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The culture industry thrives on shocks to the existing norm. The norm is to compel members of the society to seek newer ideals as presented solutions to the problems identified by the interested parties in the cultural industry. Without constant inputs of shocks to create moral panics, the cyclic progression of the culture industry would be impossible. To affect the societal order, moral panics are presented as public reactions fronted by political interests and the media. They highlight the negative effects of a given societal ill and promulgate it as a threat to the good of society.
Youth subculture in the context of social culture
The description of social culture among scholars is a contradiction of two types of thoughts held by different groups. One group portrays the middle class as the dominant culture and the other portrays the middle class as a working-class or mass culture (Thornton & Gelder (eds.) 1996). Furthermore, supporters of one thought dismiss the existence of the other. Youth subculture exists in all societies, it may be observed as an organization of a new culture or a disorganization of the existing cultures.
A common characteristic of young people all over the world is their refusal to identify with work and instead choose associations that identify with leisurely activities often prioritizing money and free time. As a youth, individuals are no longer tied much to their parents and on the other hand, have yet to assume full responsibilities of adulthood. As a result, youth enjoy a momentary reprieve from necessity and can afford to resist aesthetically social aging.
The embrace of the youth subculture or the construction of a personal culture is appealing on the outside. A deeper look reveals an underhand of the popular media and interests that drive such media in influencing the acceptance of the subculture of youth as mainstream. The youth being the consumers of the culture have to decide on having the fun that the subculture is portrayed to have and on the other hand have doubts about the real benefits of enjoying something just because everyone else is doing so, without an actual capacity to determine the real benefits of the cultural engagement.
For culture to exist it has to be experienced and before reaching the perfect expression, people undergo sufferings and contradictions on imperfect expressions so as to have a context to relate the good life they enjoy. Considering this fact then, it appears that culture cannot be the representation of the mere existence categories as portrayed by the media industry. Instead, culture if it exists, is dynamic and forms its own context and categories as much as it exists in other contexts and categories. Using the cultural description of an orderly grouping of behaviors is not conclusive.
For people to accept a new order or culture prescription, the new order has to possess visible effects on the individuals and their interaction with other human beings. What exists today as portrayed by the culture industry is an ideology of conformity instead of consciousness. New culture purports to present an alternative to the conscious discrimination of order. It stresses the fact that to embrace it, one has to discard their consciousness. Plato maintained that such a forceful order is not fit for human beings. He argued that when something is subjectively untrue and bad for human beings, it could not turn out to be objectively true and good (Adorno 1991).
As noted by Adorno (1991), the culture industry today follows the direction of powerful interests and offers exhortations to ensure that human beings subscribe to their concoctions. These concoctions are far away from anything blissful and offerings of moral responsibility.
There is a tendency of the culture industry to view contemporary society as putting more emphasis on power yet in a real sense they have no power. As it appears, the masses would have fully accepted the construction presented by the culture industry but their spirituality and unconscious doubts serve as a barrier. The stakeholders of the culture industry, having taken note of the barrier, continue to push small segments of its ideology into the behavior of the masses through its various means such as media.
Individuals praising the culture industry constructs of a good life would argue that if everybody toed the line of the ideas presented by prominent personalities, then the whole world would be a good place to be are wrong. The good life presented by the prominent figures of the culture industry exists in the absence of a good life for the masses. In this case, the masses have to be living a bad life for the prominent person to be visible as enjoying a good life. The result of this misconception is a cyclic quest for the good life driven by the deception of the masses and the interests of the culture industry and on each cycle, the magnitude of depression grows.
Moral Panic and youth culture
In the ‘moral panic’ thesis, society solves its anxiety and uncertainty problems by identifying scapegoats to blame for the cause of the problems (Muncie & McLaughlin (eds.) 1996). The society goes ahead to concentrate on the distinguishing factors of the identified scapegoat rather than the causes of the problem identified. Solutions presented then aim at purging out the scapegoat rather than purging out the causes of the problem from the society.
As the process proceeds from one stage to another, new issues are identified. A new process is initiated similar to the previous one and the result is a deviancy amplification spiral as described by Muncie and McLaughlin (1996). The culture industry as described above relies on the media to distort initial events by having biased coverage, which results in the amplification of the problem and creates a moral panic in the society. The rise of moral panic further prompts the media to cover the moral panic and this forces the political authority to take action against the identified scapegoats.
Youths often become the red herring of the societal problems because of their subculture characterized by refusal to conform to norms. Their identification as different makes them easy targets for scapegoating. The matter is further reinforced when the target group also falls under a minority category of the society such as immigrants. For example, in poor neighborhoods, youths just like anyone else face poverty, social deprivation, and class inequality.
As a result, they tend to become aggressive as they seek solutions to their problems and would end up stealing and engage in harmful habits. Unfortunately, the news media takes the images of these youth and their dilapidated states and focuses on the means they use to support their lives such as stealing and peddling. The media would then generalize the single incidences as a breakdown of law and order.
In some instances, stealing would be referred to as mugging so that it warrants punitive sentencing as a drastic measure to rid the society of the youths who would now go under the description of criminal gangs. The coverage of criminal gangs and breakdown of law and order would then form the focus of media with comparisons with similar incidents in other geographical areas. This example highlights the powerful process of moral panic, which mobilizes popular approval and legitimacy in support of cultural industry interests (Muncie & McLaughlin (eds.) 1996).
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The power to cause a moral panic embodies the ideologies of marginalization where certain actions are named, placed, and regulated (Mukherjee 1999). Public opinion is required to have the attention of the state and its intervention. The criminalization of the youth is one way in which the process of obtaining public opinion is orchestrated to underpin the control function of the state in a capitalist society (McCorkle & Miethe 2002).
Adorno, T. W. (1991)The culture industry. Routledge, London.
McCorkle, R. C. and Miethe, T. D. (2002) Panic: The social construction of the street gang problem. Prentice Hall: Upper Saddle River, NJ.
Mukherjee, S. (1999) ‘Ethnicity and crime’. Australian Institute of Criminology, 117: 1-6.
Muncie, J. and McLaughlin, E. (eds.) (1996) The problem of crime. Sage, London.
Thornton, S. and Gelder, K. (eds.) (1996) The subcultures reader. Routledge, London.