Moral Panic: From Mods and Rockers to Grand Theft Auto

June 16, 2008 by

In the early-mid 1960s two conflicting groups of British youths sparked the first case of major nationwide moral panic with their fighting. The first group were termed “rockers”, usually rural, manual workers who wore clothes such as black leather jackets and rode big motorcycles in gangs. The other group, known as “mods”, were mostly city dwellers who wore suits and rode scooters, and who saw rockers as “out of touch”. Conflict usually took place over disputes like the overlapping of territories.

Since then moral panic has occurred over a number of varied social issues, for example, football hooliganism of the 1970s, acid house parties in the 1980s, the rise of the skinhead over those decades, and more recently explicit video games.

When watching the clips below, can you understand why such issues would have sparked moral panic amongst the British population, taking into consideration the historical and cultural context?

BBC News report from 1988 showing public opinion of the popular “acid house parties” of the time:

BBC News report on the recent success of Grand Theft Auto IV and the controversy surrounding the game series:


The Two-Step Flow Model of Communication

June 16, 2008 by

The mass communication theory of the two-step flow model describes how firstly, certain individuals considered to be “opinion leaders” receive and interpret information directly from mass media. They in turn pass on their interpretations along with the media information itself, thus influencing their subject’s interpretations. The diagram below shows how this works:

When individuals receive media information via an intervening opinion leader, such as a cultural commentator, film reviewer or even blogger, they are still reading the media in their own way, only with the added influence of someone else’s opinion which they value.

As a recognised film reviewer – having presented ‘The Film Programme’ (e.g. ‘Film 2007’, ‘Film 2008′, etc.) since 1999 – Jonathan Ross gives his critical opinions on the weekly show of the most recent and up-and-coming films, directors and DVD releases. Would you say that the following clip has the ability to influence audience opinion of the discussed film? Remember, those who have seen the film prior to Ross’ review would not fit into the two-step flow model, but those who have not seen it would do. How could he affect their decision-making?

The two-step flow model is considered to be an explanation for understanding how mass media influences decision-making and public opinion, and how, occasionally, media campaigns can fail to change their audience’s attitudes (e.g. political election campaigns are especially vulnerable to the effects of this kind of intervention).


Image taken from:

Inoculation Theory – ‘Reservoir Dogs’

June 16, 2008 by

The Inoculations model is another passive audience theory, which suggests that audiences who are exposed to extreme media messages will become “immune” to them once viewed, and that long-term exposure can result in audience “desensitisation” to such imagery. It can be argued that as a result media messages are becoming more extreme, as seen in the following clip from ‘Reservoir Dogs’, directed by Quentin Tarantino. Despite there being no “copycat” crimes linked directly to this film, inoculation theory has been used in attempts to blame violent media for such alleged influences, and, like the Hypodermic Needle model, has more recently been criticised for its assumption that audiences are passive.

Effects Theory: Passive Audience Theory and ‘Natural Born Killers’

June 12, 2008 by

Effects theory was developed in the 1920’s, and looks at how media texts influence those who consume them, particularly (in recent decades) how negative messages, i.e. sexual and violent content, can affect the most vulnerable of audience groups. You will have come across the ‘Hypodermic Needle’ model (or ‘Silver Bullet’ approach), where the audience is seen as passive – “empty vessels” who play no role in interacting with the media texts concerned. The theory states that these texts function in a one-directional communication process.

In recent decades theorists have noted many problems with Effects theory (a discussion of “Ten Things Wrong with the Effects Model” is available on the website: Many feel it is out of date and that it vastly underestimates the audiences, and this has led to the development of more complex theories about active audience participation in the reading of media texts.

The following clips are a scene and a trailer from Oliver Stone’s film ‘Natural Born Killers’, a controversial and widely criticised satire of serial killers and their role/reception in the media, which contains explicit violence throughout (including in the first clip!). The film has been blamed for – or at least closely linked to – many “copycat” crimes in the USA, but is the graphic, violent content the only element of the film to blame? Consider what else could be a factor when watching the second clip (particularly the last part of the trailer).

Reception Theory: Active Audience Theory with ‘The Simpsons’.

June 12, 2008 by

Reception theory focuses on the role of the audience in the interpretation of a text, instead of on the text itself. In other words, the theory suggests that audiences play an active role in reading texts, that each person has the ability to interpret the same text differently, and that a text by itself – i.e. without a reader – has no specific meaning.

Below are a couple of scenes from the popular TV series – and now movie – ‘The Simpsons’. When watching the clips, think about the elements of the show that make it successful in targeting both young and old audiences, especially its humour. For example, a 45 year old man and a 10 year old girl would sit down to watch exactly the same episode and yet receive it entirely differently – why? The clips show how the humour varies throughout to target different areas of the audience.

Encoding – Decoding: Active Audience Theory

June 12, 2008 by

Encoding-Decoding is an active audience theory developed by Stuart Hall which examines the relationship between a text and its audience.

Encoding is the process by which a text is constructed by its producers.

Decoding is the process by which the audience reads, understands and interprets a text.

Hall states that texts are polysemic, meaning they may be read differently by different people, depending on their identity, cultural knowledge and opinions.

This clip of a BBC news feature discusses the case of a teenage homosexual from Iran, seeking asylum in the UK based on claims that he would be murdered if he returned home due to the country’s homophobic attitudes and laws. When watching the clip, think about the audience theory of Encoding-Decoding – What would the preferred, negotiated and oppositional readings of this story be, taking into consideration the way the BBC present the story – i.e. the preferred reading – and what types of audience groups would take each particular reading?

The story as represented by the BBC, and the politics of the issue itself, would affect a range of people in various ways, all contributing to their particular reading of this news feature. Consider the following audience groups when thinking about your answer:

  • Homosexual people.
  • Heterosexual people.
  • Those classed as homophobic.
  • The British caucasian population.
  • Iranian people living in the UK.
  • British Catholics.
  • The British Muslim population.
  • British Athiests.

June 12, 2008 by

An extremely useful source of information, articles and theory, that can aid you in areas of your A Level studies:

The site offers a range of unique resources and features, and helpful sections on areas such as ‘Media Effects’ and ‘Media, Gender and Identity’.

The O.C.

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Dawson’s Creek

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Representation of American Youth – Smallville

February 15, 2008 by