SATANIC PANIC (Janisse & Corupe 2016) Book Review

Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s Book Review

The 1980s were an unusual decade. The 50s were the simple “good old days”. The 60s had political upheaval. The 70s seem to be completely forgotten. And then the 80s… Reaganomics, and a strange mix of New Wave music and cult movies. More pop culture today comes from the 1980s than from any other time. And, this was also the time when people irrationally believed that Satan was touching our children through every available medium. And thus is the focus of “Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s”, a collection of essays out now from FAB Press.

In my small town growing up, I was not immune to the paranoia from well-meaning adults. A so-called “gang” a few years older than me was branded as Satanic because of their t-shirt preferences. My class caught the tail end of this. I have always loved horror films. But it really came to my attention in fifth grade when I was playing Dungeons and Dragons with a few friends and we were banned from doing so when a teacher informed us that the game was satanic. I didn’t understand it then, and when I researched it more in high school, I understood it even less. Stories were circulated of “black magic rituals” and kids killing each other with swords in the sewer. Obviously, whatever game these parents thought was satanic was not the game I played – we never had weapons, we never used magic. We told stories about knights and goblins… that’s not devil worship, that’s just being a dork.

“Satanic Panic”, edited by Kier-La Janisse and Rue Morgue magazine’s Paul Corupe, had a few articles on D&D, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. We have Jack Chick’s religious tracts, a history of erotic book covers, killer Ricky Kasso’s influence on pop culture, and even a look at satanic imagery in “Masters of the Universe” (which I’ve never noticed, so maybe I was being brainwashed by Satan and never even knew). Satanism in film is looked at, with more than a passing glance at “Evilspeak”, which HorrorHound publisher Nathan Hanneman praised wildly in the book “Hidden Horror”. (Which, in the interest of full disclosure, also contains an essay from yours truly.)

Music is examined, with a special look at the PMRC, best remembered as the group who put parental labels on albums. I actually agree with that decision, as it makes just as much sense to rate music as it does movies if we want parents to make informed decisions. But the PMRC was fanatical, and accused Twisted Sister of promoting sadomasochistic practices, and John Denver of promoting drug use. Dee Snider and John Denver both testified before Congress, as did Frank Zappa.

Chapters cover Satanism in England and Australia, which may be less known to American readers. It was certainly much less known to me. And then the boogeyman of “ritual abuse” comes up. Somehow a generation of kids were brainwashed into thinking they were molested by devil worshipers, and that generation’s parents believed it. This brought great ratings to people like Phil Donahue, and single-handedly destroyed the career of brilliant religious studies professor Carl Raschke, who bought into the hype.

Somewhat strangely, the final chapter is on Joe Dante’s film “The ‘Burbs”. I’ve seen it. It’s not my favorite Dante film, but it’s a good one. And never have I ever considered it to be about Satanism or a satire of Satanic Panic in the 1980s. But this chapter may convince me otherwise.

The topics are covered with a broad brush, nothing left untainted. Each chapter is about ten pages, and the book is packed full of photos and artwork. If you’re familiar with the topics discussed, this will be a great refresher and probably introduce you to a few new things. If you never heard of “Satanic Panic” but find pop culture interesting, this book is the perfect primer. (Sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m getting older and not everyone was born by the time 1990 rolled around.)

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