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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Yo, yob! Yeah, you....

Okay all you Anglophiles, here's the question for today: define the word "yob". For the uninitiated, this is a term applied to young males who are rowdy, aggressive and at times violent. And if you haven't caught on, it is "boy" spelled backwards. Brilliant, eh!

And why is this a bit of slang trivia important? The answer can be found in recent news broadcasts and tabloid (as well as broadsheet) headlines, for we seem to be heading into another one of those intermittent phenomena known among British sociologists as a "moral panic."

Moral panics are media fed public frenzies that the people of Britain seem to need every so often so they can vent their frustrations over living relatively innocuous social lives. Sociologist Stanley Cohen first applied the phrase in his 1972 study of how the UK reacted to "mods and rockers" of the 1960s, and it has since been used in other contexts. And this latest version of the moral panic has all the same characteristics of the original as a media frenzy is being constructed about an entire subculture based on a youth culture "style" that has become the target of a collective angst about the lack of respect in society.

So, what does a disrespectful yob look like? This is all too obvious to both the media and government ministers who describe yobs as those scary kids who wear hooded pullovers and baseball caps and very loose fitting -- actually 'baggy' -- jeans. Sound like someone you know? Seen one lately? (Do you know what your kid is wearing today? How would he score on the yob quiz?)

I don't have much positive to say about the so-called yob wardrobe as a fashion statement -- in fact some of my best friends (in their 30s) have (and probably would if they still could) dress that way. I never thought of it as much of an improvement over the "all black" (no, not the sports team) heavy metal "dude" attire of a previous generation (worn by another close acquaintance of the 30ish type to this day -- at least some of the time). But I fail to see this as a key identifier of criminal intent that warrants the kind of government action being discussed in the UK newspapers. In the language of the moral panic literature, these kids (both youthful and otherwise) hardly deserve to be stigmatized as "folk devils" just for the sake of selling more newspapers or getting social disorder under control. Perhaps a few more restrictions on the real source of most unruly behavior around here -- the binge drinking -- would help. But clothing? Give me a break....

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