Satanic Panic: Back and Based

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I’ve been thinking about doing a blog series on a revival of the Satanic Panic that’s currently going on in contemporary alt-right circles. For those unfamiliar, the original Satanic Panic of the eighties and early nineties had two main aspects; I’ve come to think of them as the soft and hard varieties:

The soft Satanic Panic came from the fear that entertainment popular with youngsters (Dungeons and Dragons, Star Wars, He-Man et al) contained occult messages. This was confined largely to fundamentalist communities, and tends to strike outsiders as being rather silly.

The hard Satanic Panic was based on the fear that cults of Satanists were ritually abusing children. This was obviously harder to laugh off than the first concern: even if you don’t believe in demons, it’s entirely within the realms of possibility that a cult or religious sect might commit acts of child abuse. Consequently, this aspect of the Satanic Panic caught on here in the UK, even though we don’t have the fundamentalist Christianity that exists in the US.

The hard Satanic Panic died down as case after case of alleged ritual abuse were debunked. The soft variety lasted into the turn of the twenty-first century (remember the backlash against Pokémon and Harry Potter?) but without its harder cousin to lend any sort of credence, it was widely dismissed as a joke.

But now, the alt-right has its own smaller-scale Satanic Panic underway, repackaged for the brave new world of the twenty-first century.

In its new form, the soft Satanic Panic draws upon the main talking point of Gamergate, Comicsgate and the Sad/Rabid Puppies: that popular entertainment has been overrun by “SJWs”. I’ve already written about how the attacks on the recent She-Ra reboot echoed the attacks on the original 1980s version of the cartoon, simply with “feminist” replacing “occult”. Once you consider that a chunk of the alt-right believes progressives to be literally in league with Satan, it’s easy to see where the dots are being joined.

The hard Satanic Panic, meanwhile, is now able to draw upon the narratives of QAnon and Pizzagate that a secret cabal of child-molesters – including ritualistic child-molesters – has infiltrated the corridors of power from Washington D.C. to the local authorities of Hampstead. There’s always room to dredge up some of the older cases, too. Last year I saw that a long-discredited document about the McMartin Preschool affair had been given a new lease of life at various alt-right adjacent blogs

I don’t believe that these two narratives should be treated as sides of the same coin. There’s a world of difference between a hardened QAnon believer and someone on Reddit complaining about Lara Croft’s breast reduction. But my point is that, if we had a Venn diagram showing the ‘Gate/Puppy movements, QAnon theorists and Christian fundamentalism/traditionalism, there would be an overlap – and that overlap is where we find the germ of the modern Satanic Panic.

This overlap is a strange place, populated by culture Satanic Panickers who clearly recognise how desperately unhip their eighties predecessors were, and have tried to make up for this in spades. Dank memes, self-published novels riffing on Japanese RPGs and anime, chan lingo stuffed with bizarrely obsessive references to hormones and autistic spectrum disorders – these are the armour of God in the new Satanic Panic. The original incarnation railed against youth-targeted pop culture; the new generation is trying to weaponise it.

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Whether or not I’ll get round to doing a blog series examining this topic depends on how many good case studies I can find. Possibly it’s all too obscure and intangible to be worth analysing. Nonetheless, I’ll be keeping an eye out for any developments in this curious sector of online culture…

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