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'Stranger Things' reminds us of the Satanic Panic

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‘Stranger Things’ reminds us of the Satanic Panic

And it’s sadly still relevant.

Season four of Stranger Things starts off with a shot of a paperboy riding his bike down the street. This could be a reference to the arcade video game “Paperboy,” but it might also represent another core concept of one of the season’s subplots: Satanic Panic.

On September 5, 1982, in West Des Moines, Iowa, 12-year-old paperboy Johnny Gosch vanished without a trace. To this day there have been no arrests and his body has not been found. Rumors began to circulate when a young man named Paul Bonacci was arrested on an unrelated charge, and he began filling his attorney’s head with wild ideas — some of which involved Gosch. The story that emerged involved the Franklin Credit Union in Omaha, Nebraska. Bonacci claimed to have been part of Gosch’s abduction and that he and Gosch were part of a nationwide Satanic child sex abuse ring which involved high ranking members of society and politics.

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Sound familiar? This idea laid the groundwork for PizzaGate and later QAnon, decades before either conspiracy theory entered the public consciousness. The Credit Union was shut down and its head imprisoned, but not for running a sex abuse ring, for financial crimes. The elements of high society abusers and Satanism most likely came directly from DeCamp’s warped mind.

'Stranger Things' Satanic Panic

DeCamp was affiliated with Ted Gunderson, one of the biggest names in the 1980s Satanic Panic that ruined countless lives with baseless accusations, and made reputable newspapers look like The National Inquirer. (To put it in context: Gunderson firmly believed that the McMartin preschool really did have underground tunnels, despite a plethora of evidence to the contrary. Alex Jones has mentioned Gunderson several times on InfoWars.)

It’s already been revealed that Eddie Munson, the head of Stranger Things‘ Hellfire Club D&D group, was based loosely on the tragic true story of The West Memphis Three. The Hellfire Club itself is a reference to several secret societies that emerged in the 1700s. Much like the actual Illuminati, these groups have been misremembered and demonized throughout history.

When we first meet Eddie, he’s reading aloud from an issue of Newsweek in the school cafeteria. The article is called “D and D: The Devil’s Game.”

“The devil has come to America. Dungeons and Dragons, at first regarded as a harmless game of make-believe, now has both parents and psychologists concerned … Studies have linked violent behavior to the game, saying it promotes Satanic worship, ritual sacrifice, sodomy, suicide, and even … murder.”

And a fellow student has some concerns, too:

“My mom says the game promotes Satanism and animal cruelty.”

Mike: “That’s just bullsh*t media propaganda.”

60 Minutes begs to differ.”

The brief exchange sums up the Satanic Panic of the ’80s. On this topic, the sources we consider reasonably reliable, dependable, and trustworthy were anything but. Pretty much every genuine news source was fooled into disseminating fake news over this damaging moral panic.

As season 4 of Stranger Things progresses, popular basketball player Jason Carver becomes one of the loudest voices of this moral panic. At first Jason, traumatized by his girlfriend Chrissy’s bizarre death in Eddie’s trailer, believes D&D inspired the killings. But after witnessing his teammate Patrick’s death at Lover’s Lake (with Eddie unfortunately on the scene), Jason comes to believe that there are supernatural powers at play.

Jason tells the police, “Eddie is a vessel, just a vessel for Satan. He’s made a pact with the Devil. No, he has his powers.” The police are, of course, reticent to believe this and Jason replies, “How do you expect to stop the Devil if you don’t believe he’s real?”

Toward the end of this season of Stranger Things, Jason and his friends are armed, dangerous, and have convinced a large portion of townsfolk to join them in their hunt against the Devil. Jason gives three charismatic speeches, with the last one being at a town meeting. If Eddie represents Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three, Jason can easily be seen as an Alex Jones type, whose fight against a “literal Christian Devil” has been well-documented by the Knowledge Fight podcast.

“Last night i saw things, things I can’t explain, things the police don’t wanna believe and things that I don’t wanna believe myself … and I’ve come to accept an awful truth. These murders are ritualistic sacrifices. We’ve all heard about how Satanic cults are spreading throughout the country like some … some disease.

And Eddie Munson is the leader of one of these cults. A cult that operates right here in Hawkins. The mall fire. All those unexplained deaths over the years. Some people, they say our town is cursed, they just don’t why. Now … now we do … they call themselves Hellfire … a club. A harmless club. That’s what they want you to think. But it’s a lie. A lie designed to conceal the truth.”

These moral panics stem from a lack of critical thinking and a black-and-white, either-or, groupthink mentality, best summed up by Dr. Brenner in episode seven of this season of Stranger Things:

“You speak of monsters, superheroes. That’s the stuff of myth and fairy tales. Reality, truth, is rarely so simple. People are not so easily defined.”

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.


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