A Good, Old Fashioned, All-American Satanic Panic
I wonder if somewhere within Proctor & Gamble someone who has been with the company long enough got a good chuckle out of the latest social media trend of Satanic Panic.
Oh yes, Proctor & Gamble of yesteryear, more specifically their Pampers brand of diapers, was getting the Satanic Panic treatment back in 1985 as if one of their cherub-faced mascots had rubbed their diaper-encased bottoms all over the prince of darkness himself like Lil Nas X has, to get the modern-day devil fear stoked back up.
LEAFLETS charging that the Procter & Gamble Company is an agent of Satan have recently surfaced throughout the New York metropolitan area and the company is starting a campaign to counteract the rumors. Among other things, the leaflets say that the company’s logo represents the Devil and the company’s profits are used to support the worship of Satan.
Yesterday, Procter & Gamble held a news conference to deny the stories, which it said prompted 5,600 calls last month and 4,000 calls so far this month to its headquarters in Cincinnati. Sixty percent of those calls were from New York, New Jersey or Pennsylvania, the company said.
The company has established a toll- free number, 800-354-0508, to handle the calls. It has also hired two investigative agencies to trace the rumors and take legal action against the people who spread them.
”They simply are not true,” W. Wallace Abbott, a senior vice president of Procter & Gamble, said of the stories. ”We haven’t the vaguest idea how it started; all we know is people are believing it. Do you know how hard it is to fight a rumor?”
This is not the first time Procter & Gamble has waged such a fight. The rumors linking the company with the Devil first began on the West Coast in 1982. Someone, Mr. Abbott said the company has no idea who, began sending mimeographed letters to thousands of California residents saying that the Procter & Gamble logo of the man in the moon and 13 stars was really a symbol of Devil worship
The thirteen stars around the moon of the logo, that P&G relented and changed, dated back to 1882 and was representative of the original 13 colonies. Not some occult symbol. But accuracy or truthiness never stopped a good Satanic Panic. Ask Dungeons & Dragons players of the 70s and 80s. Or kids just trying to watch a cartoon like He-Man, Smurfs, or Thundercats and buy merch to go with it but getting blocked because that was Satanic. Plus there were the daycares that were actual occult sacrifice centers, so those were Satanic too. Oh, and re-runs of Mr. Ed, because he is so totally about secretive, subliminal messages, so that’s uber Satanic. And if you listen to music backwards you get all sorts of messages about killing yourself and serving the devil, so that’s muy satánico. And even if you weren’t Satanic in the 80s, there was a book and cottage industry based around the fact that you actually were. You just couldn’t remember it until the right people used the right methods to bring those memories out of you, because those are mega super ultra-Satanic.
And then there was heavy metal music. Which was totally and utterly Satanic. Except almost none of it actually was, the edgy darkness being more for the shock and awe value of it than actually hailing the dark lord. That particular strain of Satanic Panic reached its peak in 1990 when a judge ruled that legendary metal outfit Judas Priest was not liable for the murder-suicide attempt by Raymond Belknap, then 18, and James Vance, 20 who “had spent six hours drinking, smoking marijuana and listening to the metal band’s Stained Class album, after which each man took a shotgun and shot himself. Belknap died instantly, but Vance lived, sustaining serious injuries that left him disfigured; he died three years later.” Vance and his parents sued claiming subliminal messages, not the hours’ worth of hard partying and bad life decisions, had made the tragedy happen. The judge disagreed. But probably only because he was in on the worldwide network of Satan worshipers himself, or something.
See, that’s the beauty of a good Satanic Panic. Like all good conspiracy theories, all proof against it is really proof that it is real. Meanwhile, the Satanic Panic Patrol is so busy chasing their wildest nightmares around they just end up looking foolish at best, or worse destroying innocent people’s lives. After six years of investigations and five years of trial the McMartin daycare case resulted in zero convictions. The Judas Priest case. The West Memphis Three, who did 18 years in prison before Alford Pleas commuted their sentences and DNA indicated they had nothing to do with killing anyone. Heck, even the Amanda Knox saga had Satanic Panic make a cameo. Not to be out done, politics also has its share of Satanic Panics. The lunatic fringe of today that buys into Pizzagate and QAnon conspiracies of massive political pedophilia rings are just a logical hop, skip, and a jump from the suburban Satanic Panic panickers, who are just the latest version of a crazy that goes back to the Middle Ages and before.
Satanic Panic is the worst kind of dumb conspiracy theory: an unoriginal one.
Perhaps the peak of Satanic Panic 1.0 (or whatever scoring you are using at home) in the halcyon days of the 80s/90s was Geraldo Rivera’s post-Al Capone’s vault debacle with a hell of a primetime special. At the time, Geraldo’s Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground was the highest rated two-hour special in television history. And even at the time, folks sort of felt maybe the guy who just got owned on live TV by an empty vault might be overselling Satanic Panic just a smidge:
Back in 1988, mustachioed talk-show gadfly Geraldo Rivera aired a very special two-hour exposé on America’s foremost seducer of innocents: Satanism! The host somehow managed to spin heavy metal album covers and disparate crimes into a sensationalist yarn about a million-strong Satanic conspiracy overtaking the nation.
Among the many absolutely ridiculous moments are when Geraldo posits that Satanism should have a warning label like cigarettes, Geraldo notes that “use of new vocabulary” is a symptom of occult interest, and Ozzy Osbourne defends his music via satellite feed (the singer is surprisingly lucid, despite looking like he just rolled out of bed).
Even at the time, the documentary was roundly trashed as histrionics. I mean, why discuss improving mental health treatment for teenagers when you can blame what’s widely considered Iron Maiden’s best album?*
At the time, Geraldo’s Satan scare brought NBC the highest ratings ever received for a two-hour documentary, but its lurid subject matter didn’t pull in the advertisers.
Funny that. The folks with actual skin in the game immediately sensed they didn’t want their brands associated with it, no matter how many eyeballs it drew. For reference, when a late-80s Ozzy — who was legendarily higher than a bad haircut on a giraffe most of the time during that period — is warning you to slow your roll, you’ve lost the plot. But Geraldo did manage to get one actual heavy metal Satanist on the show.
“How much can you influence kids?” King Diamond sets up his retort in that clip while wearing his full stage makeup: “I think people are too clever to be influenced by a band on stage or going out and listening to an album to go out and do the same. ‘Cause if they were that easy to influence, watching the news, you get the real thing, and everyone knows that’s right into your living room.”
Which is the crux of the Satanic Panic. Or the Violent Video Games Panic. Or the Rap Music Panic. Or more recently the WAP Panic. The material isn’t knew, but when such things land with a group that scheming folks can make hay for their own causes with you get crossed streams of self-interest and moral outrage. Moral red turns money green quick, if you know how to push the right buttons. The Satanic Panic button certainly pushes folks. Which is why Lil Nas X was lap dancing Satan and selling out “Satan shoes” in the first place. Savvy marketer that he is, the controversy is a force multiplier for his brand; every think piece and Twitter thread about it is linking to his pic, his YouTube vid, his brand expansion, making him sinful amounts of money while the erstwhile good and godly folks of social media lose their ever-loving minds.
It’s in the finest American tradition of a Satanic Panic. It isn’t the first. It won’t be the last. You can ask King Diamond, who after 40-odd years of being the rare breed of actually Satanic person in a Satanic Panic is circumspect about such things these days. Oddly enough, despite his Satanic bone fides he spent much of the 80s and 90s fending off criticisms of being a fake or not really metal. As early as 1984 even the normally tolerant Heavy Metal press was dubbing him “hokey Satanist” despite him being very serious about his faith beliefs. Not to mention dealing with the public perception he admittedly invited upon himself.
Mercyful Fate also had a major influence, along with Venom, on the Norwegian black metal scene of the early 90s. Not only for their heavy music and satanic vibes, but also for King’s image, copied in the ‘corpse paint’ worn by bands such as Mayhem and Emperor, which defined the whole aesthetic of black metal. King acknowledges the influence that he and his band had on black metal, but he recalls his shock at the genre-related events in Norway in 1993: the burning of churches, and the brutal murder of Mayhem leader Oystein Aarseth by rival musician Varg Vikernes of Burzum. “These were sick, crazy, twisted things,” he says.
That leads him to address the great conundrum in his life. To distance himself, and Mercyful Fate, from the horrors of Norwegian black metal, he states: “I don’t think anyone could have misinterpreted what we were doing.” And yet in the very next moment he admits that he has been misunderstood for his entire adult life. “I’ve tried to explain this so many times,” he says. “People ask me: ‘Are you a Satanist?’ To answer, I have to ask them a question first: ‘What does that mean to you?’ If you think it’s someone who sacrifices animals, or worse, no. Are you insane? I would never harm an animal. If you think that’s it, you’re crazy.
That’s exactly it, though. That is the really soul-sucking part of a roused up Satanic Panic. It makes people crazy. It has to, because logically it just doesn’t hold up. There’s no earthly way there are secretly millions of Satan worshipers stealing babies and sacrificing animals. There is no evidence outside of the convicted looking for an excuse that a genre of music alone is the source of bad behavior, any more than video games were despite that myth enduring for going on 40 years now. Same with television before that. If we checked someone, somewhere probably thought the telegraph and Western Union was Satan in the wires at some point. The “evidence” presented saying so is no more convincing than the anecdotal evidence of us sneaking out of backwoods country churches to listen to metal, or rap, or whatever else in a car of off a cassette someone managed to get a hold of lead to most of us turning out reasonably normal. For the ones who didn’t, the type of music they listened too is far down the list of things wrong with them. Same with murderers who happened to listen to metal, or worship Satan, or whatever other excuse they come up with for their wicked deeds.
Maybe it is heretical to some Christians, but if you have a little bit of faith and belief, then someone you don’t know getting their grind on with the forbidden one really doesn’t affect your life at all unless you let it. Like D&D players you didn’t know in the 70s. Or metal heads and thrashers in the 80s. Or the explosion and mainstreaming of rap in the 90s. Or Lil Nas X in devilish thigh-high boots making it rain on himself while the church folks gasp in horror. Or whatever it will be next time after the current Satanic Panic subsides a bit.
Maybe it would be fairer to hold Baptists and Satanist to the same standards, but that doesn’t feel as good as raging against the dark, mystic arts. Then again, we can’t even get into the nuances of what actually makes a Satanist. Take, for example, the differences between the Satanic Temple and the Church of Satan, neither of which actually believe in a real, literal Satan anyway. And if you think their doctrinal beef over differences outsiders might see as nuances, pedantic, and shades of grey, you haven’t been to a Baptist church lately for a good, old fashioned red v blue carpet business meeting. The nuances of art and performance? Pfft, forget about it. Maybe Geraldo, who isn’t in any great professional shakes at the moment, should do another special of how all those kids at that King Diamond concert in 88 are doing now that they are in the 40s and 50s. You know, some actual data points and real-life stories as to whether or not the Satanic Panic of the 80s ruined a generation or not.
Then again even avowed Satanist have their limits, no matter how great the tradition of an American Satanic Panic may be. “I’ve been here in Dallas (Texas) since ‘92,” the Danish-born King Diamond, now in his 60s himself, told an interviewer. Both King and his wife are now naturalized US Citizens. “I’m glad that I’m not in Denmark now. They have such long, horrendous winters.” Maybe give the guy a break. After all, he’s one of ours now, and just trying to stay warm, believe how he sees fit, and melt faces at the metal show.
God Bless America, Satanic Panics and all.