So, I’ve been thinking about the mass media’s investment in sensationalism as a way of growing its markets; the way this dynamic structures the narratives that get told about drugs, sex, nightlife, crime, etc; and the sense in which sensationalism is also productive – it mediates, amplifies and circulates affects and desires around the law and its transgression.
In this sense, sensationalism could be said to amass publics that ramify the erotic thrill of transgression, even as it intensifies popular investments in the policing of public order (cf. classic moral panic theory). This process is not merely a matter of representation, but cultural and economic at once, deeply entangled and emanating from the prerogatives of capitalised media.
If we turn to the night-time economy, that object of sensationalised reporting, intense moral panic, and popular entertainment in recent times, you could argue that its survival and mass appeal materially depends, in part, on a process that paradoxically also produces it as a problematic object of governance, singling it out as the proper target of authoritarian intervention: an object that requires forceful policing in the name of public order.
Stanley Cohen famously argued that moral panics creates folk devils. I take this to be a material process of production, and not merely a question of discursive representation, in the sense that the world is now populated with folk devils. They are among us, the common folk. And they come out at night.
The expected response to these figures from the right is to scapegoat them, and from the left, to deny their reality.
But instead of exiling these figures, disavowing their desires, declaiming the processes that produce them and our own implication in them, the only constructive response to this situation – a response that Isabelle Stengers would call diplomatic, in the sense that it does not deny but rather seeks to acknowledge the materiality of media as a generative element in the ecology of desires – is to affirm what is common in the making of folk devils, to account for their presence, and to actively engage these figures in the construction of problems in a way that multiplies and transforms general capacities to engage in public life.