Book Reviews: Satanic Panic

While not the only book that has broached the subject of “Satanic Panic,” FAB press’s Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s is a fascinating examination into the various ways that pop culture was both attacked and exploited by the prevailing fear of Satanism during that decade. It features 20 critical essays that take a journey back in time to an era some might not be aware of, when parents and religious groups feared that their children were being influenced by Satanism and the occult through the forms of music, board games, cartoons, toys, and movies. The fear was present and it was further propagated by the news media, television shock hosts, religious groups, and other forms of print media looking to profit off of the hysteria.

The essays include a history of the biography Michelle Remembers, which were the accounts of Michelle Smith and her now debunked tale of her unspeakable horrors at the hands of a satanic cult. It delves into her relationship with her therapist and co-author, their celebrity status within the anti-satanism movement, themes that were used in the book, ways that they were able to authenticate and make the stories believable, and how it was all debunked. Another from Alison Nastasi looks at the pulp style Russ Martin satanic panic inspired novels that capitalized off of real life scandals and the media coverage, its portrayal of females in the books and how Playboy played a large part in all of it.

The attack on the role playing game (RPG) Dungeons & Dragons and other RPG’s by Christian fundamentalists is detailed by Gavin Baddely, providing a history of the gaming industry and the books and real life suicides that were used to support the attack on RPG’s. It also discusses the court cases that used a Dungeons & Dragons defense and the types of magic that is used in RPG’s versus authentic occult practices. Paul Corupe covers the rise of Christian comics, specifically focusing on Jack T. Chick and his popular comic Dark Dungeons. Joshua Benjamin Graham delves into the Christian fundamentalists attack on He-Man and other 1980’s cartoons and toy lines, the major players involved and the books that were written by Christians against the alleged occult cartoons. An analysis is done by Kevin Ferguson on several satanic themed horror films that featured technology run amok and how the combination further inspired fear amongst parents and religious groups.

Also covered in  great length is the Ricky Kasso murder and suicide and his unexpected pop culture popularity, Geraldo Rivera’s controversial devil worshipping network specials and the rise of shock talk hosts, black metal and the unexpected Senate Committee hearing on the 15 songs that were labeled “porn rock,” the rise of MTV and occult themes in heavy metal music videos, the series of occult themed horror films that were created in order to profit off of the countries anxieties, the rise and history of Christian metal and punk rock, the use of VHS by Christian groups to spread the word of Satanic panic, the pranking of Christian talk-show host Bob Larsen, Mike Warnke and his popular autobiographical book The Satan Seller and its eventual debunking, and the spread of satanic panic to Quebec, Australia, and Great Britain.

This is an interesting investigation into a cultural phenomenon, which is worth checking out if you’re a fan of the 1980’s or any of the types of pop culture that are part of this conversation.

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 -Raul Vantassle