I am super busy finishing off a chapter on ‘The Hoon’ for a book on youth cultures and moral panics due by the end of next week. It shall serve as the basis for the final chapter of my dissertation.
The chapter is based on some media analysis work from 2003 of the Queensland hoon moral panic (which ran from 2001 to roughly 2004). A hoon is a classic folk devil and is basically represented as a loud and aggressive young man driving a loud and aggressive car in a loud and aggressive way often playing loud and aggressive music. There is some reality to this representation. What is useful about the Queensland moral panic is that it can be separated into two stages. First local stage of the moral panic organised around hoons cruising The Strand in Townsville. Sure, there was a problem here to do with the governance of public space and young men acting in intimidating ways. It also coincided with a local government election.
However, the second stage of the moral panic sees its intensification into a state-wide issue across Queensland with the involvement of the state government. The hoon problem was recast as belonging to road safety and relating to the goverance of automobility. This stage of the moral panic just happened to coincide with a state government election. I offer a very severe critique of the state government. My argument involves teasing out the implications of the fact that in the state of Queensland over the period of 1999-2004 so-called ‘hooning’ only accounted for 169 crashes out of about 60,000 involving injury and more than 100,000 crashes in total. The political efficacy of the ‘hoon issue’ does not derive from the problem solving capacity of a government addressing a road safety issue when statistically the ‘road safety issue’ accounts for less than one half of one percent of the complete problem of road accidents. The political efficacy of the ‘hoon issue’ stems from the capacity of the government to use the figure of the ‘hoon’ as a way to function with the media to affectively modulate a political constituency or a mass-media audience in a synergistic fashion. The tabloid media in particular are complicit in these governmental stupidities, and if I was in Queensland and had been directly affected by a road accident I would be asking why the government is wasting a massive amount of money on a problem that, in terms of road safety, is simply irrelevant.
I am not sure what to call this form of politics as yet. It is a little like Agamben’s scenario, but hoons are not sacrificical victims as such. I have raised the problem of incorporating moral panic theory into the notion of governmentality previously (here, and again massive hat tip to Craig). Last week I bought the third edition (2002) of Cohen’s classic text Folk Devils and Moral Panics. The new introduction for this edition is very useful because Cohen places moral panics in the context of a ‘cultural politics’. Cohen himself briefly mentions Foucault’s micro-politics of power, which in part I feel vindicates the questions I had been asking previously about governmentality (even if I got chastised on the main Foucault e-list for wanting to ‘combine’ separate ‘theories’, whatever!). Perhaps more interestingly and towards the end of the introduction he suggests a further direction in a politics of ‘attention thresholds’. I think I’ll play it safe and go along with Cohen’s lead here and try not to get too funky with my moral panic/governmentality theoretical assemblages.