I should have been a social sociologist. I would be making a lot more money than I am now. Sociology and society fascinates me. I know I should be writing something positive about America especially as we approach the Fourth of July. But to be honest, as I write this today I’m just not in the mood to write about patriotism, fireworks or freedom. That may come tomorrow. You may say that I’m looking into the darker side of American history and you would be right. Mainstream media and our millions of electronic devices (social media, etc) heavily adds to moral panic in society. During this time of the year, I couldn’t ignore what American society and it’s people have done to it’s citizens based on fear, racism and group-think. To be honest, looking at the images and reading the explanations below makes me sick to my stomach. Unfortunately, moral panic continues today but we may not be aware of them because we are currently experiencing he moral panic in the current day and are unaware of the consequences to society. (read moral panic #8) It’s only when we look back in history are we aware of what occurred and the damage that has been done.
What is a moral panic? A moral panic is a feeling of fear spread among a large number of people that some evil threatens the well-being of society. A Dictionary of Sociology defines a moral panic as “the process of arousing social concern over an issue – usually the work of moral entrepreneurs and the mass media.” The media are key players in the dissemination of moral indignation, even when they do not appear to be consciously engaged in crusading or muckraking. Simply reporting the facts can be enough to generate concern, anxiety, or panic.
Throughout American history, there has been numerous moral panics. I could list hundreds here but I’ve chosen ones that are the most accepted by sociologists and the people that have chosen to study moral panics such as Stanley Cohen, who was a sociologist and criminologist who wrote the 1972 study Folk Devils and Moral Panics.
The witch-trials emerge in the 15th century out of the practices surrounding the persecution of heresy in the medieval period, although they reach their peak only during the Wars of Religion following the Protestant Reformation. The period of witch trials in Early Modern Europe were a widespread moral panic suggesting that malevolent Satanic witches were operating as an organized threat to Christendom during the 15th to 18th centuries. Those accused of witchcraft were portrayed as being worshippers of the Devil, who engaged in such acts as malevolent sorcery at meetings known as Witches’ Sabbaths. Many people were subsequently accused of being witches, and were put on trial for the crime, with varying punishments being applicable in different regions and at different times.
2. LYNCHING IN THE UNITED STATES (1860-1960)
Briefly, the Confederate states – after losing the Civil War – had visited upon them the ultimate indignity: Reconstruction, which gave freedmen (former slaves) the rights of human beings. That is to say, desegregation. That didn’t go over so well in the South (and still doesn’t, to some extent, anywhere in the US), and for about 100 years, any black person in the South accused (not convicted of any crime) of looking at a white woman, whistling at a white woman, touching a white woman, talking back to a white person, refusing to step into the gutter when a white person passed on the sidewalk, or in some way upsetting the local crackers was liable to be hauled from their house or jail cell by a mob, mutilated in a ghastly fashion, hung, and then burnt to a crisp. All governments – state or federal – and their agencies (like the cops) simply ignored this. You could buy picture postcards from proud local merchants of notable area lynchings.
3. THE SEXUAL PSYCHOPATH LAWS (1930’s-1950’s)
This text is straight from the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, “The Sexual Psychopath Laws” (1950):
“Women and children are in great danger in American society because serious sex crimes are very prevalent and are increasing more rapidly than any other type of crime. J. Edgar
Hoover wrote, “The most rapidly increasing type of crime is that perpetrated by degenerate sex offenders …. (It) is taking its toll at the rate of a criminal assault every 43 minutes, day and night, in the United States.”Practically all of these serious sex crimes are committed by “degenerates,” “sex fiends,” or “sexual psychopaths.” Wittels wrote, “Most of the so-called sex killers are psychopathic personalities …. No one knows or can even closely estimate how many such creatures there are, but at least tens of thousands of them are loose in the country today. Other sex offenses are generally misdemeanors. Exhibitionism and homosexuality are the most prevalent of these. Hundreds of homosexuals can be found in any large city.”
4. WAR ON DRUGS (1970’s to late 1990’s)
Some critics have pointed to moral panic as an explanation for the War on Drugs. For example, a Royal Society of Arts commission concluded that “the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, … is driven more by ‘moral panic’ than by a practical desire to reduce harm.”
Some have written that one of the many rungs supporting the moral panic behind the war on drugs was a separate but related moral panic, which peaked in the late 90’s, involving media’s gross exaggeration of the frequency of the surreptitious use of date rape drugs. News media have been criticized for advocating “grossly excessive protective measures for women, particularly in coverage between 1996 and 1998”, for overstating the threat, and for excessively raising it in women’s minds for the rest of their lives. For example, showing excessive concerns extending even into the late 2000s, a 2009 Australian study found that of 97 instances of patients admitted to the hospital believing their drinks might have been spiked, drug panel tests were unable to detect any drug in any of the cases.
5. SATANIC DAY CARE SCANDALS (1980’s)
Some day care providers in the US were, during the 1980’s, accused of abusing children in satanic rituals. Their accusers? Children who had been coached by traveling “experts” to “remember” satanic child abuse by day care centers. No cross-examination of the children was allowed; most of them weren’t even present in the courtrooms. A national moral panic, fueled by trash like the book above and dozens of unbalanced fundamentalist parents ensued. Trials were held all over the US. “Satanic Panic” was the catchy name given to the rising fear that Satanic forces were taking over the country.
The most prominent of these Satanic sex abuse cases was the McMartin Preschool case in Southern California. Initial accusations were made in 1983; pre-trial investigations ran from 1984 to 1987; and the trial itself ran from 1987 to 1990, making it (at the time) the longest and most expensive criminal trial in United States history. Among the accusations were that children were taken to a maze of underground tunnels for the abuse and for rituals; they were forced to watch and/or participate in bestiality and the ritual slaughter of animals; saw “witches fly;” and the teachers wore robes with no clothes underneath. Seven teachers and administrators at the school were charged with crimes, but only two went to trial.
Peggy McMartin Buckey was acquitted on all charges. Her son, Ray Buckey, was acquitted on 52 of 65 charges; verdicts on the others were deadlocked. A second trial for Buckey produced the same results, and prosecutors declined to bring him to trial a third time.
6. AIDS (1980’s to 1990’s)
In the 1980’s a moral panic was created in the media over HIV/AIDS. The famous iceberg advertisement by the government clearly hinted that there was a lot more to HIV/AIDS than the public could possibly know about with the vast bulk hidden from view. Some media outlets nicknamed HIV/AIDS the ‘gay plague’ stigmatizing a specific section of the population as being the primary cause and carriers of the ‘gay plague’. While scientists gained a better understanding of HIV/AIDS as the 1980’s moved into the 1990’s and beyond, the illness was still seen by many as one either caused by or passed on by the gay community. When it became clear that this was not the case, the moral panic created by the media moved off in another direction blaming the general lax moral standards of the younger generation (both male and female) which then moved onto the next area of moral panic – the growth of the ‘laddettes’ – alcohol fueled young ladies who attempted to copy the behavior of young males. Statistically, the number of young people who behave in an anti-social manner at the weekend is dwarfed by the actual number of young people in the UK but the moral panic subculture created by the tabloid press would have the general population think differently.
7. CRIMILIZATION IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM (2000’s to Current)
In the past decade, there has been a growing convergence between schools and legal systems. The school to prison pipeline refers to this growing pattern of tracking students out of educational institutions, primarily via “zero tolerance” policies, and, directly and/or indirectly, into the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems. The school to prison pipeline has emerged in the larger context of media hysteria over youth violence and the mass incarceration that characterize both the juvenile and adult legal systems. While the school to prison pipeline is facilitated by a number of trends in education, it is most directly attributable to the expansion of zero tolerance policies. These policies have had no measurable impact on school safety, but have racially disproportionate effects, increase suspensions and expulsions, elevate the drop-out rate, and raise multiple legal issues of due process. A growing critique of these policies has lead to calls for reform and alternatives.
8. Registered Sex Offenders (Mid 1990’s to Current)
Some argue that sex offenders have been selected as the new realization of moral panics concentrating on sex, stranger danger, and national paranoia. People convicted of any sex crime are “…transformed into a concept of evil, which is then personified as a group of faceless, terrifying, and predatory devils…”, who, despite scientific evidence to the contrary, are perceived as constant threats in our neighborhoods, habitually waiting for an opportunity to strike. Consequently, sex offenders are often brought up by media on Halloween, despite the fact that there has never been any recorded case of abduction or abuse by a registered sex offender on Halloween. Academics, treatment professionals and law reformist groups such as RSOL and WAR have been vocal in their criticism that current sex offender laws are more based on moral panic and “public emotion than good science”, and have expanded over time to cover non-violent and low-level offenders, and treating them essentially the same as predatory offenders, often leading to disproportional punishment of being added on public sex offender registry, sometimes for life; and being subject to strict ordinances restricting their movement and places of living. Critics often point out that, contrary to popular media depictions, abductions by predatory offenders are very rare and 95% of child abuse offenses are committed by a someone known to the child; studies by the U.S Department of Justice found sex offender recidivism to be 5.3% which compares as second lowest of all offender groups, only those convicted of homicide having lower rate of recidivism. Critics claim that, while originally aimed towards the worst of the worst, the laws have gone through series of amendments, often named after the child victim of a highly publicized predatory sex offense, expanding the scopes of the laws to low level offenses. The media narrative of a sex offender highlighting egregious offenses as typical behavior of any sex offender; and media distorting the facts of some cases, has increased the panic leading legislators to attack judicial discretion, making sex offender registration mandatory based on certain listed offenses rather than individual risk or the actual severity of the crime, thus practically catching less serious offenders under the domain of harsh sex offender laws. Additional reading…
Additional moral panics in America:
Rainbow Parties (2000’s)
Video games and violence (1990’s to early 2000’s)
Homosexual recruitment (1970’s to 1980’s)
–Matt Duhamel, Filmmaker Host
It’s been over just a year since the release of our second documentary film, The Forgiveness Journey. The 73-minute film was an emotional and challenging endeavor for myself and for the people that we spoke to. Over about a eighteen month production schedule, my wife and I interviewed doctors, psychologists, religious leaders and everyday people about the process of forgiveness. Questions were brought to the table: How do we forgive? Are all wrong doings forgivable? What happens to us emotionally when we are able to forgive ourselves? I feel that The Forgiveness Journey, though low-budget (budget was only about $1,000) and filmed with a very small crew, was able to answer these questions, help others think about their own situations, and open up conversions about sensitive subjects, including my own story which I will talk about briefly in this blog post.
Since we released the film in Salt Lake City, Utah in February of 2014, there has been mixed reactions to some of the points we raised in the film. Some people have expressed that forgiving is conditional and depends on the offense and/or wrongdoing, while others feel that there are no conditions to forgiveness and that all people should be forgiven no matter what. Personally, I stand somewhere in the middle. Forgiveness is very complicated. Without understanding the entire story, it’s difficult to understand the dynamics that are at play. One point we brought up in the film is that forgiveness is for you, not the other person. Most people agree with this point.
Marina Cantacuzino, the founder of the U.K. based, The Forgiveness Project, appeared in my film discussing how forgiveness works between two people, her organization in London, and the misconceptions of forgiveness. She was quoted in the film saying, “There are those who see forgiveness as an immensely noble and humbling response to atrocity – and then there are those who simply laugh it out of court.”
During the Parliament of Worlds Religions in Salt Lake City in 2015, The Forgiveness Project displayed their “F Word Exhibit“, which tells stories of people whose lives have been shattered by violence, tragedy and injustice and who are learning to forgive, reconcile and move on. I learned a lot from Marina about forgiveness which I’ve applied in my own situation with my daughter, Maddie. Thankfully, Maddie and I have finally developed email contact, but no plans yet of actually talking or seeing each other. I need to be patient.
Marina’s new book, The Forgiveness Project: Stories for a Vengeful Age, brings together the personal testimonies of both survivors and perpetrators of crime and violence and asks the question whether forgiveness may have more currency than revenge in an age which seems locked into the cycle of conflict.
One man that I will never forget is Arnold Thomas. I met with him over a course of a couple of months in fall, 2014. Arnold is a suicide survivor and lives blind because of his attempt. I’ve spoken to Arnold a few times over the last couple of years and I understand he is doing very well with his journey of self forgiveness. Arnold is a successful blind owner and Chief Executive Officer of White Buffalo Knife Corporation located in Salt Lake City, Utah. Presently, he serves on a National Veterans Health Administration/Indian Health Service work group. Additionally, Arnold has been involved in developing curriculum for suicide prevention and intervention programs on the local and national levels.
Unfortunately, I’ve lost contact with some of our film’s subjects including Vicky Thomas, who struggled with childhood abuse, forgiving her mother and step-father, and working through personal traumas. At the time of our interview in 2013 near Portland, Oregon, she was the editor for New Connexion, a journal of conscious living and working through the forgiveness process. Her interview with me was emotional, honest and raw. She talked about the emotional and sexual abuse she endured as a child, the religious cult that her mother forced her to go to as a teen in southern California, and what she is doing to come to terms and to reconcile with family members. I just learned today that she is doing well according to the new CEO of New Connexion. “She is no longer the editor and has taken time off before her next professional adventure‘, he states. I’m excited to find out what she has in store for her new career.
Dr. Forrest Crawford, a professor at Weber State University, commented professionally on forgiveness in the film. I met Forrest for the first time during our interview during an award ceremony he was being honored at in Ogden, Utah. He had mentioned during our interview, “The process of forgiveness means that I have to be grounded and motivated to serve others.” I love this statement. Since the film’s interview, Forrest was one of our guest speakers at the film’s release at the Broadway Theater. We’ve also collaborated on public speaking opportunities including presenting at the 2015 John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, and a Weber State University “Forgiveness Panel.” In addition, Forrest is a co-founder of several organizations including the Utah Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission and the Utah Black Education Forum. He is currently serving on the Utah’s ACLU Board of Directors. I learned a lot from Forrest about forgiveness since meeting in early 2015. He is great friend and colleague.
It’s wonderful to know how many great people my wife and I met during the production of The Forgiveness Journey and the support from the local community during the film’s official release in Salt Lake City. One of the reasons why I decided to make a film on forgiveness was to better understand my situation with my daughter and to help others through their forgiveness journey. In the film I worked with writer and life coach, Kimberly Giles at Clarity Point Coaching. I will always be grateful for her time, patience and knowledge on the topic of forgiveness and second chances. Lilli Martin from Signs of Forgiveness also took me on a journey in the film throughout the Salt Lake City community. I joined her as she spread the word and symbol of forgiveness. Her updated website states: “The symbol is fresh ~ not steeped in any dogma except the incontrovertibly of Forgiveness to freshen our planet and your world.” One year later, Lilli is still involved in the forgiveness movement and is going great. I’m still thankful today for her ability to forgive me for my mistakes.
I hope over the last year viewers have been able to take away something from the film that will help them with their journey. Forgiveness is not easy. We must be patient with ourselves and others during the process.
If you haven’t yet watched the film, you can see it FREE on YouTube. I would love to hear your comments.
— Matt Duhamel, Metamora Films
As a social justice filmmaker and a TV host with MetamoraTV, I like to seek out ways that my films and projects, along with other films by influential filmmakers across the world can be seen by our communities. Recently, I found “The Meaningful Movies Project“, a non-profit organization that helps neighborhoods, groups and individuals organize, educate and advocate using the power of social justice documentary film and conversation to build positive and meaningful community. I see this as an amazing opportunity to build conversations on important social topics through the power of film.
According to their website, The Meaningful Movies Project, “empowers citizens to gather, educate, inspire, connect, and commit to effective, non-violent solutions in building a more peaceful and just world.” The first step would be to start a group, and the great thing is a large budget is not required. If fact, some groups start inside homes, then expand to a larger community facility. I may be looking at starting a group in the Pacific Northwest (we are relocating Metamora Films from Utah to Washington State possibly later this year…stay tuned!) which would be a great opportunity to not only share the films that we’ve produced at Metamora, but other films that target social justice issues. I can’t help to feel that I should be doing much more in helping others through the power of independent film. I’m sure other social justice filmmakers feel the same way: how can we as artists help change the world through our work? Sure, there’s film distributors, online distribution, YouTube, Vimeo, etc. that help filmmakers promote their films to the public, but in my opinion, there’s nothing better than to meet people face to face and learn how the film affected them personally. The possibilities are endless with community screenings such as the Meaningful Movies Project.
Over the last few years, I’ve hosted charitable film releases in Salt Lake City, Utah where we’ve shown, The Forgiveness Journey, a documentary film on the process of forgiveness, What Makes Me Tic?, a documentary on Tourette Syndrome, and Life Under The Horseshoe, a short film on Spring City, Utah’s live, stage radio show. Each film release has had a wonderful turnout and donations were raised for charitable organizations such as The Forgiveness Project (U.K. based) and the Tourette Association, Utah Chapter. Now, with The Meaningful Movies Project, I feel that the possibility of reaching even more people is available through groups, community events and film releases.
It’s my hope that The Meaningful Movies Project catches on throughout the country (and even world!) in order for more and more people to witness the power of film and how it can better our cities, communities and world.
If you’re interested in starting a group in your area, please visit the online application. Good Luck!
– Matt Duhamel, Metamora Films