Bringing Back the 80’s: Satanic Panic
For many, the ’80s is a decade remembered with fondness: neon colors, killer music, and iconic fashion. While for some the 80s was a time to experiment with sky-high hair and bigger music, some remember the time period for a much more sinister reason.
Shows such as Netflix’s Stranger Things have made it possible for games like Dungeons and Dragons to make a comeback, season four of the show brought up a point and why so many people looked at the game and its players with disdain: it was associated with the Devil and the occult. Not only was the board game frowned upon, but so was rock music and anything else “mainstreamed” that was considered alternative or outside the norm. Now it wasn’t the first time the introduction of new music was looked at with fear. At one point jazz music was considered evil and was said to summon the devil, so what made rock music or harmless games any different? It wasn’t so much the music or the game itself, but the fear of godless music and media, along with a series of real-world events, that sparked a decade of terror in the heart of society and created an event that is today referred to as the Satanic Panic.
As stated before, it’s not the first time in history that an event has joined humans together in mass hysteria. The Salem Witch Trials and the fear of Communism during the Cold War are just two other examples when a collective fear has made society act outside of their normal behavior and become suspicious of their neighbors. With this being stated, what was it that caused this mass panic in the 80s?
A staggering concern was the number of youths participating in violent criminal activities. Many young people during this time were arrested after committing violent acts in the name of ‘Satan’ and admitted to being influenced by ‘dark forces’. A popular example of this was the infamous Night Stalker, Richard Rameriz, who hunted the streets of California indiscriminately in the 80s. Richard said he was called by the devil to kill his victims and was a fan of the Church of Satan. Rameriz went so far as to carve a pentagram on his palm during his trial, mainly for shock value and to scare those in the courtroom. This proved the fear to many that American youth were being possessed and influenced by inhuman forces to commit heinous acts of violence. Now while Rameriz may have wholeheartedly believed that the devil was calling him to do evil, it’s more possible that many teens were exploring roll and rock and experimenting with their looks in order to mess with their parents and rebel. For the main part, it appeared to do the trick.
One of the main focuses of the Satanic Panic was the fear of children being sexually exploited. On the surface, this seems like a logical concern, however, the worry was that organized secret societies or cults with strong political ties were responsible for the crimes. Numerous times citizens were arrested and charged with sexual assault against minors, often with no physical or factual evidence of abuse. Instead, there were testimonies in court of ritual sacrifice, daily sexual abuse, animal mutilation, violence, and witchcraft-like rituals.
Since these accusations were so extreme law enforcement didn’t believe that the stories were made up. Whole schools of children and even some adults began to ‘remember’ and recount to the public on record memories of being brainwashed and being forced to participate in and witness orgies, being drugged, acting in satanic rituals and murders of both humans and animals, and consuming flesh. As previously stated, the ‘memories’ were so detailed and triggering for the world that there was no doubt about the claims, even with zero evidence of the crimes. However, much of that is thanks to leading and poor interrogations and therapies done by headstrong law enforcement and therapists.
While it’s not entirely clear why authorities were so desperate to make these arrests on little to no evidence, it could be due to poor education and conservative blue-collar families wanting to pass the blame on why their teens were acting out. It was a way to “explain” their rebellion and the sense of a fleeting American dream.
General fear over the safety of children and what their caretakers were really up to was so great hundreds of people were taken to court over these claims. Even if the accused was not convicted, even the assumption of being tied to the occult or Satan was enough to ruin their reputation and livelihood. Many went to jail and are probably still there to this day over crimes that never even occurred.
As devastating as this was, how is it that Satanic Panic slowed down enough to become a distant memory of the past? The simple truth: it hasn’t. Fear of ‘godless’ and evil media is still present in day-to-day life, however, it is unlikely now that police will make an arrest over a taste in music or style preference. That being said, overzealous media will never turn down the chance to cause an uproar and make people wary of their neighbors.