Ever find yourself wondering about Satan, or listening to music that mothers would pale to hear? Banish those devilish desires of yours with a trip to everyone’s favorite Bushwick-based occult bookstore and event space, Catland, to take in the Satanic Panic Propaganda Video Show, a compilation of short videos showcasing the moral panic of the ’80s and ’90s centering around the potentially violent dangers of Satanic rituals and cults.
“The history of American paranoia as represented and encouraged through media is probably up there with my top five interests in history,” Billy Burgess, the event’s curator and host, told me. “It’s one of these fascinating subjects. There’s more rabbit holes than all of Alice in Wonderland.”
This event is part of the Druid Underground Film Festival (DUFF) the “only nationally touring underground film festival in North America.” Burgess is the founder of DUFF, which has been bringing their odd brand of cinema to locations conventional and strange throughout America every year since 2006, showing both original short films and found footage. They’ve previously shown work in New York at Anthology Film Archives, Spectacle Theater, Don Pedro, and Silent Barn. This is their first time at Catland, but the Bushwick occult space sounds like a devilishly perfect fit for this show.
Since you might be wondering, “Satanic Panic” is the widespread fear of Satanic ritual abuse (physical or sexual abuse in the alleged context of an occult or Satanic ritual) in a community or country, and more specifically a reference to a time in America during the 1980s and 90s when the media was rife with stories about the horrors of Satanism’s wrath on our youth. Various organizations, news networks, and the like took horrific crimes such as rape and murder, that may or may not have even happened, and placed the blame for these criminals’s actions elsewhere. The target of their ire was media that they considered of the devil, such as heavy metal music, pentagram graffiti, or even Dungeons and Dragons. Nerds, beware…
Often these ventures were spearheaded by Evangelical groups, and sometimes gave way to conspiracy theories about mass slaughters and child abductions at the hands of an ever-increasing network of Satanic cults. (Spoiler alert: no tangible proof was ever found that this mass of cults ever existed, like, at all.) Satanic Panic has been compared to witch hunts of Europe and McCarthyism. However, the phenomenon had died down by the mid-’90s, after scholars and experts deduced it was rooted almost exclusively in paranoia. Go figure.
“It was definitely this time of persecution of people who have an interest in the dark side of life, the mystical side of life,” Burgess said. “People who walk on the darker side of life are attracted to me, and I’m not afraid of that. I’m interested in being a part of the old side of people who lived through something and can teach people about something that was pretty interesting and happened in history not that long ago that really, we’re still experiencing. Maybe it’s not so cartoony [anymore], but they’re still easy targets.”
Naturally, a phenomenon so driven by fear (and with a great rhyming name) has resulted in some pretty interesting stuff. Burgess compiled a massive collection of videos, consisting of clips produced between 1985 and 1995 from mainstream and local news networks and VHS tapes distributed by “churches and concerned citizens.” In a way, these are invaluable cultural relics from the Culture Wars. “Really overt propaganda is almost dead, except for advertising and Christianity,” he said.
Burgess has been collecting obscure and odd footage for nearly his entire life. “When I was a kid, if I saw a video store I had to go in there and see what was up. I was always trying to get the most obscure; the forbidden,” he told me. “That’s a major point of this: presenting the forbidden and making these things […] actually okay so people don’t feel ashamed of expressing the multitude of what really existed in humanity.”
The collection of clips originally premiered at a packed outdoor screening in Los Angeles where Blanche Barton, former High Priestess of Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, appeared and gave a short lecture about her experience as part of the Church during this moral panic’s heyday. Barton lived with LaVey from 1985 until his death.
“Her history is so fascinating. [She] was the person directly receiving the invites from various press members exploiting the explosion of interest in the darker elements of the occult,” Burgess explained. “She really existed in that in-between state where a lot of changes happened with the organization.” Barton’s speech will be screened in its entirety at the event.