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Over the last
five decades, scholars have adopted an array of theories and models that have
been applied to solve some of the most critical sociological concerns
encountered by different communities. One confrontational and enlightening
model that has been proposed in the study of sociological patterns is the
theory of moral panic. The model of moral panic was initially founded by
Stanley Cohen in the opening years of the 1960s, and his model has been
reviewed and enhanced by different critics over the years. According to Cohen,
a moral panic is a widespread concern magnified in an untenable expression that
a person or a behaviour poses a threat to the safety, interests, and values of
an individual community (Cohen, 2002). In most circumstances, a moral panic is
heightened by the media and legislators, and it results in the establishment of
laws that target the primary source of the panic.

    Politicians have exploited the theory of
moral panics as an elemental tool for promoting social control, and the model
depicts how influential public representatives can invent fear or public
concern over a person or a group of people. Cohen used this model to describe
the public response to an upheaval caused by the youth in England in the 1960s
which was distinguished as the “mods and rockers” (Cohen, 2002). Through the
model of moral panic, Cohen highlights how dominant social representatives in
England influenced the composition, establishment, and implementation of social
legislation and societal viewpoints to address the difficulties posed by this
group of people. Since its introduction, the model has been used in different
settings, and its utilization in the American Drug Panic of the late 1980s
depicts the universal applicability of the theory. The United States was
embroiled in a drug crisis, or drug scare as the public interest in drug and
substance abuse erupted in the late 1985 and early 1986 (Goode &
Ben-Yehuda, 2009).

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    The American Drug Panic was brought about
by a set of distinctive actors who can be examined through the moral panic
model proposed by Cohen. The central idea in the moral panic model is that the
asserted social concern is reciprocally propitious to the news media and state agents
(Goode & Ben-Yehuda, 2009). The relationship between state officials and
the media is symbiotic in that the press needs enticing news stories to appeal
to a sizable audience enticing sponsors while lawmakers and law enforcement
agents require news channel to route or spread their rhetoric. A case in point,
during the American Drug Panic, legislators and the media played a tremendous
role in moulding the attitudes of the American population on drug and substance
abuse (Goode & Ben-Yehuda, 2009). Moral panic was kindled by extensive
coverage of the issue by the press and a crusade against drug abuse headed by
the heads of state including President Ronald Reagan and President George Bush.
President Ronald Reagan called for a “nationwide campaign against drug abuse”
while President George Bush declared a “war on drugs” (Goode & Ben-Yehuda,

    As advanced by Cohen a social issue goes
through five discrete stages before it becomes a moral panic (Cohen, 2002). One
of the steps is that something needs to be recognized and defined as a threat
to social norms and the concern of the society at large (Cohen, 2002). During
the American Drug Panic attack, the problem identified was drug and substance
abuse and the primary drug abused by the American public was crack cocaine.
Crack cocaine was understood to be an agent introduced to disintegrate American
values, and this is a thought that was emphasized by the death of two athletes
who died of cocaine overdose (Goode & Ben-Yehuda, 2009). Consequently, the
media and state agencies used the death of these two players to highlight the
threat posed to the nation by crack cocaine. The second stage that follows is
that the media then depicts the situation in a straightforward collaborative
way that is straightforwardly understood by the greater society.

    In the third stage, the public is stirred
by the kind of information portrayed by the media on the specific problem
defining the illustrative depiction of the threat such as using the two
athletes who died as a result of drug abuse. In the fourth stage, laws
enforcement agents and legislators counter the predicament with the
establishment of new laws and policies, and this is a case that is explicitly
apparent in the case of American Drug Panic as President Reagan proposed a bill
to spend roughly $2 billion to fight the social menace of drug abuse (Goode
& Ben-Yehuda, 2009). Finally, the actions of those in power result in a
social change within the population. For instance, during the American Drug
Panic, Nancy Reagan launched on a campaign titled “just say no,” and this drive
coupled with extensive coverage of the issue by the press reached a saturation
limit resulting in a decline of news coverage on drug abuse, and the public
stopped thinking about the subject as much. 

    The American Drug Panic is underscored by
Goode and Ben-Yehuda who depict how the media and powerful social
representatives used the account of the two athletes who had died of a drug
overdose to fuel public anxiety (Goode & Ben-Yehuda, 2009). Nancy Reagan is
one individual who used her influential position to alter the opinion of the
populace in a bid to revamp her public image as the people viewed her as a
cold-hearted woman who was mainly concerned with her wardrobe (Goode &
Ben-Yehuda, 2009). Moreover, many administrators including both President
Ronald Reagan, President George Bush used the social panic created by the media
to gain political mileage. Therefore, it can be asserted that people in
positions of power sequentially profit from moral panics as they have increased
control of the population and they also attain the support of authority in
their specific posts. The media intensified the American Drug Panic, and the
proposed legislation further escalated the individual problem.

    Based on the empirical study proposed by
Cohen it is evident that moral panics are made up of three essential traits
(Cohen, 2002). First, there is heightened attention on the behaviour of the
community, and this is a factor that is unquestionably depicted by the myth of
“crack babies” (Goode & Ben-Yehuda, 2009). Throughout the 1980s through to
the 1990s scientists and the press developed a narrative on the effects of
crack on unborn babies. Many of the effects proposed were imagined and not
backed by any evidence-based research (Goode & Ben-Yehuda, 2009).
Nonetheless, these views played a tremendous role in fashioning the attitudes
of the American population on drug abuse escalating the level of panic in the
entire society. According to Goode & Ben-Yehuda, babies born to women
smoking crack would be born with serious congenital disabilities resulting in a
failed generation, and as Cohen points out, this is a group that is represented
by the media as “folk devils” (Cohen, 2002). The media striped children born to
women smoking crack their humanity and they used negative traits such as small
heads, low birth weight and maintaining that “crack babies” were an
accurate representation of a failed generation (Goode & Ben-Yehuda, 2009).
Secondly, there is a discontinuity between the interest over the problem and
the real threat it poses. Commonly, the real danger is far less than the
authorities highlight it. The research used was flawed as it lacked control and
did not account for other variables so no direct link to crack-cocaine and
unhealthy babies could be determined. Thirdly, there is an exceeding level of
change over time concerning the amount of interest in the individual concern.
The standard model starts with the identification of the threat, followed by a
speedy growth and then a peak in public anxiety, which then subsequently, and
continuously, recedes. And when the uprising died down, little media attention
was given to correcting the information on crack babies.

    The moral panic model as proposed by Cohen
has various strengths which make it a favourable model that can be used in the
study of an individual society. One of the advantages of the model is that it
highlights an underlying issue in the community. A case in point, the American
Drug Panic of the 1980s indicated the existences of a critical social concern
of drug abuse in the American society. Crack cocaine results in increased harm
notably for pregnant women and the increased consumption of the drug is an
issue that demanded immediate awareness which was attained through extensive
press coverage. Additionally, the moral panic created by the media and
politicians resulted in the formulation of policies which were employed to
address the specified problem. The moral panic model is an indispensable tool
that can be used to develop the awareness of an existing social issue piling
pressure to the relevant authorities to come up with solutions to the
identified predicament. 

    Although the moral panic model can be used
to highlight underlying social concerns the model has its weaknesses which
include the exaggeration of facts primarily by the press. A case in point,
during the American Drug Panic the media overstated the degree of drug abuse
making it far-reaching as it was in an attempt to draw more viewers and
sponsors. Additionally, the timing of the issue is also suspect, and this is
ascribed to the fact that the problem of drug abuse in America was brought into
the spotlight to help legislators gain political mileage. Only so many issues
can be prioritised by the media and late in 1989 and into the early 1990s, two
problems overshadowed the drug issue, the war in the Persian Gulf and the
economic recession in the United States (Goode and Ben-Yehuda, 1997). The drug
panic which was constructed had little evidence and did not have much to do
with the harm being inflicted to society by the use of illegal substances. It
was a problem occurring in America at the time but existed on a much smaller
scale. The media tried to describe it as the number one social problem at the
time by manipulating public concern over the matter. So just as the social
problem was constructed, it was also deconstructed and media stopped covering
it and the public’s concern was shifted elsewhere. The weaknesses of the moral
panic model are explicitly depicted by Levine and Reinarman (1987) who assert
that the drug abuse anxiety was created by the press, ethical administrators,
and legislators to serve their agenda and it is somewhat naive scapegoating for
their interests (Goode & Ben-Yehuda, 2009). Consequently, one of the main
concerns of the model is that it is subject to exploitation by the people in
power to their advantage. For Burr (2003) this is linked to power, in that it
is usually the powerful who are successful at having their versoon of events
predominate the different forms of media.

    In conclusion, the moral panic model is a
theory that is used to explain sociological perspectives experienced by
individual communities at a particular time. A moral panic is defined as a
widespread fear promoted in an illogical tone illustrating that an individual
or behaviour is a danger to the safety, interests, and values of an individual
community. The crack down and crisis mentality of the issue contributed to it
being classified as a moral panic. An example of moral panic was the American
Drug Panic in which the media and state agencies used their positions to create
social fear that was jointly beneficial to the press and state administrators.
During the American Drug Panic legislators and the media played a huge role in
shaping the perspectives of the American population on drug abuse and
widespread news coverage of the issue and a campaign against drug abuse headed
by the heads of states including President Ronald Reagan and George Bush
aroused moral panic. The moral panic model has strengths and weaknesses, and
one of its advantages is that the model can be used to highlight underlying
social concerns in an individual community. Nonetheless, the model is subject
to abuse by people in positions of power who exploit it for their




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