“SATANIC PANIC” (Book Review)Book and Comic Reviews,Books/Art/Culture,News Michele "Izzy" Galgana
The ’80s: The doddering, bobble-headed Reagans, the Iran-Contra affair and the “Just Say No” slogan. New Wave. VHS and Betamax. Hair metal. Amazing genre films with killer practical FX. Any of these things may spring to mind when you think of that decadent decade, but some of you may recall the nefarious psychological plague that flung itself worldwide in search of cults, black magic, sacrifices and other dark rituals, to say nothing of heavy-metal singers testifying before Congress, murder and suicide by way of music and a decidedly devilish influence on horror films—as well as on GERALDO.
A thorough exploration of this phenomena during the “Me Decade” has exploded from the Spectacular Optical womb, kicking, bleating, and tossing its horns. SATANIC PANIC: POP-CULTURAL PARANOIA IN THE 1980s comes bound in a black cover with silver lettering and a pentagram-stamped goat, evoking a high-school metalhead’s notebook, albeit a neat one. Stuffed with 20 essays (plus a full-color glossy photo section) on the cultural havoc wrought by a wave of societal hysteria that permeated the Huey Lewis years, the 366-page tome is edited by Canadian genre authorities Kier-La Janisse (pictured above) and Paul Corupe. The content covers topics that were considered scandalous, salacious, bizarre and downright nightmarish. Such content can be so heavy at times, so filled with the brimstone that was raining from the sky, that one may have to give the book a rest when reading. Thankfully, you won’t have to put SATANIC PANIC down for long, as the essays are inherently fascinating.
The chapters span a huge range of topics and emotions, from the hilarious—like Forrest Jackson’s “Bedeviling Bob: Pranking TALK BACK WITH BOB LARSON”—to jaw-dropping tabloid TV in Alison Lang’s “‘What About These 10,000 Souls, Buster?’ Geraldo’s DEVIL WORSHIP SPECIAL,” to WTF in Dave Canfield’s “Confessions of a Creature Feature Preacher,” and on to utterly disturbing, as in both Alexandra Heller-Nicholas’ “Remembering MICHELLE REMEMBERS” and “False History Syndrome: HBO’s INDICTMENT: THE McMARTIN TRIAL” by Adrian Mack.
The reason you might have to put the book down, as I did on occasion, is because you’re not just reading a book, you’re peering into a wormhole to a not-so-distant era that is at once somehow a dystopian future, a contemporary worry and a horrifying reminder of centuries past—most notably on par with the McCarthy years, the Salem witch trials and medieval Europe. Combined, yes, it’s an interesting sociological investigation; but it’s also a thoroughly intimate recollection of an oppressive past for some of us. Where I grew up, I was called a Satanist (and more) for wearing black, making art, playing and listening to hard rock music and especially for renting out my town’s entire collection of VHS horror tapes. When reading about the panic in the U.K., Quebec and Australia, it was interesting to note not just those particular countries’ or provinces’ unique reaction to perceived devil worship, but the length of time at play when contrasted with the Puritan-founded United States—and our ridiculous reactionary response to all things Other.
It seemed that in the ’80s, just about anything could be a vessel for Satan and his demons, such as the technology (900 numbers, the burgeoning personal computer, and VHS tapes) of the time, as explored in films like 976-EVIL, EVILSPEAK and, to a lesser degree, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and WARGAMES, as chronicled in Kevin L. Ferguson’s “Devil on the Line: Technology and the Satanic Film” essay. And of course, the religious right has always seen fit to read any and everything they want into innocuous items like board games, cartoons and music, which are all fully explored throughout the book. Additionally, there are chapters on the scapegoats of the rabid Satanic Panic, such as Stacy Rusnak’s “Scapegoat of a Nation: The Demonization of MTV and the Music Video” and David Flint’s “Guiltless: Britain’s Moral Panics, Satanic Hysteria and the Strange Case of Genesis P-Orridge.”
Even though the West Memphis Three conviction took place in the ’90s, that particular travesty of justice was so erroneous, so scarring, so…wrong, that it would have been great to read a more in-depth afterword or diagnosis of that Bible-Belt backward situation in these pages. It’s sobering to note that the three second-graders murdered then would have been over 30 years of age now, had they lived. But perhaps that’s for another book, or best explored in the widely publicized documentaries that have previously washed up on the shores of our disintegrated culture.
SATANIC PANIC can be ordered at www.spectacularoptical.ca.