6 Stunningly Stupid Moral Panics People Raged Over
As if we didn't have enough to worry about, in addition to the garbage that fate regularly shovels in our face, we manage to fabricate worries on our own. For every odd witch-hunt that we invented pre-electricity, we have something equally asinine in the current day.
Combine a society where information is disseminated by word of mouth, add in gargantuan generation gaps, account for inevitable fear of the unknown, and you've got a potent formula for pearl-clutching ...
Communities Banned Jazz for Causing Mental Breakdowns and Spontaneous Miscarriages
A century before jazz was dying a slow natural death, the '20s and '30s were a crazy time to be a jazz snob. Yet, something was closing up jazz joints. Was some veiled fear of racial integration shutting them down? Well, yeah ... probably. But, in addition to the racial aspect, towns viewed the musical form as an existential threat to their actual health, as if the vibes of people dancing and having fun caused psychic pollution.
The stated cause of residents' concerns singled out vibrations. With blaring horns peeling the paint off the walls, the legal documents stressed that jazz would hypnotize or destroy fragile minds.
In Cincinnati, bebop was deemed fatal to fetuses. Meanwhile, in the Land of Lincoln, it was believed that excessive motion could reduce you to a spastic wreck. The Illinois Supreme Court upheld a ruling banning zoning of jazz clubs in Phelps v. Winch, citing disturbance to the nervous system as a public nuisance. Not to be outdone, Washington state dubbed the physical effects of rambling saxophone solos and improvised drum fills as "jazz intoxication" in an attempt to ban the genre after listeners were afflicted by insanity. We're not arguing they weren't nuts, but we're guessing the jazz was coincidental.
Planking, the Effigy for All of the World's Angst
Remember planking, that dumb trend where teens laid rigid in stupid places? That one that we absolutely did not participate in. (Any social media evidence to the contrary is clearly Photoshop.)
But for a couple of months in mid-2011, it was public enemy #1. Possibly derived from a Tom Green prank, the concept eventually turned into a ludicrous game of one-upmanship, social-media addicts devising more absurd places to annoy passersby and maintenance personnel. There were some unfortunate cases of foolish people taking it too far, and a few got arrested, too.
The cops tried to put the kibosh on it. They only made it worse, accidentally turning it into a political statement. Then the PM of Australia waded into the cesspool that is social media fad culture and spoke out against planking like it was a brand-new street drug. Meme-lord Xhibit denounced it. Not because it was unsafe, but because it was secretly racist:
In a few years, the kids had discovered fidget spinners, planking relegated once again to exercise classes for people smart enough not to get roped into CrossFit. Hopefully, it stays that way.
Steel Drums were Invented In Reaction to a Scheme to Annihilate Pagan Dancing
Associated today with cruises and relaxing by the beach with one too many Pina Coladas as your skin peels off listening to street performers, the steel drum has kind of a depressing history that's ignored.
Traditional skin drums predate the island of Trinidad. Slaves carried their culture with them. The British colonial leadership started to pee their pants, terrified that the "primitive" instruments could inspire the underclass to rise up, unable to control their inklings to drive out their colonizers.
In reality, it had more to do with stamping out tribal customs and obliterating their identity to induce subservience. The island's legal system just needed a pretext. After a riot in 1881, they got one; the authorities flat out banned native music. Without any folk instruments, there was no possibility of unrest, or so the British thought.
Metal instruments were devised to replace the banished ones, forged out of tin cans, oil drums, and other rubbish, a loophole around the prohibition. It survived scrutiny and now is the iconic symbol of the island, though it might be a better icon for extreme racist paranoia.
Guitar Distortion Was Banned as an Imaginary Catalyst of Gang Violence
It's rare to get banned from radio, as normally you need to sing about being gay or insult the monarchy. It's a greater accomplishment when you're a quiet fellow making instrumentals. Link Wray managed it, and he didn't even have a leather jacket nor long hair.
Wray, a guitarist and pioneering rock & roll in the '50s, cultivated a new sound in the pre-Hendrix musical era. For a guy who was welcomed onto Dick Clark's show, you'd think he was pretty clean-cut. However, his signature shredding was complemented by the use of feedback and distortion -- poking a pencil into his amp to create the electronic growl. Wray staked his career on his guitar rather than his voice, as you try singing with just one lung.
Fans ate it up in 1958. Moral puritans did not. Wray's reverb, and suggestive title "Rumble," slang for a fight, apparently convinced those in charge of the radio airwaves across the US that the song would spark an orgy of violence. 60 years later, the song sounds remarkably chill, the perfect tune for awkward silences, bloody steaks, and platonic sock hops with Uma Thurman:
The only dangerous thing in this scene being food poisoning from Jack Rabbit Slim's undercooked beef.
China Banned Puns as a National Security Threat
Life in China got even more oppressive in 2014, with the government wiping puns from public display. Wordplay in media like TV and advertisements, as per the government order, is verboten. Their logic? "Uphold[ing] the Chinese spirit" and curbing "linguistic chaos." Punbelievable.
Mandarin characters are unique in comparison to other languages. The ideograms make sense in context. However, symbols are easily swapped out to lend new, incongruent, or comical twists despite sounding exactly the same. In some cases, the euphemisms become synonymous with the original term in a Cockney-rhyming-slang sort of way. The nonsensical phrase "river crabs" sounds the same as "harmony," a Chinese expression that conveys government censorship, and hence river crabs became a slang term for repression.
If you read between the lines, the diktat seems to be about preventing people from finding ways to creatively insult the Chinese Communist Party, which just so happens to be the ruling party in the nation, and one not fond of being ridiculed -- ahem. Out of abject dread of people undermining the government, China's elites memory-holed thousands of years of comedy and folk tradition in the off chance a social media troll tries to topple the CCP. And what better way of defeating trolls than blatantly highlighting the one thing that you fear the most?
A Stoner's Prank Caused a National Health Scare in 1970
Amid a time of social panic concerning heroin in 1969 ("Not nice!"), reporters across America issued a stern warning about a brand-new substitute for opiates. The culprit was found in your own house, soon to replace smack. According to a "federal drug expert" named Ernest A. Carabillo Jr., the illicit recipes found in underground cookbooks were children's "culinary escape from reality." Several deaths were reported. (Cue dramatic music.)
Chattanoogan kids found a new use for their lunch. Instead of satiating their hunger, the rumor was that they spent their lunch break shooting up Kool-Aid, peanut butter, and mayonnaise. Mayonnaise to cut the pure Afghani Jif spread, obviously. Why did any sane adult ever believe this? Well, to a generation with no deep familiarity with drugs or counter-culture habits, it sounded legit. Hippies looked weird and did weird stuff with needles; kids were stupid. Sure, whatever, that's all they needed to go on.
Federal investigators' bullshit detectors simply never went off. A Congressional Subcommittee hearing in 1970, held by the US Senate, discussed junkies injecting PB with a straight face--marking what could be the greatest, at very least most successful, practical joke of all time. We will never never know if Carabillo was in on the gag or the victim, but he was undoubtedly not a "drug expert."
Top image: Geoff Goldswain, Africa Studio/Shutterstock