TRAVIS SCOTT CONSPIRACIES ARE NOT “NEW SATANIC PANIC”–JUST OLD ONE
Predictably, conspiracy assholes responded to last week’s fatal trampling during a Travis Scott concert in Houston with consensual mass hallucinations about “Satanic rituals,” and even more predictably, the pushback has dubbed this batshit bacchanal a “new Satanic Panic.”
This is not correct: The Travis Scott fallout is not a new Satanic Panic, it’s just the same old one. Like the popularity of blazers and dick jokes, Satanic Panic never really goes away, it just bides its time.
Your children and your grandchildren and their grandchildren will all encounter essentially this exact same conspiracy slurry–assuming you have children and grandchildren you didn’t ritually consume in Saturnalian excess, of course.
And the reasons will probably be the same: Some of them cultural and some of them psychological, but the most fundamental will be that nobody loves Satanism more than Anti-Satanists. They can’t get enough of it–or at least, they never have.
First, let’s be clear: The Satanic Panic did not begin with just the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare in 1980 following the publication of Michelle Remembers, the worst English-language book that does not involve the phrase “kissed the fleeting stead of death.”
There had already been years or in some cases decades of simmering unrest about “devil worship” in English-speaking countries. Particularly pronounced was the renewed popularity of so-called “Charismatic” churches, whose congregations imagined that god gifted them with miraculous powers to fight evil, like The Eternals but much, much whiter.
“Since enthusiasts saw themselves as extraordinary people, they must have an extraordinary mission, which means that god was using them,” folklorist Bill Ellis writes in his book Raising the Devil. Like say, fighting back against the devil worshipers they were sure were lurking out there.
German theologian Kurt Koch’s sensational account Between Christ & Satan was translated into English in 1962, with its anecdotes of demonic possession and black magic curses passed down generationally.
Eight years later, Charismatic writer Michael Harper’s Spiritual Warfare urged readers to reclaim the holy powers of Biblical miracleworkers and turn it against the evils of the modern age.
Bible scholar Merrill Unger’s Demons In the World Today and preacher Gary Wilburn’s The Fortune Sellers followed the next year, like someone leaned too hard on a shit pinata and this is all what came out.
In his 1972 best-seller Satan Is Alive and Well On Planet Earth, evangelist Hal Lindsey assured readers that “the United States probably harbors the fastest-growing and most highly organized body of Satanists in the world.”
This was true, but only by virtue of the same mechanism that wraps up most of Lindsey’s financial dealings: default.
In the UK, 70s hysterics believed devil worshipers had literally raised the dead in London’s Highgate Cemetery, while in the US, ranchers blamed so-called “cattle mutilations” on secret devil worshipers that were only ever detected in moonshine stills.
Titles like The Satan Seller, The Devil & Mr Smith, and The Illuminati & Witchcraft titillated the world’s most credulous long before Michelle remembered anything. Satanic Panic did not start in the 80s, it merely got louder, much like popular color palettes at the time.
And the scare did not really go away in the 90s. Certainly it became less topical and less immediately dangerous: The prosecutions stopped, as did the breathless TV and video specials. Even the growing popularity of the term “Satanic Panic” signaled the movement’s dwindling cultural capital.
But the idea never went away. Here’s a brief list of things social media has assured me were secret “Satanic rituals” just in the past month:
- The Super Bowl
- The Oscars
- The Grammys
- The Olympics
- “The Masked Singer”
- The Royal Wedding (any of them)
- The movie Luca
- The Met Gala
- Halloween (this one is a gimme)
- The reconstruction of the Arch of Palmyra
- The Notre Dame fire
- The opening of the Gothard Tunnel in Switzerland
- The operation of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN
- The opening of the Global Center For Combating Extremist Ideology in Saudi Arabia (yes, that’s a real thing)
- The new season of “American Horror Story”
- World Chess Championships and/or “The Queen’s Gambit”
- Any mass shooting, somehow including the ones that supposedly did not happen
Most of these conspiratorial ejaculations go back years or decades, and even the ones based on more recent cultural or pop cultural events are variations on themes as old as the dust in the magic tomb Mike Pence lays down in every night to keep from turning back into a scarecrow for another 24 hours.
It’s almost kind of cute that a wider audience has started to notice the deeply weird things rubes are saying about Travis Scott of all people. Travis Scott is not even the tenth dumbest person to put up with this since Easter.
Why does this continue? As I wrote on Patheos a year ago, some of it is just human nature, a manifestation of “the myth of the blood-cult conspiracy,” one of the oldest superstitions known to humankind.
There are also direct gains to be had: As delicious-sounding religious studies professor David Frankfurter wrote in his 2006 book Evil Incarnate, “the leader who reinterprets negative or simply ambiguous experiences in a framework of evil and subversion makes himself indispensable to the resolution” of the problem they’ve invented.
As the kids on the Internet say these days: It’s about clout.
But maybe the most important factor is that fundy conspiracy assholes love Satanism: It might be their favorite subject. Certainly it’s all many of them seem to talk about.
In the 2016 collection Satanic Panic: Pop Cultural Paranoia In the 1980s, former fundy David Canfield observe that Satanic Panic narratives “were effectively a covert horror culture.” They’re ghost stories for religious paranoiacs, delivered in terms acceptable to their sensibilities.
Most of them believe these stories are really true, but that’s because PEOPLE ALWAYS WANT TO BELIEVE THAT SPOOKY STORIES ARE TRUE. Hence horror movie producers have engaged the bogus “based on a true story” trope for decades.
Anti-Satanists spread scary stories about Travis Scott on Tik-Tok because it entertains them, it thrills them, and it delivers subversive gratification in a form they deem safe.
In reality, they love this shit–possibly even more than we do. That’s why they can never get it out of their mouths.