August 22, 2016


Edited by Kier-La Janisse & Paul Corupe (2016, 368 pages)

I remember perusing my local record store in the early 80s and coming across an album by the band, Venom (oft-mentioned in this book). The cover, band photo and lurid song titles were terrifying. These guys were openly declaring their allegiance to Satan! Still, I was morbidly intrigued enough to buy it, and after a single spin on my turntable, I was convinced I was going to Hell just for listening to it.

Ah, the 80s, when the biggest issue facing our troubled youth was the threat of eternal damnation. Satan was our music, our cartoons, our board games, our movies. The media had the evidence to prove it, of course...children abducted for satanic torture, blood-drinking rituals, dumb-asses killing themselves playing Dungeons & Dragons, that nutty, fun-loving LaVey family and just about every heavy metal band that was worth listening to. Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s is a collection of essays about our mostly media-driven obsession with the Ol' Scratch back in the day, from murderers who supposedly killed in the name of Satan to watchdogs looking for the Anti-Christ in He-Man cartoons to Geraldo Rivera’s gloriously awful TV special exposing an underground Satanist culture.

While some of this is actually quite funny, the book doesn’t simply exist to mock zealots caught-up in satanic panic. Some of it is actually a bit disturbing, not just the murderers, but the knowledge that there were (and probably still are) legions of people who concurred with the findings of ‘experts’ who gained brief fame researching this co-called phenomenon. Particularly interesting are the chapters which cover how various psychologists, authors, parents and law enforcement figures preyed on public fear, manipulating truly tragic events (or sometimes entirely fabricating them) for either financial gain or to boost their public profiles. There’s also a chapter on the ever-amusing Jack Chick, a comic artist who gained some notoriety by publishing all those cheap fire-and-brimstone comics you used to find laying around bus stops and phone booths. Of course, no book like this would be complete without sections on heavy metal, the moral majority’s number one scapegoat until rap music came along.

And pity poor Venom, who turned out not to be the bogeyman Bible-thumpers feared, just three English blokes with a silly gimmick to sell records, and had no idea they were even on the PMRC’s notorious “Filthy Fifteen” list until years later. At least they appear to have a sense of humor about the whole thing. Speaking of which, a healthy sense of humor helps while reading Satanic Panic, even during the more disturbing sections. We can also draw comfort in the knowledge we’ve proved beyond such trivialities and have new bogeymen (both real and imagined) to concern ourselves with now.

(though, of course, you'll go to Hell for reading it)

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