20 September 2016

Mazengarb's milk bar panic

Today's the 62nd anniversary of the publication of the Report of the Special Committee on Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents, better known by the surname of its author, Oswald Mazengarb (1890-1963). Designed to spark Middle New Zealand alarm over youth culture and behaviour, the Mazengarb Report was commissioned chiefly in response to the moral panic that arose in Lower Hutt:
A missing 15-year-old girl had turned up at the Lower Hutt police station. According to the report, 'she stated that, being unhappy at home with her stepfather, she had … been a member of what she called a ‘Milk Bar Gang’, which … met ‘mostly for sex purposes’; she … was worried about the future of its younger members, and desired the police to break up the gang'.
Te Papa writes in a 2011 blog that the Report stated that the ‘new pattern of juvenile immorality is uncertain in origin, insidious in growth and has developed over a wide field’. But it was confident enough to define the causes as 'excessive wages for teenagers, working mothers, absent parents and lack of supervision, a decline in family life, a lack of recreational facilities in new suburbs, and sexual precociousness in girls. The report was also critical of pop music and movies, pulp fiction and comics, much of which was produced in the United States'.

The Report was a rush-job designed to bolster the conservative of the first National Government under Sidney Holland in time for its re-election drive at the November 1954 general election. The entire report was printed and hundreds of thousands of copies were distributed at public expense to every household in New Zealand that had a child on family benefit, to reinforce the message that stricter moral values would be imposed on the nation's rebellious youth.

Mazengarb led to a range of legislative changes in the areas of crime, censorship and education, clamping down on the 'excesses' of youth culture and contributing to the arch-conservative moral climate that persisted in New Zealand for the next decade and a half. Historian Michael King notes that the Report's calculated moral outrage did not entirely stack up with the evidence: 'Figures printed in the report revealed that juvenile offending in 1954 was scarcely worse than at any other time in the previous two decades and, indeed, was better than it had been during the war years' (King, Penguin History of New Zealand, 2003, p.433).

See also:
HistoryKey events on the NZ waterfront, 11 March 2015
HistoryPaddy the Wanderer, 17 July 2014
History: The Battle of Featherston St, 5 November 2013
Post a Comment