Excerpt from "Lessons from Littleton: What Congress Doesn't Want
You to Hear About Youth and Media"
By Henry Jenkins, Harper's, August 1999
| "In Risk and Blame, anthropologist Mary Douglas describes
the cultural basis for witch hunts in traditional societies. 'Whether
the witch is able to do harm or not, the attribution of a hidden power
to hurt is a weapon of attack against them... A successful accusation
is one that has enough credibility for a public outcry to remove the
opportunity of repeating the damage.' A moral panic starts with an
unspeakable tragedy which sparks an attempt to ascribe blame and responsibility.
Initially, accusations flow freely but focus on those targets who
are already the subject of anxiety. Douglas notes, 'Though anyone
can accuse, not all accusations will be accepted. To be successful
an accusation must be directed against victims hated by the populace.
The cause of harm must be vague, unspecific, difficult to prove or
disprove.' Once one accusation sticks, it becomes easier to pile on
charges. Our rush to judgment overwhelms our ability to rationally
assess the evidence. Our need to take action supersedes our ability
to anticipate consequences. Moral panic shuts down self-examination
at the very moment when real problems demand careful consideration."
Questions to Consider
- What kinds of accusations do you hear being made? Who is being
accused? Are these accusations provable?
- What actions are the United States and NATO considering right
now? What do you think those consequences might be?
- What parts of ourselves - our values, our history, our policies,
are we examining right now? What ones aren't we examining?
- Can you think of other times in your life that you or your family
have been in a moral panic? How did it feel? What happened? How
did you respond?
- For Historians: What other examples of moral panic can you find
in American History? What were the atrocities? Who were the victims?
Were the actions taken by those representing the victims just?
Can you think of alternative ways of dealing with that situation?
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