History of Sexuality:
Give two examples of moral panics including one proposed by Judith Levine. Define what a moral panic is, explain what the particular panic was, when it was, why it happened (what factors existed in society that brought it about), and how it relates to sexuality.
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The idea of a moral panic concerns a widespread experience in the social setting where fear of "the other" dominates public consciousness. Professor Levine uses this understanding to explore the American attitude towards sex. For Levine, the panic that surrounds sexual activity and even sex as an existential concept is driven by the fear of "the other." Professor Levine argues that American society has been compartmentalized into such arbitrary and singular divisions that it has no room for anything as ambiguous and challenging as sex. It is in this regard where sex has become the subject of a moral panic:
As the sense of social and economic precariousness has escalated in the last two decades, a panic about children's sexuality has mounted with it. The currency of anxiety in America is frequently the sexual; sex is viewed as the sine qua non of personal fulfillment and the experience with the potential for wreaking the greatest personal and social devastation. And popular sexual fears cluster around the most vulnerable: Women and children.
Levine articulates that sex is seen as a panic because of a collusion between the Right wing of American political thought and the Feminist movement. Levine suggests that the latter demonized sex as degrading and offensive to women, while the former demonized sex altogether as antithetical to "family values." Levine feels that both movements coalesced over the issue of sex because its complex nature challenged fundamental precepts in each ideological notion of the good. Rather than accept the nuanced and intricate nature of sexual identity, it became much more ideologically expedient to simply deem sex as entirely oppositional to social advancement:
Throughout the quarter century, in a complex social chemistry of deliberate political strategy, political opportunism, and popular suspension of disbelief, sexual discomfort heated to alarm, which boiled to widespread panic; hysteria edged out rational discourse, even in the pressrooms of established news organizations and the chambers of the highest courts.
Levine's development of sex as moral panic is rooted in the inability, deliberate or unintentional, of articulating the complex and nuanced in favor of simplistic answers. The result was a panic surrounding sex.
Levine's construction of the moral panic is rooted in what she sees as a "complex social chemistry" that possesses fear towards "the other." This manifests itself in different aspects of society. A desire to make the world "safer" has resulted in a "zero tolerance world" where fear and panic dominates rational discourse and policy making. In Roger Lancaster’s Sex Panic and the Punitive State, this panic has trumped all other concerns. In a world where “the protection of innocence trumps the presumption of innocence," moral panic becomes evident in different aspects of social interaction. Professor Lancaster draws out this panic in different articulations of governance that amounts to a "preemptive paranoid approach." It can be seen in excessive intrusion into public school curriculum, and in an approach to criminal behavior where building more prisons is the automatic answer, as well as in demonizing sexual offenders as "unfit for rescue," reenacting the condition of "social death." Professor Lancaster asserts that American society is organized in a terracing of moral panics that converge upon one another, reflecting another example of Levine's "complex social chemistry." The result is a world of moral panic which is rooted in an inability or unwillingness to articulate complex realities. It opts to reduce these nuanced dynamics into simplistic and intrusive elements where moral panic eliminates discourse and discussion. For example, in the word "pedophile," one experiences social marginalization, ending discussion and reflective dialogue in the name of monistic action. This is where moral panic exists in Professor Lancaster's understanding of American society.
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