That Infectious Panic

The term ‘moral panic’ is defined as an “instance of public anxiety” which can further serve as a threat to the behavourial norms and expectations existing in society. So when relating this Oxford definition back to the mass media, a ‘moral panic’ can be somewhat sensationalised in the public eye and therefore “fan public indignation” towards a certain “deviancy”, as Jock Young states in this publication. The ‘tabooed’ subject of the sexualisation of children in the media is a topic that generates much debate towards defining the lines between art and child pornography. Ergo, when such public anxieties are born, the media has the ability to ‘feed-the-fear’ so to say in order to intensify this ‘moral panic.’

Referring to the sexualisation of children in the media as being a cultural ‘trend’ definitely stresses the presence of a looming ‘moral panic.’ Emma Rush and Andrea La Nauze quite thoroughly outline how the media’s impact on the sexualisation of children has become “increasingly influential” in their paper Corporate Paedophilia. They argue that if “public avoidance” continues on this topic, the “trend towards increasing sexualisation of children is also likely to continue.” Thus, the media’s influence on a topic such as the sexualisation of children is the trigger that provokes a moral panic.

As you can see below, this ad campaign by French clothing line Cadeaux created much controversy in 2011. The girls in the campaign were described as being “highly sexualisedas they were presented in, “both mature and provocative clothing and poses” which even began to point fingers towards child pornography.

Photographs from 2011 Cadeaux Magazine Issue, image via
Photographs from 2011 Cadeaux Magazine Issue, image via

But despite this initial impression, other people did not seem to feel quite so repulsed. The anonymous blogger behind ‘Beautifully Invisible’ gives a valid opinion on these photographs. “These girls were clearly (in my opinion) styled to look like they were playing dress up in their mother’s clothing. I mean, what young girl doesn’t do that when she is growing up?” Upon reading her verdict, I must admit it did make me reconsider my first perception of the image. However, if your opinion was that of ‘girl-losing-innocence’ like mine, then we are seeing just how this public anxiety over this issue is initially conceived through controversial ad campaigns.

I happened to come across perhaps some rather uplifting photographs that I will share with you. Taken by photographer and mother Kate T. Parker, her message of “strong is the new pretty” sees her creatively challenge how young girls should be portrayed, or in this case, photographed. As stated in this article, Kate took these photographs of her daughters to show girls “who are not empowered by their looks,” but who are instead, living their “fullest, most fearless lives.”

Photographs by Kate T. Parker, image via
Photograph by Kate T. Parker, image via
Photograph by Kate T. Parker, image via
Photograph by Kate T. Parker, image via

The question of what can be considered art or child pornography is definitely a debate that may never see an end. As seen in the media, controversial images can precipitate a ‘moral panic’ especially when involving childhood innocence. And so, by ‘feeding-the-fear’ through sensationalising such incidences, it is not strenuous to see how the media can be the roots of hatching moral panics within the public eye.

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