The Satanic Panic of the ‘80s

One of the big influences of Satan Ninja 198X is the satanic panic of the ‘80s. Since some of you readers might not know what the hell the “satanic panic” was, I thought I’d make it the topic of this week’s radical blog post.

First of all, the satanic panic was retarded. It was also sort of hilarious and sort of terrifying (but not in the way people thought).

You see, in the mid-80s, when I was a little curly-haired boy growing up in the 'burbs, I was warned to be wary of the satanists that might try to kidnap me. It’s not that I came from a fear-mongering religious household (far from it), it’s just that everyone at the time seemed convinced that there were secret satanic cults lurking everywhere. And those sneaky cultists wanted nothing more than to abduct innocent little children for their rituals.

When I would lie in bed at night, if I heard a scary sound in the distance, I assumed it was some kind of satanic ritual sacrifice. Whenever I was out alone riding my bike and I saw some scary dudes, I would consider the possibility that they might be satanists eager to abduct me.

It made my childhood both terrifying and sort of awesome.

Michelle Remembers

So why were so many people in the ‘80s convinced that there were secret satanic cults everywhere?

Well, it mostly started because of this fucking book, right here:

Michelle Remembers Satanic Panic 1980

Released in 1980, it claimed to be the true story of Michelle Smith's long-repressed childhood memories, which her psychiatrist (and eventual husband) had uncovered through hypnosis sessions.

According to the book, when Michelle was a five-year-old girl living in Canada, her mom was a member of a secret satanic cult. The cult would chain Michelle up, torture her, molest her, rub body parts of sacrificial victims on her, and all that other fun cult stuff. This went on for about a year, but then the book ends with a batshit crazy grand finale.

Get this:

Little Michelle was part of a huge satanic ceremony that lasted over 80 days straight and culminated with the summoning of Satan himself. But just when things were about to get all Doom II: Hell on Earth, God decided that enough was enough and put a stop to the ritual by sending down a holy posse consisting of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and Michael the Archangel. Satan and the cultists were thwarted, and then (quite conveniently) the deus ex machina trio healed Michelle of all the scars she had accrued over the year of satanic torture and wiped her memory of the events until the time was right for those memories to return.

That’s seriously how the book ends. And this shit was sold as non-fiction. And the fucking thing became a best-seller.

In more recent years, all sorts of people have debunked the story in various ways, but I’m not even going to bother going into that. Because no effort should need to be made to debunk the goddamn story—just read what happens at the end again. Of course it’s bullshit! That should be apparent to anyone who’s not a complete lunatic.

Yet in the ‘80s, people ate this shit up. Maybe it was all the coke. I dunno. The media treated it as fact. Even as late as ‘89, Michelle appeared on Oprah's talk show and Oprah interviewed her without even an ounce of scepticism.

McMartin Preschool Trial

In ‘83, following the sensation caused by Michelle Remembers, a California mom told the police that her estranged husband had sodomized their preschool-aged son. Oh, and he also could fly and had performed all sorts of satanic rituals. The police were extra disturbed by this, because the accused flying assraping warlock happened to be a pre-school teacher. The cops then sent out a mass letter to about 200 parents that basically said the following:

“Hey, one of your kid’s pre-school teachers, Mr. McWarlock, might have done some pervy stuff with your kid. So ask Junior if he ever saw Mr. McWarlock fly around or do anything creepy to him or other students. Oh, and please don’t tell anyone about this and cause a big panic or anything. Thanks.”

So of course a big fucking panic ensued. The media picked up on the rumors of satanic ritual involvement and ran with it. What the media failed to report was that the California mom who originally accused her estranged husband of rape and flight abilities was both a paranoid schizophrenic and a raging alcoholic. In fact, she ended up drinking herself to death in ‘86.

The trial dragged on and on until 1990 (making it the longest-running American trial at the time) when the charges against “Mr. McWarlock” were finally dropped due to lack of evidence.

Satanism in the Media

Not long after the McMartin preschool trial began making headline news, stories began popping up all over the US (and soon other countries as well) of “ritual satanic abuse” at the hands of secret cults. Apparent victims of such abuse went on talk shows and wrote tell-all autobiographies exposing a vast secret network comprised of over a million satanic cultists in the US alone. The media lapped it all up and reported it with a straight face.

Like this 1985 episode of 20/20 that you can watch if you’re bored:

A few years later, in ‘88, mustachioed talk show host Geraldo Rivera hosted a two-hour special to expose the “satanic conspiracy” that he felt was threatening America. Here’s a link to the whole video if you’ve got more time to kill (and can stomach the slightly out of synch audio and stretched aspect ratio):

And I haven’t even touched on the satanic connection to Dungeons & Dragons, but that’s an article of its own.

Anyway, over the course of the ‘80s, there were over a thousand cases of reported satanic ritual abuse in the US. The one thing that they all had in common was a complete lack of evidence.

The "Satan" in Satan Ninja 198X

So that’s the environment I grew up in. When Jessica and I decided to make a comic that paid tribute to our favorite aspects of the ‘80s, I knew I had to include an element of the satanic panic. The idea of a secret cult of satanic ninjas amused us and seemed suitably absurd. The campy satanic element of the comic kept growing (in part because Jessica was on a big King Diamond kick at the time) until finally we decided to change the name of the comic from Shinobi Fist: Legend of the Badass Ninja to Satan Ninja 198X.