What I aim to do in this blog is to look at the way that the semiotic analysis of media by fundamentalist Christians has had an effect on mainstream media. The way that the media and home video during the 1980’s was used to cause mass hysteria, based on fabricated cases of ritual abuse and how false stories presented as reality caused mass hysteria and had real world effects.
Throughout the earlier years of my life, I was brought up without heavy religious overtones, until my parents got divorced when I was 8. After the divorce my parents both took very different religious paths, My mother openly embraced the pagan ideals that she’d studied and practised most her life and my dad became a born-again Christian through the reach out for Christ Church. This brought in an array of straight to video Christian documentaries. All of a sudden everything I ever loved was now considered evil, cartoons, rock music or anything with even a hint of imagination eluding to something magical or mystical. Dad proceeded to burn all our records and I was left bewildered and confused.
“The most I can learn is in records that you burn”
Marilyn Manson 1994
He-Man and the Master of the Universe
My first hero as a boy was He-Man and yes, even He-Man came under fire by fundamentalist Christianity. Not for the gender stereotypes we constantly hear mentioned in mainstream media, but for indoctrinating children into satanism. In documentaries such as "Deception of a Generation", they claim that these cartoons introduce kids to magic and power and therefore are indoctrinating them into the occult. Mattel created the cartoon in order to sell their new line of toys and their research showed that young boys spend up to a quarter of their time engaged in fantasies of good vs evil. So it seems reasonable that most of our stories and fables passed down to focus on this. I believe good and evil is part of our dual nature (Craggs, C. 1992. pg. 119 - 121).
Dungeons & Dragons
Dungeons & Dragons the original tabletop game from 1974 was widely misunderstood in its day. Many Christians, psychologists and police officials regarded the game as dangerous. Christians believed the game introduced players to demonology and lured them into Satanism while psychologists believed the game could blur the lines between fantasy and reality. Many psychological studies showed that the game brought out the darker sides of people's psyche and that within the fantasy world of gameplay they would commit vulgar or deplorable acts (Laycock, J. 2015 pg. 4-5, 101, 180).
The irony to this disposition is that the concept of believing in demons could be seen as a fantasy by some, in fact believing anything can be seen as a fantasy. Since all text is a constructed representation, belief itself could be argued, is fantasy. I believe that all media can be experienced objectively and that the reason we may play out our darkest desires in a roleplaying game is that we understand that it is not real and that there are no real world consequences.
“All truth is parallel, all truth is untrue”
Rozz Williams 1993
Heavy Metal music often deals with themes of death, sex and the occult. It has come under scrutiny for promoting a rebellious and violent lifestyle. During the height of this scrutiny, Tipper Gore (Wife of U.S. Senator Al Gore) started the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Centre) unleashing a tirade against popular music. The PMRC comprised a list of the fifteen songs they believed should be banned. Tipper Gore used her position to damage the reputations of many artists she saw a moral issue with and to push for a rating system on records which eventually led to the now famous Parental Advisory Explicit Content sticker (Walser, R. 2013 pg 138-140).
I believe that the way Heavy Metal presents itself was largely misunderstood by those trying to interpret its meaning. The irony here is that the ideas and fantasies of Christians were actually more horrific than anything dreamt up by the people they were accusing of evil. It’s a prime example of how mankind needs a scapegoat and why critical analysis and fact-based research are so important.
During this time there was a huge array of news articles, TV presentations and straight to video documentaries focusing on the rise of Satanism. These films used severe shock tactics, tying together a series of violent crimes and satanic ritual abuse, often using heavy metal music as the scapegoat. Satanic Ritual Abuse is a term referring to a moral panic following the release of the book Michelle Remembers. This book explores the repressed memories of a victim of ritual abuse. Claiming she was sexually abused, forced to drink blood and witnessed the killing of many babies. It was released as a biography but has since been discredited.
There was a huge array of cases similar to this throughout the 80’s.
Most notably the controversial McMartin Pre-School cases, the most expensive case in American history at the time which went on for 6 years with 321 counts of child abuse. Although many were held no convictions were made and no evidence was found. The case has been discredited and it is now accepted that the children's allegations were created by coercion (Casey, 2015).
The West Memphis 3
All this hysteria culminated in 1994 when 3 teenage boys were arrested for the murder of 3 young boys. Based on little more than a similarly coerced confession and the fact that the boys wore black and listened to Metallica. The town was in such a state of satanic panic that they convicted Damien Echols to death and Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin to life in prison. The case has been reopened several times and has had worldwide support including massive support from celebrities such as Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp and after 18 years in prison they have all been released but they have not been exonerated and they are still pursuing their exoneration (John. E, 2013).
So the first main point I am trying to make is that the way we interpret media is relative to us as individuals. Each of us will take something slightly different from a media text, which may not be relative to the intent of the creator. Furthermore, Media can be used as a tool for individuals or organisations to further their own agenda which can be an out of selfishness and not one of truth. As it was shown in the D&D studies fantasy is capable of bringing out the worst in people and so it is also true with the imaginations of Christians caught up in the Satanic Panic.
Casey, M. (2015). How not to investigate child abuse. Washington Post. Retrieved 19 June 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-modern-witch-hunt/2015/07/31/057effd8-2f1a-11e5-8353-1215475949f4_story.html?utm_term=.782b73a2186a
Craggs, C. (1992). Media Education in the Primary School (1). Florence, US: Routledge.
John, E. (2013). Damien Echols: How I survived Death Row. The Guardian.
Laycock, J. (2015). Dangerous Games : What the Moral Panic over Role-Playing Games Says about Play, Religion, and Imagined Worlds (1). Berkeley, US: University of California Press.
Leveritt, M. (2002) The Devil’s Knot - The True Story of the West Memphis Three. Atria Books
Partridge, C. H., & Christianson, E. S. (2014). The lure of the dark side Satan and western demonology in popular culture. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Pazder, L. (1980) Michelle Remembers. Pocket Books
Walser, R. (2013). Music Culture : Running with the Devil : Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music. Middletown, US: Wesleyan.