Week 2: Moral Panic in Men, Women, and Children

Men, Women, and Children

Quite recently, I watched the movie Men, Women, and Children, a film released in theaters late last year. Based on a novel of the same name authored by Chad Kultgen, the comedy-drama stars notable actors such as Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Dean Norris, and newcomer Ansel Elgort. The trailer can be seen here.

The film revolves around certain high school teenagers, their parents, and how they each deal with the Internet effects on their interpersonal connections and relationships, including parenting, love and marriage, self-esteem or image, etc. Various social media platforms are referenced, like Facebook, Tumblr, online dating/escort sites, iMessage/texting, etc. Throughout the movie, these Internet outlets play a significant role in the issues that arise for, and between, the characters. Overall, the film acts as a sort of social commentary on the effects and consequences the Internet-permeated age of today has on personal relationships within society. This idea certainly falls in line with the running theme of Nancy Baym’s Personal Connections in the Digital Age.

In particular, various aspects of the film reminded me of the concept of moral panic that Baym defines and analyzes within her discussion of the Social Construction of Technology perspective. As the film focuses on teenagers’ personal use and development alongside these Internet platforms, all with the parents being involved with some level of concern, it relates to the whole idea of moral panic that Baym describes. She specifies that these rhetorics of the dangers of new technological media focus on the well being of children, especially teenage girls. In Men, Women, and Children, Jennifer Garner plays a highly protective mother, Patricia, who pays insanely close attention to her teenage daughter’s Internet use. Patricia checks her daughter’s Internet history frequently, GPS tracks her daughter, and even goes so far as to install a device that connects her daughter’s mobile Internet and data use to her own personal phone that relays everything that goes through her daughter’s phone. Lastly, Patricia leads a support group for other parents in the community that advises other parents how to monitor the Internet use of their children. I related this storyline in this movie as a visual example of that “moral panic” that Baym describes. Patricia symbolizes the anxieties that, in Baym’s words, can come with these uncontrollable social forces that become the focus of efforts to understand a cultural trend (Baym, 31). Much more in the movie seems to be relevant to many of the concepts we will study in this class, so it’ll be interesting to see how it might continue to act as an example as we continue to go along through this quarter!

6 thoughts on “Week 2: Moral Panic in Men, Women, and Children

  1. emdesur

    This idea of “moral panic” in terms of the internet is very interesting to me. When we watched the trailer in class I was curious about the mother deleting messages from her daughters phone. I assumed these messages weren’t obscene, so I didn’t know why the message from a boy on the internet would be so bad. The boy and girl could talk at school, so it’s strange that just because the message is online it is not okay.

  2. caropark

    I’m curious about older films that approach this theme of technological divides between generations and within families. I’m almost sure that there had to be movies about older communication technology and its constructed tensions.

  3. abwrubel

    I think the conversation being had here more so has to do with issues of motherly anxiety that have persisted throughout the existence of humans and familiar modes of grouping and structure. Mom’s being anxious about their kids social well-being has always existed, despite the ways in which this “socializing” has changed forms.

  4. d. o.

    I didn’t enjoy MWC as much as you guys seemed to, but I did find Jennifer Garner’s overly paranoid character to be interesting. Not just because she’s the most visible marker of moral panic, but because she’s the emotional lynchpin of the entire film–after all, the movie’s central argument is that digital technology is changing human relationships for the worse. Garner might be the most obvious victim of moral panic, but the entire film itself is as much a victim as she is.

  5. William Lam

    Great post, Shanya. The moral panic in this film is really evident and it’s a great connection to the class. However, I think D.O. raises an interesting perspective to MWC that we didn’t seem to discuss in class. It’s really easy for us as millennials to assume that her daughter is the victim to a paranoid mother, but Garner may be a victim to a generational gap in understanding with her daughter as well. Though seen as the antagonist in the trailer, maybe to someone with a determinist stance views her as the protagonist.

  6. bhesslegrave

    I think this is a poignant example of how today’s technological revolution instates a heightened level of “moral panic”. From reading Baym, I thought a lot about how panic, in general, just heightens the senses, perspective, everything. Anxiety is raised, and the established status quo becomes unstable – as with the example of advancing technology. I really think moral panic does this to an even higher extent, since it puts into question what we base our entire culture culture off of – morals…I haven’t seen Men Women and Children but just from what you summarized it’s obvious that gender is critically affected/involved in this example of moral panic. For example, when morals are up in the air, the construction of gender is even more enforced – Jennifer Garner monitors her daughter’s online presence in a very particular way to maintain her role as a “good girl”.

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