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Moral Panic, Then and Now

When my very Christian parents tried to throw away my 14-year-old sister’s heavy metal records, she ran away to her friend’s house. I cried for days. It felt like the end of everything. My sister would be gone forever. I would now live in what was referred to at the time as a “broken home.” I imagined that I’d be reunited with my sister in a few years—on the mean city streets after I’d been forced into a life of crime.

Ozzy Osbourne

Both my parents and sister seemed to make good arguments. My mother and father tried to trash the records because they loved my sister, while my sister ran away because of her love for Dee Snyder. My parents wanted my sister to be safe. My sister wanted to express her individuality through music. My parents claimed that heavy metal was the cause of my sister’s rebellious behavior. My sister said that Judas Priest rocked, and elevated Ozzy Osbourne to secular sainthood. My parents thought my sister had fallen victim to satanic messages encoded in vinyl, while my sister believed my parents were enslaved to religious dogma printed in the Bible.

I remember the Bible studies and prayer groups well. There was a uniformity of belief and cause that united my parents and their pious peers. There was a collective smugness and sense of superiority that led members of the church to purge the culture (or what parts of the culture they could control) of dangerous and unholy influences. They wanted culture to be safer. Their targets: violence and overt sexuality in movies, music and video games.

Tipper Gore

This all happened during a period of what sociologist Stanley Cohen called “moral panic”—the collective societal fear that some evil force (in this case, heavy metal) would destroy us all. In the eighties, many devout Christians protested and boycotted bands that featured what was then called “mature content.” Tipper Gore established the PMRC (Parental Music Resource Center) and formed unlikely alliances with evangelical conservative Christian organizations, such as James Dobson’s Focus On the Family, to keep heavy metal and rap music away from impressionable young ears. They even drafted a list called the “Filthy Fifteen,” which documented the worst offenders. (The list included Prince, Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, because her song She Bop supposedly glorified masturbation.)

This all seems quaint now. But innocent people were swept up in these campaigns. (Punk icon Jello Biafra, for instance, was arrested on obscenity charges.) Moreover, the culture wars over music fed the satanic panic of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Bolstered by the bogus science of “recovered memories,” psychologists coerced children into lurid claims of ritualized abuse. Falsely accused people went to prison. Some only got out recently. Some did not survive.

Writing in The Atlantic last year, Emily Yoffe made a compelling case that the trauma-focused approach of today’s therapists and activists evokes the recovered-memory hysteria of the 1980s; and that claims of a “rape culture” on campuses echoes the satanic panic that drove my sister out of our home. The piece echoed an equally brave 2014 article for The Nation, by JoAnn Wypijewski, who wrote: “These panics have shared features. Sex figures as a preternatural danger, emotion swamps reason, monsters abound, and protection demands any sacrifice.”

Of course, sexual harassment and assault are very real and all-too-common problems (unlike satanic child-abuse cults). But this is precisely why we must resist the spread of dubious, and often debunked, statistics that purport to show an epidemic of rape (such as those appearing to indicate that it’s just as dangerous for a young woman to go to university in North America as it is for her to live in a war-torn country).

During the time of satanic panic, fear was spread by the PMRC, by politicians, by Geraldo and Oprah, and by well-meaning therapists and activists. The campus rape panic, similarly, is fed by the U.S. Department of Education (with its Title IX guidance of 2011), by Twitter hashtag campaigns, and by those same well-meaning therapists and activists.

As has been widely noted by other Quillette writers, many of today’s progressive activists have sacrificed classical liberal values such as freedom of speech and due process in their zeal to create safe spaces for all. While harboring nothing but disdain for social-conservative Christian values, they actually exhibit the very same collective fear, and the very same obsession with virtue and spiritual purity, that animated the puritanical Bible study set I grew up with. They protest controversial speakers and artists—just like Tipper Gore did; and seek to get musical acts banned from festivals. They want culture to be safer. And their targets would be instantly recognizable to my parents and their church-going friends: violence and unashamed sexuality.

Some activists have gone so far as to prevent innovative musical artists from entering entire countries because of problematic content produced in the past. The Australian activist organization Collective Shout, for instance, lobbied successfully to ban Tyler, the Creator from entering Australia because his music contained references to rape and other misogynistic material. Its petition read:

The messages propogated [sic] in these lyrics pose particular risk to the Australian community by conveying the message that interpersonal conflict might be legitimately resolved through violence. Unfortunately this message still enjoys resonance in significant parts of our society which heightens the risk posed to women and children of his entry.

Compare those words to these:

Racial and sexual epithets, whether screamed across a street or camouflaged by the rhythms of a song, turn people into objects less than human—easier to degrade, easier to violate, easier to destroy.

That’s from Tipper Gore in 1990, when she was railing against rapper Ice-T and his contemporaries. Both Collective Shout and Gore relied on the idea that an artist’s choice of language can lead to violence. And both statements play on the idea that listeners are weak-minded and impressionable.

The right-left pro-censorship alliance that Gore formed three decades ago has its modern equivalent in the Twitter era. Right-wing men’s rights advocates and hyper-progressives found common cause in an online shaming campaign targeting Canadian feminist Meghan Murphy, for instance, after she dared suggest that women born into their female bodies might have reason to see themselves differently from those born with penises. And the recent de-platforming of second-wave feminist icon Germaine Greer on the basis of perceived transphobia would be met with gleeful applause by stridently conservative Australians as much as by stridently progressive gender-studies post-docs. The tactics used by right-wing Twitter trolls such as Mike Cernovich to get James Gunn fired from Disney are identical to those used by the left to get Twitter troll Godfrey Elfwick de-platformed. Their crime was the same: tweeting controversial jokes.

But while all forms of social panic tend to resemble one another, there are some stark differences between now and then. For one thing, young people today seem more naturally censorious and culturally conservative than their parents. Peace, love, freedom, and experimentation have been replaced by an obsession with emotional safety. Today’s young men and young women seem scared to death of each other. The LGBT community has fractured into its alphabetic constituent parts. And racial tensions are fed by a steady diet of online microaggressions. Everyone feels at risk, despite the fact the free world has never been safer.

Of course, moral panics are not based on facts but fears. In Stanley Cohen’s 2002 introduction to Folk Devils and Moral Panics, he writes that in moral panics, “the prohibitionist model of the ‘slippery slope’ is common … [and] crusades in favor of censorship are more likely to be driven by organized groups with ongoing agendas.” They are driven by organized groups, yes, but they are facilitated by well-meaning, ill-informed actors such as activists, therapists, and law enforcement officers.  From the censorship of comic books, to video games, to music, we’ve known about the agendas of these special interests for a very long time. So why do we keep falling for it?

Moreover, there seems to be more hypocrisy at play in 2018 than there was during the moral panics of the 1980s. Many Christians who embraced Tipper Gore’s campaign truly were sincere anti-sex and anti-violence crusaders. But the world that people inhabit in 2018 is at once hyper-explicit and puritanical. In one browser tab, we’re typing about how words are violence, while in the other tab, we’re engaging in malicious gossip that could ruin someone’s career.

A feverish approach that seeks to sanitize culture is harmful but is also futile. Forbidding people from consuming content can often serve to make that content more desirable to consumers, something similar to the Streisand Effect. This phenomenon is named after Barbra Streisand’s futile attempt to keep photos of her Malibu mansion off of the internet. The harder she tried to stop people from posting photos, the more photos appeared. Paternalistically making music and art “forbidden content” makes it sexier, and elevates its status. The PMRC’s Filthy Fifteen is chockfull of rock and roll classics that went on to make millions. My parents’ disdain for heavy metal certainly did not make my sister pop Perry Como into her Walkman – she just rocked harder. Fans and free speech advocates rally around Tyler, the Creator today now more than ever.

Boycotts, de-platforming and witch hunts do “succeed” in the narrow sense that they can ruin lives. But they don’t change anyone’s privately held opinions. Nor do they ever stop artists from producing controversial art. In the end, free speech and true art always prevail as the antidote to moral panic.

I’m happy to report that my own family survived the heyday of satanic panic with only minor grievances to show for the experience. My sister came back, and our home was not “broken” for long. Everyone today is relatively happy and mostly well adjusted.

Yet the other day I asked them about the heavy metal incident. My sister still feels the sting of betrayal, and the trauma of being mistrusted by my parents. Everyone involved still loves each other, but my parents still blame the “dark music” and my sister still blames my parents. For my sister, it was a defining moment of her personal narrative, something she survived. For my parents, it was a minor incident they hadn’t thought about for years. In these recollections, there is a very small glimpse of a larger psychological phenomenon that applies to moral panics. Those who dole out justice move on to other things and their memories fade, while the effects of that justice linger in those they have judged and sentenced. Not everyone makes it out of a moral panic as healthy and intact as my family did. Some don’t even escape with their lives. I suspect one of the reasons moral panics keep happening is that all of us are very good at simply forgetting.

 

Follow Barrett Wilson on Twitter: @BarrettWilson6 

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62 Comments

  1. TJR says

    What’s the opposite of “spinning in your grave”?

    That’s what Mary Whitehouse must be doing now.

  2. Saint37 says

    It has been weird seeing the left wholeheartedly embrace most of the things that alienated me from the Catholic Church growing up in the 80s/early 90s: the endless emphasis on shaming and guilt, the intolerance of mild dissent, unwillingness to consider nuance, and the attempts to dictate what movies we should watch, what jokes we should laugh at (my church demanded that everyone boycott Universal Studios because of The Last Temptation of Christ).

    • Barrett says

      Yes! That’s exactly how I feel. Although my family’s church was evangelical.

    • Steve says

      Then change churches. People of natural, healthy moral character will be intrinsically repelled by the depraved. For some, that repulsion doesn’t kick in until they are exposed to the profoundly disturbing (if there is *nothing* that would cause you to recoil, then you are in much deeper trouble than having no church). Christians (being human) naturally make a mess of these matters, however the core principle (embrace the good shun evil) is a much older and extremely sound principle. In general “love your neighbour” by serving at a homeless shelter (a typically Catholic activity) is morally superior to reveling in porn made by sex-trafficked women under duress.

      • Ghatanathoah says

        Steve, I think your explanation doesn’t work on a few levels. The leftist moral panickers aren’t getting offended at profoundly disturbing things. They are getting offended by “microaggressions” and “problematic” portrayals of fictional people.

        “Embrace the good, shun the evil” also seems pretty much the opposite of Christian practice. One of Jesus’ main things was that he would freely associate with people his society considered evil, i.e tax collectors. He treated them with respect and forgiveness. He generally tried to lead them out of sin by persuasion and example, not shunning and shaming.

        Lastly, the idea that there is something extremely wrong with someone who is not offended by the truly disturbing isn’t necessarily right either. In the example you give (porn made under duress) you conflate two varieties of “disturbing,” art that was produced by hurting people, and art that has content many people find offensive. Obviously any decent person would be horrified at art that was produced by hurting people. But art that harmed no one in its production, but has disturbing content is another matter. People who are morally undisturbed by such art are the cream of the moral crop, true exemplars of what it means to be a good person. For they are capable of distinguishing between things that are actually bad, and things that merely cosmetically resemble bad things. This is a skill that is not adequately cultivated in our society.

      • Ardy says

        Steve: Love this comment as it encapsulates what I have been saying for years “if there is *nothing* that would cause you to recoil, then you are in much deeper trouble than having no church”. The only problem is you state it better than I do.

        I threw the towel in on my anti-religeon stance years ago after I noted the collapse of normal human decent interactions. Letting your ego run wild with untethered emotions feeding it is a receipe that has been tried and failed many times in history.

        • @Ardy
          “if he has no faith, he must serve, and if he is free, he must believe.”

          It’s interesting that you write this about anti-religion. I was just reading Democracy in America by Tocqueville, while wondering through the new democracy of America in the late 1830’s, he was noting that France (where he was from) was becoming very anti-religious especially when compared to the very religious America. In thinking about democratic freedom, he didn’t think a people could govern themselves with liberty without being religious.

          A quote:
          “As for me, I doubt that man can ever support a complete religious independence and an entire political freedom at once; and I am brought to think that if he has no faith, he must serve, and if he is free, he must believe.”

  3. Steve says

    I’m sure the author is a lovely person, but this article reads like a hodgepodge of personal reflections by a rather naive though intelligent young person who has reached the stage of intellectual development where a Sam Harris seems compelling, but who is as yet unburdened by wisdom or deeper insight of the type that even a Jordan Peterson evinces. Just like me when I was his age (well, I sure hope he’s young).

    • Jenny says

      I’m not sure you actually understand what Jordan Peterson is talking about based on this comment. I suspect Peterson would embrace much of what the author is speaking to. Peterson speaks to religious understanding through archetype: he doesn’t condone any kind of fundamentalism coming from religious dogmas; and he most certainly doesn’t support any kind of censorship, shaming, coming out of religious dogma. He’s vehemently against the very same thing this author is also against. Peterson and Harris are far more in agreement than you are understanding – their differences have more to do with semantic definitions and context than anything.

      • Jenny says

        I should say, rather, that JP speaks to religious understanding *AS* archetype

    • ” where a Sam Harris seems compelling, but who is as yet unburdened by wisdom or deeper insight of the type that even a Jordan Peterson evinces”

      What the hell are you on about? I am no fan of atheism or particularly of Harris. But Harris can look after himself in debates. He is very intellectual and exacting – far and away better than Hitchens and even Dawkins. Peterson has no such special “wisdom”. He does well… but his worst performances are against atheists, where he retracts to being extremely evasive, employs sophistry and is as obfuscating as a postmodernist.

      I suspect Peterson’s grounding is philosophy is poor. I am not sure whether he can make up the gap.

      • Peter from Oz says

        Well said, RN. I don’t agree with some of your conclusions, but I concur with you that dismissing Harris is silly.

      • Mice says

        Nice comment RN, although I think there is some truth in original comment – Peterson argues from a phenomenological position, which poses a serious challange to the rationalistic thinking that Harris represents. Also I often feel like both Harris and Peterson have poor grounding in philosophy, especially when Harris rehashes some tired naive arguments for moral realism. This conversation might go in interesting direction, but anyone idolizing either of those two men would do themselves a service by taking up some philosophy book, and doing some reading and thinking on their own.

        • @ Mice

          “phenomenological”

          What exactly do you mean? For the word can mean several things. I take it you mean the philosophical term – the study of the structures of consciousness – what and how we experience things.

          As a neuroscientist Harris is interested in the same thing but is far more empirical.

          I am not sure Peterson does pose a serious challenge to Harris. As Harris as dealt with such stuff before. Peterson really doesn’t say anything new. He is unlike committed theists like WL Craig and others in that he is very coy and evasive with his personal positions and definitions. So he is hard to target.

    • Harison Blakely says

      Steve – Glad to hear you found a way to feel superior to the author.

      I, myself, cannot follow the implied argument in your comments, but the important thing is that you feel better now.

    • Brad says

      Could not disagree more with your comment. This article is very well written and smart.

    • Dale says

      Steve: …”this article reads like a hodgepodge of personal reflections”…
      Instead of what?

  4. “I suspect one of the reasons moral panics keep happening is that all of us are very good at simply forgetting.”

    In the smartphone age it seems young people have an attention span of about 30 seconds so I’m sure this is a factor.

    From what I can see, the biggest driver behind moral panic on the Left in 2018 is the desire to feel morally superior to others without having to actually do anything good or useful. On the Right the same impulse seems to be driven by a desire for vengeance, to stick two fingers up at the Left by hurting them with their own tactics. Unfortunately this just further entrenches the propensity for moral panic deeper into the culture.

    • “I suspect one of the reasons moral panics keep happening is that all of us are very good at simply forgetting.”

      To that I would add we are very good at simply forgetting some things while remembering *other* things to an unhealthy degree. This is at the heart of personal betrayal. For example, you tell a loved one personal, private things then later those very things uttered in confidence are used as weapons to attack you.

      This also holds true in the online shaming of virtual strangers. Rather than engage with a person in a constructive and conversational way, a destructive critique might be employed instead. All “hot button” topics are especially included here: gender and sexual orientation issues, porn, prostitution (to name just a few).

      People who are quick to label others – unspoken, at first, yet unmistakable when the words eventually come out – can inadvertently or intentionally participate in the creation of a type of panic. The labeling is based both on what is remembered and on what has been forgotten. One person might selectively hone in on an insulting word or phrase that stuck in the craw while another one ignores that and chooses some other aspect of what is being discussed. The result is either a fight or a conversation starts.

      I like what Gloria Steinem says in the introduction to her 2015 memoir: “What we’re told about this country is way too limited by generalities, sound bites, and even the supposedly enlightened idea that there are two sides to every question. In fact, many questions have three or seven or a dozen sides. Sometimes I think the only real division into two is between people who divide everything into two, and those who don’t.”

      • In the GS quote, I should have clarified when she said “this country” she meant the United States. Obvious to some, but (obviously) not to all.

    • tearfang says

      //In the smartphone age it seems young people have an attention span of about 30 seconds so I’m sure this is a factor.//
      I’ve always doubted the factual basis for this cliché. I think the popularity of long form youtube and podcasts is a good example that it probably isn’t true. To me it falls into the same category as ‘kids thesedays’ which seems to be said of kids of all generations.

  5. Saturn Black says

    We rebellious teens of the nineties (for me it was Eminem and skateboarding) are now pushed towards a conservative stance by an increasingly extreme left which has become the most vocal and influential. We were then and still now remain the outcasts, it’s just that the political poles have switched. Like I heard recently (IIRC on Rebel Media): “right-wing conservative is the new counterculture.”

    I’m just so glad we have Trump, and hope that his Aussie equivalent comes along soon!

    • right-wing conservative is the new counterculture

      Yep. The left is establishment and cons are dissidents. Stranger world we live in, isn’t it?

    • @ Saturn Black

      “I’m just so glad we have Trump, and hope that his Aussie equivalent comes along soon!”

      Adult children are such a worry.

      “are now pushed towards a conservative stance”

      Yes and like Trump you people are no conservatives either.

      • Saturn Black says

        Using ad hominems and passive aggression to try to bait an argument doesn’t make you any better than an adult child.

          • Saturn Black says

            Reading Nomad – Like I said I’m on the right side of politics, though I also appreciate the classic liberal and libertarian ideals. I assume you’re on the left?

    • Peter from Oz says

      The left is not the establishment, just part of it.
      I know this because I am part of the establishment and most of my fellow establishmentarians are conservatives. That’s why all the richest electorates in Oz vote for the conservative parties.
      Even our friends in the upper middle class left actually follow conservative mores and morals in their private lives.

      • Saturn Black says

        Peter from Oz – I would argue that the mainstream media in Australia is entirely on the left. The most conservative news outlet I’ve found so far is Sky News, and even they seem to cave to the whims of the social(ist) media mob. They gave Lauren Southern a fair go but then they completely fell apart over this Blair Cottrell thing. You have to actually go digging yourself to see how badly they lie about and misrepresent these people. I kinda feel forced to watch Fox News on YouTube and just pay more attention to America. Our Liberal party seems to be shifting more and more to the left and I agree with our Libertarian senator (Leyonhjelm) calling PM Turncoat a pu**y. I guess we have a slightly more serious right-winger in the immigration department which is looking like a real impending disaster for Aussie culture given the recent statistics that came out as we reached 25mil population. Even here in “the most white and mono-ethnic area in Australia” (Abbott’s home) I’m seeing problems. I don’t know how my fellow locals feel about it, and I wonder how much attention they even pay to the media and current affairs around here. All this affluence seems to have resulted in a lot of complacency and carelessness and that does genuinely concern me for our future. We have a really great culture that we need to protect but anyone who points that out is generally characterised as “alt-right” and subject to character assassination. Facebook + Twitter + mainstream media are all hard-left and either shutting down or misrepresenting those on the right who are bringing alternative viewpoints to serious issues. Where can we even safely discuss controversial topics? So far I haven’t found anywhere other than this website.

    • Nick says

      “pushed towards a conservative stance by an increasingly extreme left.”

      Two things that strike me as ridiculous about that statement.

      1. If you’re choosing your political stances based on mean things people said on the internet, then you’re not choosing well.

      2. The left is supposedly the increasingly extreme side, while the right has been charging further rightwards for years, using increasingly polarizing and extremist rhetoric all the while, culminating in the election of Trump.

      On that note, Trump is nothing to be happy about. Ignoring all politics, the man is clearly incompetent. He makes policy by snap decision and carries out diplomacy by twitter. He struggles with hiring good employees, and the few decent ones he does manage to luck into are forced out for daring to not suck him off enough. He’s literally admitted that he asked for someone to keep their job because they praised him (https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1029002242932834310). For fuck’s sake, the man spends hours of his time watching TV, rather than actually running the country. He’s a decent real estate man, an excellent swindler, and nothing else.

      Now I’m a pretty standard liberal Democrat, and I readily agree that parts of the left are taking things too far. But I’ll also say that I think the parts of the left responsible are much smaller than most people assume. The vocal minority, made far worse by the fact that the internet is such an awful place for discussion. So if you really want to see what actual people on the left think, I recommend going outside. You might even find some of the censorious extremists that we agree are a problem, but I’d be willing to be that you could have a nicer, more reasonable discussion with them instead of getting reflexively called names, ya schmuck 😉

      • Saturn Black says

        Yeah keep soaking up the CNN mate, I’m sure it will keep you warm as you slave away in the Siberian gulag.

        I was raised by lunatic lefties, I’m not interested in what they think. Their ideas lead straight to the gas chambers. Now that I’ve escaped I’d rather try something different and see what else is out there.

        I thought the Lib Dems were pro-Trump but if you’re the standard I was right not to join. I guess decades of socialist reform and media brainwashing have dumbed the standard Aussie down to the point where all he can do is insult people in place of having a well-reasoned argument. Hiding behind the internet or not, you’re clearly not worth listening to.

  6. I assure you that Satanic ritual abuse exists. It might be, and have been, over-hyped in some circles, but it exists. To your sister: \m/

      • Heike says

        The things that James Gunn wrote about in his “jokes” might not have been overtly Satanic, but they were definitely the kind of thing that people were panicking about in the 80s. Cutting children open with knives and fucking the holes? Sick sick sick.

  7. True Fezer Wolff says

    The simplistic binary of censorship vs. free speech does not do justice to Tipper Gore’s efforts. She recognized that children should not be exposed to extreme violence and sexuality because they are, in the words used in this article, “weak minded and impressionable.”

  8. Cerastes says

    You’ve forgotten the third stage of moral panics: the ironic epilogue in which the subject of the panic turns out to not only not be evil, but actually beneficient.

    Tons of metal and rap artists from those days now use their fortunes to aid various worthy causes – Trent Reznor will always have a special place in my heart for his work on behalf of our mutually favorite breed, greyhounds. And let’s not forget that The Church Of Satan is currently one of the most masterfully effective promoters of the separation of church and state in the US.

    Makes you wonder which current targets everyone will grudging admit are pretty cool in 20 years?

  9. If I had had a daughter who listened to candy-scented fluff like Dee Snyder and Judas Priest, I would have kicked her out of the house, too, and wouldn’t have let her back in until she developed a taste for the exquisite and illuminating — Throbbing Gristle, Napalm Death, and Swans would have been good places to start.

  10. Ma Rainey says

    To be fair to Tipper, her crusade focused on labeling explicit content to prevent younger children from being exposed–I don’t believe she was advocating censorship.

    • Fredrick Martin says

      Correct, she wanted to protect kids from extreme content, since there were no safeguards to their accessing something that was effectively XXX-rated. But she did happily ally with evangelicals and other censorship advocates, as the article states, who were openly in favor of banning and destroying said content for all.

      The end result that Gore, and at least some of the religious folks, wanted was for a limit to be defined on how far we were willing to go and what we were willing to tolerate, either culturally as a whole or in respect to what we should expose to children. The result, obtained not by SCOTUS decision but by societal attrition and malaise, is that there are no limits to either. And that’s our world today.

  11. In the U.K. about the same time we had the ‘video nasty’ panic, initially promoted by the Liberal Party – a party that we now know was infested by paedophiles at the time. Sometimes a moral panic springs up spontaneously, but sometimes it’s a distraction from a genuine scandal.

    • C Young says

      Interesting. The Liberal Party had 11 MPs in 1973. Two were paedophiles/rapists (they shared an office). One was an attempted murderer. Quite a cohort.

  12. Rob says

    Gen-Xers who remember the censorious and conformist 80s, and who rebelled against it, aren’t drawn to the progressive left. We were willing to trade away safety for greater freedom. Millennials – or at least the the activists among their generation – seem quite happy to make the opposite trade. To police a narrow range of acceptable behaviour in order to safeguard comfort and conformity.

    Send a typical illiberal progressive activist in a time machine 100 years in the past, and they won’t be brave dissenters. They’ll be the ones sitting in the front pew of the church, conspicuous in their devotion and propriety, hissing and tutting at the town drunk or the teacher trying to introduce this evolution nonsense.

    That’s why I facepalm whenever I get called a conservative for championing freedom of expression. I haven’t changed in my antipathy for piety, shaming, and pearl-clutching sanctimony. It’s the people who are directing the piety, shaming, and pearl-clutching sanctimony at me who have changed.

    • @Rob
      Yup! They’re very similar to the “progressives of the early 1900’s (prohibitionist, ect..) except at least the early reformers actually did some good. This new cohort has morphed into a bazaar creature that seems to live in a parallel world from ours.
      The spiritual instinct of the moral behavior is still very strong in humanity but in this case it’s completely disconnected from religious values so we get a twisted version of reality. (Heterophobia, white/beige skin phobia, male-phobic ect….)

  13. Heike says

    James Gunn was not called out for tweeting controversial jokes. He was called out for some seriously sick shit involving sexual violence towards children. I’ve seen some fucked up things on the internet and his tweets made me want to vomit and then take a shower. There was nothing funny there. They weren’t jokes. There were no punchlines.

    • Dan says

      I couldn’t agree more. But as many other writers on Quillette, the author can see daylight but is still living in a self-imposed cave of misperceptions. The author’s conditioning requires them to oppose Cernovich and attack him (right-wing Twitter troll is the verbiage). The author is wrong and blind about being wrong. However, they have taken the first step, let’s hope they continue to mature.

  14. Sylv says

    Let he who is without sin, or not, lob as many stones as he likes from a lofty perch well out harm’s way.

    Wait, no, that’s too much work. Let he who is without sin push that button in the center of the screen; for every button-press a stone will be lobbed on your behalf. The total tally updates in real time, so you can easily keep score. Whee, this is fun!

  15. SmileyHappy says

    Thanks for this article. On the plus side, the back and forth between the musicians and the would-be censors created some damn fine music. I suspect this modern version will do the same, particularly with technology now allowing the subversive to proliferate quickly.

    PS, much of the music I loved as a teen had the dreaded ‘sticker’ on it – Slayer, Metallica, Black Flag, RATM, NWA, etc etc. Classic, middle finger raising music. Still remember the exasperated sighs and shaking of the head from my parents heheh….

  16. ga gamba says

    The significant difference then was the left, the entertainment industry, journalism, and the libertarian right opposed Tipper Gore and her committee of pearl clutchers and busybodies.

    Of that coalition, who today still remains committed to speech rights and artistic freedom? Perhaps a bit of the left and most, if not all, of the libertarian right. When PEN writers are condemning Charlie Hebdo immediately after being massacred you know much of the artistic community has lost the plot.

  17. One thing about the Satanic Panic/Moral Outrage that took place in the 80’s/90’s was that after the moms and dads lost their collective shit over campy bands like Twisted Sister and such, bands with actual satanic sybolism came out. They went nuts over Black Sabbath, and now plenty of bands talk openly about are anti-christian/occult/use satanic imagry.

    What does this say about our current moral outrage?

  18. icutrauma1 says

    The difference and danger that exist now is those things that cause outrage on the left can either put a person in jail(false rape accusations), destroy one’s livelihood(Alex Jones & don’t think it can’t swing back the other way) or become a megaphone for false stories from the media(Trump Russia has yet to produce indictable evidence. You mean he’s that smart to fool the deep state for over a year?), or the acceptance of extreme sexual views masked as tolerance & diversity(M.A.P.s = pedophilia is okay).
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8p5ijTfdPM

  19. chowderhead says

    I see another article has the word infantilization in the title, and that word seems appropriate here. From my perspective, the most troubling thing about this moral panic bullshit is it assumes woefully inadequate character such that the offended simply cannot face the awful words and images presented by the “opposition”. It’s helicopter parenting of the most extreme kind that strangles everything that we supposedly value most in being human.

    I bought some of that video game violence bullshit when I was raising my kids and kept them from playing really violent games for a while. Then I figured out they were indeed capable of separating fantasy from reality and let them at it. I probably enjoyed the games as much as they did. Funny things happened, one got a CNA and another works in a geriatrics care facility. They’re all polite, courteous and caring people.

    Here’s my advise and request: Grow a fucking spine and assume I have one, too.

  20. What I find interesting is that back in the day it was older people who got outraged about moral issues, whereas today it’s all the youngsters. These are the offspring of the pot smoking generation. Maybe they need to light up…

  21. Another huge difference between the 80’s and today is that then it was parents worrying about and trying to protect their children, not themselves. Today, it’s the youth that are in extreme self protection mode.

    I’m beginning to think there’s no way out of these ridiculous waves of nitpicking. The more prosperous and equal we get as a society the larger very small differences become… (or something.)

  22. While agreeing that there is a problem with moral panics and mob judgement, what matters would be considered legitimate to raise moral or ethical concerns? To take an extreme example, child exploitation material is illegal to possess or access in most countries. Campaigners who worked to make this the case, were also accused of perpetuating a moral panic, since most people didn’t believe it occurred.

    People who are concerned about the encroachment on free speech “Section 18c” in Australia, “Bill C-16” in Canada and “Title IX” in the United States could also be accused of perpetuating a moral panic by discussing the likely effects it will have: in fact one could do a similar thing about cherry picking statements of the moral panics in the 1980s and the statements made by about some of the campaigners against the aforementioned legal instruments.

    It would appear that this may be one of those Russellian declensions – I have a legitimate objection, you have a concerns, they have a moral panic.

  23. tearfang says

    //A feverish approach that seeks to sanitize culture is harmful but is also futile. Forbidding people from consuming content can often serve to make that content more desirable to consumers, something similar to the Streisand Effect. //
    It is not a given that it is futile. Obviously the penalties in places like China, Russia NK, etc are far harsher, than the current deplatforming and job-loss tactics but they are generally effective on large swaths of ppl in those countries who, know what’s best for them, and stay the F. away from the forbidden.

    //Boycotts, de-platforming and witch hunts do “succeed” in the narrow sense that they can ruin lives. But they don’t change anyone’s privately held opinions.//
    The success of deplatoforming is variable depending on a lot of different factors of each specific case. There are certainly cases where censorships attempts have no doubt been ineffective and even backfired, and on the flipside there are plenty of cases where ppl I know say: well, I don’t really know anything about it but where there is smoke there is fire and therefore believe all the smears sight unseen. And also never hear the deplatformed voice, nor have any interest in wasting their time on ‘fringe crazy talk’. As a tactic it doesn’t have to always work to be effective bc the effect of deplatforming multiple voices is cumulative…

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