Savile and the moral panic argument

mods and Rockers at margate. Daily telegraph 2 jan 2014
Mods and Rockers at Margate 1964 ( Daily Telgraph 2 jan 2014)

The false memory movement often refers the  phrase moral panic. As soon as revelations about Jimmy Savile exploded into public discourse so too did the discourse about moral panic

The term moral panic was first used by Stanley Cohen in 1972 to describe the representations and fear of post-war working class youth culture in the UK media. The post-war economic boom and peacetime had enabled some  working class young people more money  and opportunities for self expression than had previously been the case. To what extent this actually threatened working class family structures I am not sure – but  middle class commentators were definitely worried that this was the case. Those who supported the rights of young people, especially young working class people, to express themselves utilised the phrase moral panic.

When the phrase moral panic was used in this context, feminist critique of the the authoritarian family as a patriarchal unit had not yet secured a footing in the social sciences. As feminist critiques of the family were increasingly heard, the usage of the phrase moral panic seems to have morphed. Rather than be used by people who supported social change it was utilised by those who did not want to challenge the patriarchal family unit. Where child abuse is concerned, the phrase moral panic tends to be used by those who deny that child  abuse (of any kind) is as harmful or widespread as contemporary research suggest.

In my opinion the use of the term moral panic in the context of Savile is deliberately misleading.

Firstly there were real legal, structural and  financial reasons why information about Savile’s crimes was not made public earlier. Any organisation that published details of his crimes would have faced retaliation.

Secondly the fact that Savile was able to have such power, and exert influence in popular culture, broadcasting, the health, educational and penal sectors, the conservative party,  catholic church and the royal family is unparalleled in any other contemporary context I can think of in a democracy.  It is certainly unthinkable in any other European country with a strong public sector such as France, Germany or the Scandinavian countries. Having a DJ with no medical qualifications or civil service background in charge of medical/penal institutions could only have happened in the context of Thatcherism’s attack on the public sector and the ridicule with which it held the professionals who worked within it.

In other words Savile’s sphere of influence indicated and facilitated  a gross deterioration of accountability  and democracy. This would have still been the case EVEN IF SAVILE HAD NEVER ABUSED ANYBODY!

Bit of course, less  accountability and democracy often leads to the neglect of human rights for those who have least power and this was the case with Savile’s  torture of children.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with moral panic



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