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“The debunking of Michelle Remembers…misses the very lesson (it) should teach us: that the world is never as simple as black or white.

Michelle Remembers is a reminder to rally against binaries.  (This) is not a world of heroes and villains, devils and gods, good and evil.”

A highly readable anthology cum dissertation on the absurd “satanic panic” scare that more or less drove the socioculture of 1980’s America, editors Kier-La Janisse and Paul Corupe gather an enclave of brief but well written articles revolving around the many areas touched (and effectively demonized) by ill-informed religious paranoia, from the MTV music video, Dungeons and Dragons and heavy metal through the very real ethical and legal conundrums arising from the “implanted false memory” and “satanic ritual abuse” thing spreading throughout psychoanalytical circles of the era and terrifying masses of parents away from unsuspecting daycare providers across the land.

Along the way, survivors of the decade should nod their heads in knowing bemusement at name checks of folks like the tabletop gaming Christian scare tract author Jack Chick (of Dark Dungeons fame), Rona Jaffe (whose infamous Mazes & Monsters spawned an early Tom Hanks starring cheesefest), the former respected investigative reporter turned sensationalist headline grabbing precursor to Jerry Springer and “reality TV” Geraldo Rivera, the short lived but surprisingly still-viable Christian metal movement of the era and the infamously misinformed “Washington Wives” of the PMRC.

“At last we meet – warm up the hot tub.”

Even explicitly religious mouthpieces like radio talk host Bob Larson* and the subsequently discredited preacher Mike Warnke are tapped, and a few voices from “the other side of the equation” make an appearance – personal teenage crush Zeena LaVey (nee Shreck), “Apocalypse Culture” author Adam Parfey, Throbbing Gristle/Temple ov Psychick Youth frontman Genesis P-Orridge and erudite Church of Satan spokesman, frequent DVD extra presence and author Gavin Baddeley all make their presence known, contributing articles, forewords and turning up in the proceedings at one point or other.

* by way of regular prank caller “Wayne the Happy-Go-Lucky Satanist”, who also gives a mention to the absurdist circus sideshow of John Jacobs & the Power Team, hot water bottle exploding, sledgehammer blow receiving, block of ice crushing powerlifting bodybuilders for Christ.  Seriously.

Surprisingly, there are even a subject or two with which I hadn’t previously been acquainted, such as the “erotic occult horror novels’ of a fellow named Russ Martin, or the apparent demonization of the innocuously cheesy, hyper-moralizing Filmation children’s television standby He-Man (!)*

* seriously, this from the guy behind Shazam! and Fat Albert, who actually hired a child psychologist on staff to ensure all of their material was of good moral value.  Gotta love those crazy, ill-informed Bible thumpers…

“People will lie, high profile individuals are easy targets and moral panics lead to the destruction of lives and families much more certainly than any mythical satanic cult ever could.”

Unsurprisingly, a few bugaboos recur time and time again in the discussion of these bits of regressive reactionism to a largely imaginary spiritual-societal menace: the anti-feminist underpinnings of everything from Michelle Remembers and Satan’s Underground to the Playboy-bankrolled (!) Russ Martin novels, the luddite tendencies of conservative critics* and what would appear to more rational eyes to be blatant misattribution of motive in juvenile crime (the Ricky Kasso case, the Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne lawsuits, etc.)

And for those who don’t remember, this is a crowd and decade known to eat their own: some of the religious right’s most vehement spews of venom were reserved for the (often quite talented) musicians moved to create “white” or Christian rock and metal, even moreso than the more obvious (if generally mistaken) scapegoats like Ozzy Osbourne, Blackie Lawless and (gasp!) Twisted Sister (the sheer evil!)

* a truly bizarre chapter, likely intended for some unpublished volume of Andy Black’s Necronomicon, draws some fairly tenuous links between low rent horror films like 976-Evil and Evilspeak, innocuous teen comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, feature length Nintendo ad The Wizard and the 900 number phone sex craze!  It’s an ill fit for the present volume, having little more than the most surface level connection to the topic at hand.

There are chapters on the short lived but loveable “heavy metal horror” subgenre, a surprisingly well balanced one on Christian metal to offset another more obvious one on the Christian scare “expose” of the era, which encompasses everything from the ridiculous Geraldo and 20/20 “satanic peril” specials to even funnier in-house productions like Eric Holmberg’s Hell’s Bells (also marketed as “the hidden dangers of rock music” – an absolutely priceless primer for more interesting and obscure gothic rock and underground metal bands than you’d ever dare dream).

Even the greatest of all mondo-mentaries, The Occult Experience, is mentioned briefly – and why hasn’t this one made it to DVD, I wonder?  For all the seriousness of the basic sociocultural issues giving rise to all of this nonsense, this book remains a resolutely entertaining read throughout.

“Such inquiries are usually the result of political pressure that urgently desires an answer to some question far too complex for easy solution.”

Cementing the (mostly) unspoken undertone of warning that while the topic being discussed centers itself around the not so halcyon days of the 1980’s, what is being spoken to is actually applicable even moreso to the current day: specifically, the dunderheaded right wing conservatism of the Tea Party/Fox crowd on one hand, and the Orwellian neo-fascism of the “politically correct” crowd on the other.  Both pincers move in parallel, with only sanity squeezed out and discarded between.

“Try to limit your sentences to words not more than two syllables – we’re dealing with an audience with the mental capacity of 13-year olds here, and they won’t be able to understand you if you start getting philosophical.”

Early on, I knew we were speaking as kindred spirits when Janisse takes a few moments to note the difference between growing up as a child of a more latchkey, counterculturally influenced era where we were taught to question authority, rather than blindly obey directives passed down from on high (as it were) as contrasted with the paranoia that began to sprout during the uber-conservatism of the Reagan era, which has both continued and in fact worsened considerably in the millenium.

“A nation made for adult citizens has been replaced by one imagined for fetuses and children…the Reaganite right capitalized on the image of the child as a means of securing its…politic(al) agenda.”

“Be home by dark and don’t lose the house key” has insidiously morphed into parents being charged as abusers or even having their progeny abducted by the likes of Deyfus for such heinous crimes as not providing school to house door concierge service on a daily basis or allowing their precious offspring to play on the neighborhood swings without omnipresent parental supervision.

What would have been harmless and accepted behavior a mere two decades ago is so criminalized that every stranger is a potential enemy, a horrific monster…and entirely untrustworthy.  How can we possibly hope for grassroots movements, or even the simple empathy that separates civilization from complete anarchy (in the practical rather than the philosophical sense), when your neighbor is at best avoided, at worst an outright enemy to be guarded against?

It’s creepy and weird, and creating a very different, very uptight and pronouncedly sick society, with a peasants bring the torches meets fascist zeitgeist replacing any degree of trust or respect of the individual, much less any measure of personal responsibility and existential authenticity.

We’re the ones vaulting over the fences and peeking in through people’s windows.  We’re the ones who are acting suspicious and paranoid.  We’re the lunatics.

It’s not them.  It’s us.

We have become our own worst enemy, creating a culture of dependency and surrender to jackbooted “authority”, while overprotecting and coddling our youth to the point where they are forced to so bottle their impulses that they have a tendency to explode in entirely irrational extremes.

Think about it – how many mass murders took place on college campuses…high schools…movie theaters…shopping malls…hell, even grammar schools! back in the 70’s and 80’s?  See the point?  Can even the densest of readers possibly fail to notice the direct and ongoing parallels between increasing overprotectiveness and increasing mass violence?

The real satanic panic is out there, and it goes a hell of a lot further than comic book-level fears over tabletop gaming, comic books themselves, or various and sundry genres of music, film and television that folks (and gasp – the chil-dren!) may happen to gravitate towards, to the level where it infects our entire political and societal discourse.

To simplify this down to a core statement, we are once again given to quote the late Walt Kelly.

For we have met the enemy.

And he is us.

 

Your own look into the history of the Satanic Panic awaits at http://www.spectacularoptical.ca.

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