Throughout history and in contemporary Britain “a sequence of moral panics about ‘depraved youth’ has been a dominant and recurring feature of media representations of young people” (Muncie, 2004, p. 8), and as a result, the youth-crime nexus has undergone vast transformations in terms of the conception of ‘youth crime’ and its prevailing consequences (Omaji, 2003). In the post-war period, youthful ‘folk-devils’ were continually pinpointed by the media as the underlying source of public anxiety and the main cause for concern regarding “what was wrong with society” (Muncie, 2009, p. 127). Among such public anxieties were the fears evident in 1960’s Britain revolving around violent and depraved youths in addition to the perceived threat of
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Moral panic theory is most commonly viewed as a radical sociological concept which has the ability to influence social policy and manipulate attitudes towards youth behavior (Muncie, Hughes and McLaughlin, 2002). The term ‘moral panic’ was originally coined by Jock Young in his study of Notting Hill ‘drug takers’, however it was in the subsequent year that the term really became popularised by Stanley Cohen in his book ‘folk devils and moral panics’ (Muncie, 2009). Cohen defined a moral panic as “an event during which an issue or group is characterised as a threat to society’s morality and interests” (Kirnsky, 2009, p. 204). In relation to Cohen’s definition, those who instigate the panic and stir up the public, maybe in an attempt to deflect societies attention away from more pressing economic issues (Muncie, Hughes and McLaughlin, 2002), are commonly referred to as ‘moral entrepreneurs’, whereas those who propose the perceived threat to society are referred to as ‘folk devils’ (Thompson, 1998).
It is important to highlight here the crucial role that the media play in “defining and shaping social problems” (Cohen, 2002, p. 7). In order to survive, the media need to create good stories by exaggerating and over-dramatising concerns regarding youth behavior (Omaji, 2003), and since predominantly all members of society rely on the media for information about the social world, the media can be considered to play an ‘active and constructive role’ in the