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‘Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s’ (book review)

Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s
Edited by Kier-La Janisse & Paul Corupe
ISBN Code 978-1-903254-86-8
Published by FAB Press


The Satanic Panic is something that might just seem insane to anyone who did not live through it… but was very very real. Time has not been kind to this particular panic (is time ever kind to this type of thing)?

What is the Satanic Panic?

It was a period from about 1980-1989 where at some point just about EVERYTHING in pop culture was considered to have some kind of Satanic connotation in some way.

It did not matter if it was music (Heavy Metal specifically), games (Dungeons & Dragons specifically), cartoons (Masters of the Universe specifically), movies (horror films specifically) and even holidays (Halloween specifically). At some point all of these and more were a part of a nationwide panic fed by fear and ignorance (with well placed malice as well).

Malice? Yes malice. Some may argue that going on a publicity war against a game or a song is harmless in the grand scheme of things but there were those inscrutable among us who decided to use the ignorance of the time to push forth their own careers and in some cases cause harm to real victims. Cheap conmen such as Pastor Gary Greenwald of the Eagles Nest Ministries and Phil Phillips were leaders in Christian paranoia about EVERY DAMN THING in the 1980’s.

Attacking and creating (ineffectual) boycotts for cartoons and even breakfast cereals these morons cost many people their livelihood. Not content to let the relative fringe players get all the glory Geraldo Rivera jumped into this hysteria with his famous Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground primetime special just before Halloween of 1988. This was one of the most tabloid things you could ever imagine. Sensationalized and largely fact free this special event was touted at the time for stirring up the Satanic Panic to it’s highest point.

The real malice though and shameful real world harm came in the form of the McMartin pre-school nonesense. Real people went to jail and had their lives torn asunder with NO evidence all so arrogant and cruel prosecutors and scared townsfolk could make headlines. Look up the McMartin pre-school disaster and you will be appalled that this all really happened. This was the real consequence of the Satanic Panic.

Not the laughable Tom Hanks Mazes and Monsters or The 700 Club making claims that Scbooy-Doo preached devil worship to kids… but real people having their lives harmed forever due to a fog over the reason centers of the masses and the media fueling the fires.

With all that said… I am here to review the book Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s. This is a collection of essays from a variety of authors and curated by Kier-La Janisse and Paul Corupe. Janisse and Corupe are mainly film reviewers and they take a similar approach with this book.

They describe the book as:

“In the 1980s, it seemed impossible to escape Satan’s supposed influence. Everywhere you turned, there were warnings about a widespread evil conspiracy to indoctrinate the vulnerable through the media they consumed. This percolating cultural hysteria, now known as the “Satanic Panic,” not only sought to convince us of devils lurking behind the dials of our TVs and radios and the hellfire that awaited on book and video store shelves, it also created its own fascinating cultural legacy of Satan-battling VHS tapes, audio cassettes and literature. Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s offers an in-depth exploration of how a controversial culture war played out during the decade, from the publication of the memoir Michelle Remembers in 1980 to the end of the McMartin “Satanic Ritual Abuse” Trial in 1990.

Satanic Panic features new essays and interviews by 20 writers who address the ways the widespread fear of a Satanic conspiracy was both illuminated and propagated through almost every pop culture pathway in the 1980s, from heavy metal music to Dungeons & Dragons role playing games, Christian comics, direct-to-VHS scare films, pulp paperbacks, Saturday morning cartoons, TV talk shows and even home computers. The book also features case studies on Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth and Long Island “acid king” killer Ricky Kasso. From con artists to pranksters and moralists to martyrs, the book captures the untold story of how the Satanic Panic was fought on the pop culture frontlines and the serious consequences it had for many involved.”

If you did not live through this time this book gives you a fairly good overview of each sub-genre which suffered an attack from the Christian paranoids.

The book is segmented into subjects rather than moving along chronologically which I understand but also makes the waters a little muddier in the fact that I was able to put each thing into it’s own context due to having lived through all this but a younger reader may not understand that these things all fed off one another and were not isolated in pop culture.

Being segmented gives the book a chapter by chapter feel and oddly goes “out of order”. By segmenting these in order of arguable significance to the audience it front loads the “fun” subjects such as cartoons and D&D leaving McMartin and Charles Manson almost for the end (the Heavy Metal PMRC hearings are the only thing to follow). So the book ends up getting “heavier” and more serious as it proceeds which may have been a wise decision in terms of reader enjoyment.

The articles herein are well researched and annotated which gives them the creditably they need as some of the claims made at the time are outlandish to the say least (again, having lived through this I knew without needing to verify that this idiocy really happened). More skeptical readers may not believe all this bullshit happened but it did and the annotations help cement this as a part of our reality.

A side note which may show my own bias is that I submitted a piece for this collection and was turned down. I have a (slight) history with these editors, so let that paint the picture even brighter when I have every reason to be bitter about this book and yet I am giving it a very positive review. It’s a good book which I recommend to anyone interested in pop culture or how pop culture can be abused.



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