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Popular Culture and Social Control: The Moral Panic on Music Labeling

Abstract

Informed by a moral panic perspective, I analyze the music labeling debate in the United States from the mid 1980s until the early 1990s. Instigated by the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), a voluntary group set up in 1985 by several politically well-connected women, this peculiar chapter in the control of music led to a hearing in the U.S. Senate and produced an intense debate, involving members of the community and musicians, litigation in the courts and legal discussions, police actions, as well as research by academic experts. The moral panic faded rather quickly after a warning label for music recordings was adopted, which remains in place today. This paper presents an effort in cultural criminology to make sense of this episode in the social control of music and argues that a historical approach to moral panics, conceived as cultural struggles, has important analytical advantages because of its relative detachment from the immediacy of an intensely debated social concern.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The historical focus of this paper is not unrelated to its own development. Part of the research here presented was already undertaken in the early 1990s and presented at a scholarly conference (Deflem, 1993). The paper from that conference was made available on the internet from about 1997 onwards (until it was removed last year in preparation of this article). Given its focus on a popular theme and the initial popularity of the internet among a younger generation, the website version of that preliminary study became among the author’s most consulted writings despite not having been formally published.

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Deflem, M. Popular Culture and Social Control: The Moral Panic on Music Labeling. Am J Crim Just 45, 2–24 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-019-09495-3

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Keywords

  • Cultural criminology
  • Moral panic
  • Criminalization
  • Popular culture
  • Music