Moral Panics 2.0

A binge drinking death at an “apéros Facebook”, that is, a drinking event organized via Facebook, where thousands of people congregate, and out of the woodworks come the moral entrepreneurs, sounding the alarm as to what is happening to our kids these days and what should be done about these apéros géants. There is nothing new to such a script, it was the same invoked against rave parties back in the 1990s.

These kinds of moral panics come and go at regular intervals, triggered by dramatic, yet extremely rare events (such as the binge drinking deaths), and  promoted by dramatic and exaggerated re-dramatization of the (non)-events, ready for sensationalist media consumption. Lost in translation is rational analysis of these episodic phenomena.

Thankfully, Denis Colombi, over at Une Heure de Peine, does the analytical work. His starting point is simple: societies always stand at the ready to panic at the first sign of countercultural expression coming from teenage crowds who provide an easy and convenient targets for moral entrepreneurs, always on a variation of the theme of the socially deleterious effects of sex and drugs and rock-and-roll. Nothing new here.

Colombi also notes how easily the media fall into the trap of defining a single event as a sign of the times and  symptomatic and representative of the potential dangers of that new thing: the Internet with its weird new forms of sociability (in the same register, the moral panic of the omnipresence of sex predators online has already run its course). The young man died while participating in an online-organized event therefore, the Internet is to blame. The leaps in (il)logic are consternating.

Other meme that made a comeback: in our post-modern society (whatever the hell that means), the youth lack the clear socializing boundaries of the schools, the church or the factory. Lacking such boundaries result in anomic behavior to which the death can be attributed in retrospect, along with the lament that of the nihilism of young people today, as opposed to the previous generations that changed the world for the better, or so the cultural narrative goes (Colombi even takes a nice little shot at Maffesoli, which is always pleasant even if it’s shooting fish in a barrel).

It is interesting that so much pop history (which tends to be highly revisionist) is invoked (things used to be different) even though the cultural narratives are structurally the same, only the details change. At the same time, it is not surprising to see moral panics emerge relating to Internet phenomena (such as Facebook) although it remains to be seen whether organizing events on Facebook is fundamentally different from gluing flyers on lampposts.

The reactions to such non-events are more interesting and revealing for what they say about the media and moral entrepreneurs rather than the young man who died, whose individuality is quickly swept under the carpet to the benefit of pseudo-analytical pronouncements regarding an undefined category of people.

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