The knockout game meme is gaining more traction. How can a few thugs not attract the attention of the national media when the story involves black men and boys behaving badly?
To the degree that the truism "if it bleeds it leads" accurately describes how the news media frames issues, "if it bleeds its leads even more" if the victims of a crime are white and the accused perpetrators are black.
[I will also make a prediction. The knockout game will be expanded to include reports of black women and girls participating in this street hooliganism. Such a script fits the white racial frame by furthering the logic that black women are not really "feminine" in the same way as white women, and thus even less valuable both because of race and the "unique" and "negative" qualities that white racism associates with black female identity.]
Here, I described the knockout game foolishness as a "moral panic". This phrase is being used quite frequently in discussions about the topic by the media. However, and I am guilty of this as well, few commentators have actually defined the concept.
Precision is important in these matters. Moral panics are not necessarily the same thing as urban legends or general concerns about crime and social disorder--although there are many overlaps between the categories.
There is a large literature on the concept of moral panics which attempts to locate them in a specific historical, political, and social context. The most simple definition is that a moral panic consists of a hysteria or upsetness focused by the public(s) on an episode or series of "troubling" events which is amplified and circulated by the media as a sign of some deeper fissure or break in standing social norms and values.
These moral panics often focus on some type of Other which can be marked as being "abnormal", "dangerous", "immoral", or "deviant". Predictably, these panics overlay neatly with existing social hierarchies of race, gender, sexuality, class, and age.
The knockout game hysteria fits these criteria: it features long-standing white supremacist fixations on "black criminality", is focused on young people of color, resonates with fears by white people regarding America's changing demographics while reinforcing the White Right's vacuous lie that white people are "victims" of "reverse racism" in the post civil rights era, and is disseminated by the Right-wing media apparatus.
Moreover, the way that the knockout game moral panic has been circulated by the news media is a very chilling echo of how race and rumor were historically used to incite white racial pogroms, spectacular lynchings, and other types of terrorism against African-Americans. Of course, there is an important distinction: the knockout game is an example of wanton street thuggery by criminals; the lynching tree and racial terrorism were rituals of mass white violence against innocent black Americans.
However, the apparatus and narrative structure of these two different racial moral panics are very similar. The suggestion that all black people share some responsibility for the knockout game (thus, our "leaders" should condemn it), white society should be especially fearful of this menace, and young black people should be subjected to group punishment, is not too far afield from rumors of black men raping white women, engaging in rebellions against white authority, or otherwise being "uppity" and provoking white on black violence.
America and Europe have a long history of moral panics. Some of my "favorites" include the following:
1. Witch trials during the Middle Ages
2. Fears about role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons and their purported link to Satanism
3. White slavery and how white women were being made into opium addicts and sex slaves by Asian men
4. Refer madness and cocaine addicted black men praying on young white girls
5. The Roma kidnapping "white" babies
6. Comic books and the corruption of American youth
What are some of your favorite moral panics? And how do they relate (if at all) to the White Right's dream and obsession about the knockout game?