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9 JIJIS 158 (2009)
The Terrorist as Folk Devil and Mass Commodity: Moral Panics, Risk and Consumer Culture

handle is hein.journals/jijis9 and id is 162 raw text is: 


                                Timothy Recuber
                 The Graduate Center, City University of New York


This paper argues that understanding the terrorist as a kind of mass commodity can
help explain the lasting power of the terror threat in American social and political life,
and help bridge the gap between risk society and moral panic frameworks. Both
moral panics and risk assessments rely increasingly on a public imagination that is
inseparable from consumer culture. Terrorism today is consumed like a brand, with a
host of spin-off products, and terrorists are recognized as a distinct and dangerous
social type through advertisements, rumors, and staged public relations pseudo-
events. Americans are left to negotiate the discontinuity between the real and
manufactured aspects of the war on terror, and use those negotiations to evaluate
the authenticity of proposed folk devils.

he construction and utilization of stereotypes have long been a part of mass
      media and popular culture. Efforts to classify and rank others based on
      systematic observation of human appearance were at the heart of popular
amusements such as scientific cabinets, phrenological centers, and freak shows
(Altick, 1978; Fiedler, 1978). Eugenicists and criminologists both employed new media
technology such as photography to document and classify various human types
(Ewen & Ewen, 2005, pp. 211-234). Lippmann (1965), whose work was an early
inspiration for the field of public relations, found stereotyping to be a natural part of
human relations in complex modern societies. Since we cannot have direct
experience with all the people and events that confront us through mass media, he
believed that we come to rely on stereotypical assumptions about the world to shape
our perceptions. 'We do not first see and then define; we define and then see
(Lippmann, 1965, pp. 54-55).
    Still, processes of human classification take on unique forms under the influence
of contemporary media culture. Today, mass-mediated moral panics focus on certain
vulnerable groups who are perceived as threats to social values or interests and are
defined in a stylized and stereotypical manner as folk devils: visible reminders of
what we should not be (Cohen, 1980, p. 10). In Cohen's model of moral panics, the
mass media sensitize us to problematic social types and allow experts and authorities
the opportunity to suggest various solutions. His definition of a moral panic, in some
ways almost taken for granted now, is nonetheless worth repeating:
        Societies appear to be subject, every now and then, to periods of
        moral panic. A condition, episode, person, or groups of persons
        emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and
        interests; its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion
        by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors,
        bishops, politicians, and other right-thinking people; socially accredited
        experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions; ways of coping are
        evolved (or more often) resorted to; the condition then disappears,
        submerges, or deteriorates and becomes more visible (Cohen, 1980,
        p. 9).

Direct correspondence to trecuber@gc.cuny.edu
0 2009 by the author, published here by permission
The Journal of the Institute of Justice & International Studies Vol 9

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