Monthly Archives: February 2014

On NekNominate, and moral panics

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past month or so, you have probably heard of NekNominate, the drinking craze that has taken Facebook by storm. Unsurprisingly, the media has been tripping over itself to condemn it, and use it as a wider illustration of how alcohol, social media, and the twenty first century in general are ruining the impeccable morals of our nation’s rosy cheeked and upstanding youth. The purpose of this article is neither to condemn nor condone NekNominate, but rather try and give the whole thing a sense of perspective, as the NekNomination fiasco is ultimately just another example of a moral panic which will fade into obscurity, and will cause no long lasting harm to society.


The origins of the term ‘moral panic’ are somewhat vague, but it is generally believed to have been coined by sociologist Jock Young, although the concept was also used by Stuart Hall (no, not that one) in his study on mugging in 1978. Similarly, whilst the definition of a ‘moral panic’ is not set in stone, there are a few characteristics which are generally agreed upon, namely concern that the act poses a threat to society; hostility towards those who do it; consensus that it is a bad thing; disproportionality in the reaction to it; and volatility, in that the fear surrounding it quickly disappears. I will now go through these in turn, to see if NekNominate qualifies.


Concern, hostility and consensus are not particularly clear cut. The majority of the concern arises from the fear that it places pressure on people who may not want to do it; the hostility has not led to any definite social or cultural division between NekNominaters and non-NekNominaters; and whilst there has been much negative reaction to NekNominate, for the most part, the negative reaction tends to be that the people doing it are morons who need to get a life.


However, I still believe that these three apply. There are already calls for Facebook and Twitter to ban NekNominate videos; and the phenomenon of ‘anti-NekNomination videos’ has begun to pick up in earnest, a practice which will serve to create the clear-cut division which is so far lacking. As such, I feel it is safe to say that there is concern over its effects, hostility toward it, and a consensus that it should be stopped, even if it is utterly impractical to do so.


The last two conditions are far easier to prove, as the debate surrounding NekNominate has definitely been disproportional to the act itself. The way in which many commentators, from both left and right, talk about the potential impact NekNominate has on public morals and decency, and describe those who partake in it, would be comical if the issue were not so serious. Finally, then, volatility, and I have no doubt that the debate surrounding NekNominate will eventually fizzle out, mainly due to the fact that anything generated by social media has a lifespan far shorter than that generated by the mainstream media. If anyone disagrees with this theory, try and find out what Rebecca Black is up to these days.


Overall, I think it is fair to argue that NekNominate is just another moral panic, no different to any other. So why, then, did I feel it was worth talking about at such great length? The truth is, that what really gets on my wick about the whole NekNominate fiasco is the blatant hypocrisy which of those who have denounced it have demonstrated throughout. The same people who chortle at stories of Maurice Colclough convincing Colin Smart to drink a bottle of aftershave after an England rugby game, shake their heads in indignant fury at the thought of someone downing a point of Fosters and Sambuca; the same columnists who reminisce in great length about their most recent bingeing sessions cannot believe that people would drink to such an egregious extreme; and the same magazines who routinely give students recipes for the best hangover food publish piece after piece condemning the behaviour they have just implicitly condoned.


Whilst it is perhaps an extreme example of it, NekNominate is, at the end of the day, no different to any university society or sports club initiation. The only difference is that this time, rather than remaining a secret until someone speaks openly about it, it has spread via social media, which means that the mainstream media have been able to trace its development from day one. As a result, journalists can pick out the worst and most worrying cases of excess from the thousands of relatively harmless examples, and portray the entire thing as an unparalleled threat to the health of the nation, rather than something people have been doing since we first leant that drinking fermented hops and barley made us feel really happy.


Is NekNominate a good thing? No, but only for the same reason it is never good to drink to excess, not because NekNominate is uniquely harmful in and of itself. In time, people will stop doing it, and it will fade away, but by then we will have all found something new to panic about, a fear which the media will no doubt be just as quick to latch onto and encourage.