COPS ARE GIVING THE PUNISHER THE ROMANTIC SATANISM TREATMENT…POORLY
Non-trick question: What does Satan have in common with Marvel Comics’ the Punisher? Answer: Not much, although I would frankly not recommend letting Garth Ennis very far off the leash with either of them.
Nevertheless I found myself asking this last week after YouTuber José published a video essay titled “Why Some Cops Think They’re the Punisher.”
Some of the answers therein made me realize, to my shock, that these bad lieutenants are employing one of the most fundamental tools of Modern Satanism: The potential to remake our own myths, independent of social expectations.
And I realized something else: That none of them would ever understand why, to paraphase Frank Castle himself, when the wrong person tries to do what we do, it always ends bad for them.
At the genesis of the Punisher’s publication history, Marvel Comics introduced him as a villain in a 1974 issue of “The Amazing Spider-Man.” He was briefly intent on killing Spider-Man, because of course Spider-Man gets framed for some capital crime before his morning boner even has time to fade most days, it happens.
Creator Gerry Conway told Comics Interview magazine in 1985 that he ripped the character off pretty directly from The Executioner, a fashy-sounding series of pulp novels with incredible titles like Blood Heat Zero, Thermal Thursday, and Death Load, the latter of which doubles as its own porn parody.
If you’ve used the Internet before at all in your life then you know the gimmick: the Punisher is a cracked up ‘Nam vet with a family murdered by mobsters. So he does what any healthy person would do and struts around New York City stuffing grenades into the mouths of suspected criminals like the apple at a pig roast.
Empire writer Owen Williams qualifies the character as “a reprehensible fascist,” so naturally he got his own comic at the height of the Reagan administration, although it didn’t last. Adaptations often try to humanize him, but on the comic page the dude has all of the impulse control and humane nuance of Cookie Monster.
So that’s the Punisher, fine, okay, why do we care? Well, as Modern Satanists, we have a very keen interest in the ways that people use and reuse symbols and myths. The original intent of a story and image usually informs future applications–but it doesn’t determine them.
Let’s talk about cops.
Plenty of right-wing American cultists without coping skills have “borrowed” the Punisher’s image as a political meme in recent years. And of course they have: He kills a lot of people, they fantasize about killing a lot of people, it’s a match made in Hell, Michigan.
Then cops started getting in on it. Which, guys, gotta tell ya, you’re saying the quiet part loud again.
In 2017, the Lexington Herald Leader reported that cops in Catlettsburg, Kentucky had to remove giant honking Punisher logos from their cars because–and you’ll never believe this–civilians said it made them look aggressive.
‘”We’re getting so many calls, and they’re saying that the Punisher logo [means] we’re out to kill people, and that’s not the meaning behind that,'” Police Chief Cameron Logan told io9.
Chief, as someone whose youth was misspent almost entirely on means of assuring I could speak with authority on this, let me just tell you straight up yes that definitely is the meaning behind that.
Punisher creator Conway himself complained about this sort of thing in 2019, telling SyFyWire that the character represents the ultimate failure of law enforcement and that “police should not be embracing a criminal.”
Well, if anybody would know. Here’s the thing though: In a certain sense, aren’t these yahoos just doing what we, as Modern Satanists, do every day?
They’ve taken a conventionally unheroic character and reassessed him through the lens of their own values. They’re employing imagery and ideas that the world at large finds frightening or intimidating, but which they consider empowering and affirming. They’ve flown in the face of the orthodox intent of that myth, but they insist on the validity of their perspective.
In a very real way, isn’t this same exercise the foundation of Modern Satanism?
The Romantic Satanists of the 18th century favored Satan as a literary character because they favored certain ideals: unorthodoxy, individualism, humane emotion, material gratification, etc. And the qualities that conventionally vilified Satan, such as his pride and defiance of god, now seemed either unimportant or actually commendatory.
I’m very comfortable associating with Satan because I’m also very comfortable with those themes, always have been. Now, what makes aggro cops comfortable with the Punisher? Several told Vulture writer Abraham Riesman in 2017, with one enumerating the perceived tenets of the character: “Don’t worry about uniforms, inspections, or restrictive rules of engagement. Kill the bad guys.”
Great, no red flags there.
“Frank is compelling because of his propensity to go from zero to killing based on his perception,” another said. Yes, this sounds like a man who should be issued a firearm immediately, no notes.
“I have personally seen certain types get off easy due to a technicality. People want Superman, but then realize it’s the Punisher they need,” a third one added. Ah, “certain types,” you say? Before we continue, officer, is your body cam on?
So yes, in one sense the weird, emasculated, domestic terror-tinged subculture of Punisher policing is a little like Satanism. And in every more important sense, the two things are vast astronomical units apart.
The lesson: Things that appears superficially similar may turn out to be wildly different or even actively opposed with any further examination. Such a maxim doesn’t sound like it should require specific explication, but just last week we saw some monumental errors that proved otherwise.
Often, we find that Anti-Satanist sentiment relies on the rhetoric of superficial sentiment. As Satanists, we should always maintain a mandate to examine things more closely and completely–whatever the ramifications.
This is a thought provoking essay and I enjoyed reading it. I’m going to push back a bit on your choice of the word “emasculated,” though. More and more I find gendered words that equate masculinity with something positive, and the loss or opposite of masculinity as negative, to be really problematic.
There’s a strong sexism at the heart of that word. As someone else described it, “When emasculated, a man is stripped of his manly role or identity. In other words, the man either has no gender or he starts to resemble a woman.” The only read is that resembling a woman is laughable, distressing, or otherwise bad. Even when used in a critique of toxic masculinity–which you are here, in a way–the dichotomy it implies is jarring. Anyway, enjoyed the essay. I just hate that term. Thanks for listening.
That’s a great point, thank you. I think like a lot of people I tend to use emasculation as a synonym for various types of insecurity–but of course, as you rightly point out that’s part of the problem.
Thank you! I understand, and I appreciate your candid response.
Something to note: Gerry Conway has now started making BLM Punisher shirts cause he got so fed up of cops taking the symbol: