Over array of theories and models that have been

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 (Hacking, 1999). 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” (Searle, 2010). 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, 2010).

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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, 2010). 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, 2010).
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
(Searle, 2010). 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 (Searle, 2010). 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, 2010). 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, 2010).
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, 2010). 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, 2010). 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 (Burr, 2015).
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, 2010). 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 (Burr, 2015). 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” (Searle, 2010). 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, 2010). 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. 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.

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. The
weaknesses of the moral panic model are explicitly depicted by Levine and Reinarman
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, 2010). Consequently, one of the main concerns of the
model is that it is subject to exploitation by the people in power to their

    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. 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 self-interest.