Sunday, November 27, 2011

Werewolves, "Weird Women," and the Web: How the "Satanic Panic" has never really gone away

The term Satanic Panic is typically used to refer to a period from perhaps the late 1970s into the early 1990s, when fears (largely derived from a surging literalist evangelical wing of American Christianity) of Satanism exploded into lurid accusations of secret underground Satanic cults, ritual abuse and murder of children (tied into a media obsession with missing children, this is where the "face on a milk carton" trope comes from), and claims of secret Satanic codes in heavy metal music and role playing games (specifically the most popular of them, Dungeons & Dragons).

But you know, it never really ended. It continues to raise its ugly head, often in very similar circumstances. It showed up in the Amanda Knox trial in Italy. The West Memphis Three have only recently been released from prison what have been seen by some as the last major prosecution in the Satanic Panic, but this release of course has its detractors. I mention both of these cases in this post in relation to the counter-terrorism problems at the FBI, also caused by religious or cultural ideologues. There are plenty of others, especially now on an international scale.

And it shows up in full effect here, in the case of the "satanic sex crime gone wrong." At the link ( Ritch Duncan discusses how his comedy book The Werewolf's Guide to Life, was found at the scene of, well, maybe a crime (simple summary: guy met up with two girls for sex, some sort of ritual element and knifeplay ensued that apparently got to be too much for the guy, police got involved, guy went home and didn't press charges). Duncan discusses his horror, and then disgust, at how the media exploded and mislead the public about both the case, and arguably about his book (which is an obvious comedy book, I've browsed it in a bookstore, when I was thinking about a similar project involving Lovecraft's creations).

He goes further, and makes an important observation: these media reports didn't do it because they were incompetent or lazy, or least not just for that reason. They did it because they knew it sold to a specific audience. Duncan describes what Glenn Beck did with the story, tying it into vast conspiracy theories of Baal worship and Occupy Wall Street and the Nazis.

Well, yeah. That's the thing with the Satanic Panic, folks. It was always part of a larger ideology, a bigger worldview that was inherently conspiratorial. I've written how a conspiracy theory disguised as scholarship helped inspire both Wicca and H. P. Lovecraft's cosmic horror stories known as the Cthulhu Mythos. Well, it didn't just end there. Margaret Murray argued, incorrectly, that the Satanic witch hunts of the Reformation era were actually a secret pre-Christian religion branded as Satanism. But with the growth and bold assertion of a literalist apocalyptic American Christianity from the 1970s on, this was turned around, and all of it instead seen as Satanism masquerading under politically correct masks. And was tied into other conspiracy theories that are particularly prosperous in the populist right wing, exemplified by Beck's ranting about communist/nazi conspiracies, secret meetings and religions, and global plots against Western civilization (much of which feels lifted from Alex Jones anyway, who has himself flipped around and marched right into the arms of something like Lovecraft's mythos).

It never went away. It just didn't sell broadcast tabloid TV anymore after some of the flashier cases ate up all the oxygen in the room (especially when they fell apart, ala the McMartin case), it was easier to sell stories of aliens in the 1990s (and how that's not that different is a whole other story), and conspiracy theories moved back into the political with the Clinton administration (I'm not saying every witch hunter then went in search of stains on blue dresses or drug planes at Mena airport, as correlation isn't causation, but yeah ;) ). But an audience was always out there, and in internet age of personalized news and entire subcultural media spheres, it can be catered to.

So, when the right "spooky" symbols or associations pop up (creepy books [always available at major book retailers of course. Not, you know, worm-eaten copies of De Vermis Mysteriis], sex rituals, dark outcast teenagers, million-sided dice [or in this case, fantasy monsters]), watch out, here comes the Satanism!