1986, Children and Television: A Semiotic Approach . Cambridge: Polity Press (Chapter 4: &quot; ‘ God Didn ’ t Make Yogi Bear&quot;: The Modality of Children ’ s Television ’ , pp. 100-131) </li></ul><ul><li>Geoffrey Pearson , 1983, Hooligan: A History of Respectable Fears , London: Macmillan </li></ul><ul><li>Karen Ross & Virginia Nightengale , 2003, Media and Audiences: New perspectives , Berkshire: Open University Press (esp chapter 4) </li></ul>
  39. 39. And finally…. <ul><li>For examples of ill-informed pressure groups working against what they see as media violence: </li></ul><ul><li> (note, not to be confused with who are long-term activists of media education!) </li></ul><ul><li>To read Henry Jenkins debunk the myth of video game violence visit: </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul>