Magazine article Reason

Moral Panic Buttons. (Editor's Note)

Magazine article Reason

Moral Panic Buttons. (Editor's Note)

Article excerpt

As Americans, we're quick to congratulate ourselves for having created a thoughtful and enlightened society, one where superstition and inflamed passions are tempered by rational analysis and skeptical inquiry. This is largely true and cause for some measure of celebration, if not the uncritical smugness that often accompanies displays of national pride.

Yet a number of the stories in this month's reason point to instances where we have manifestly failed to exercise good judgment, where moral panic has replaced clear thinking. There's Damon W. Root's review of Devil's Knot, a new book about the "West Memphis Thee," a group of boys unfairly convicted of gruesome "Satanic" murders in Arkansas ("Hell Hounds," page 60). Among the damning evidence: The defendants listened to heavy metal music and wore black clothing--proof strong enough to sway a jury, despite conflicting testimony and the absence of physical evidence.

In his analysis of A.L. Schafer's famous "Thou Shalt Not" photo, Senior Editor Charles Paul Freund underscores that for all our supposed sophistication, we remain convinced that "certain images are once again...dangerous--not merely offensive, but morally harmful if represented as normative" ("Wicked Woman Warning, page 64). It used to be pictures of scantily clad women that made censors shudder; now we tremble at images of smoking--so much so that some Hollywood directors have taken a pledge to eradicate cigarettes from their films. …

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