SPOILERS de la temporada 4 en todo el texto
One of the blood-curdling moments in the first part of ‘Stranger Things 4’ has nothing to do with Vecna or other monsters from the upside-down world, but the meeting of Hawkins in which an angry high school student convinces the present to go hunting a group of teenagers. A recreation of the mentality of the time that refers to the so-called “Satanic Panic” of the 80s, a movement of persecution of culture as real as it is relevant.
The satanic panic manifested itself in very different ways in the decade, even in the 90s, and although our Xataka colleague John Tones explains it very well here, it is enough to know that articles such as the one in Newsweek of the first episode of the season, titled ‘The devil has come to America‘ were real and quite common. In the text it says that “Studies have linked violent behavior to the Dungeons and Dragons game, saying it promotes satanic worship, ritual sacrifice, sodomy, suicide, and even murder.”.
It seems impossible to think that in the 1980s there was news like that, but the truth is that they were not only in the main headlines and media, but even movies like ‘The Threshold of the Game’ (Mazes and Monsters, 1982) starring by Tom Hanks himself, who reported the danger of these games. Needless to say heavy metal music has always been associated with fear of satan and ritual murderThat’s why the figure of Eddie Munson, who does the Angus Young-style horns, is the first to fall under suspicion in the series.
His case, a little high school dealer with a fondness for metal, It is very reminiscent of Ricky Kasso, who was the author of a murder closely associated with the origin of this panic, but the unjust accusation leads directly to the three from Memphis, teenagers accused of their love of alternative rock who were locked up with many indications that it was not them. The relationship with Satanism is circumstantial, since these social behaviors are classified as moral panic, in general.
The Satanic Panic and Dangerous Ignorance, Yesterday and Today
Any of them consists of a mass movement based on the false or exaggerated perception that some cultural behavior or group of people is “dangerously deviant” and represents a threat to the values and interests of society, they are usually fueled by media coverage of social problems. In ‘Stranger Things 4’ the inclusion of that plot is not only important because of how the whole series revolves around, precisely, the role-playing game ‘Dungeons and Dragons’, but it influences several thematic levels.
On the one hand, it is normal that the satanic panic reaches Hawkins, as in the rest of the United States, but that it affects our protagonists is not accidental. Not only has the gang, now inside the Hellfire club, been the main consumer of these games, but there are a clear relationship with marginalization, bullying and the idea of social misfits with the vision of what is different as monstrous throughout the entire series.
The scene of the hate-filled mob blaming all the problems they don’t understand – all sorts of strange happenings – on a small group of children and teenagers resonates strongly with the present and is not only timely because we are seeing how in times of world crisis and pandemic absurd conspiracies arise, but there is a tendency to criminalize the foreigner, immigration and the “other”. Only a month before filming began, the masses of the extreme right stormed the United States Capitol. in the last days of the Trump administration.
The pursuit of the different
This has been unconsciously reflected in two previous horror fictions, ‘Apocalypse’ (The Stand, 2019), released just at the time the riot happened, and ‘Halloween Kills’ (2021), which was to be released four months before it took place. Probably all the films reflect the same feeling of extreme chaos, probably inspired by the racist marches of Charlottesville of 2017, a terrifying image that summarizes the normalization of the rise of fascism in the last decade.
This is no accident, of course. The news of the 80s can be shocking for how they put D&D in the spotlight of perverse sexual practices, but now some politicians label the LGBTQ+ community as “setters” of heinous agendas, Qanon has gone mainstream with their theories of child trafficking in pizzerias, and Iker Jiménez happily talks about the replacement theory that led to a massacre of African-Americans two weeks ago. People whose culture we don’t understand, people with a different sexual identity or immigrants, are still the real “monsters” that lurk.
However, the series has always had that commentary in the background and its identity is reaffirmed from season to season, the latter being the one that most affects the struggle of the excluded, either because of the struggle in the institute of the popular against the geeks, or the treatment of bullying, present from the first season to these new episodes mainly in the character of Eleven, who after literally being a laboratory guinea pig, has many difficulties in social adaptation. Always persecuted for being different, here she is abused even by her lab partners.
Otherness and religious fear
Her extraordinary abilities are incomprehensible even to those like her, who corner and mistreat her. Misunderstanding is the backbone of the story in which Jane is the main representative, therefore, the Satanic Panic, more than a referential ingredient, is the essence of hatred that unites the entire theme of the revelations and twists. Especially if we tell the story of Vecna starting from the end. Henry Creel is the opposite version of Eleven, he is one more victim who decides to rebel.
All the story of Victor Creel is also treated by the press of his time as “ritual killings” before movies like ‘The Exorcist’ (1973) were in fashion, which increased the fear of “murders by demonic possession”, and a clear parallel is made with the puritanical mentality of the 50s with the resurgence of the persecution of Eddie by be an “emissary” of the devil. When Creel begins to see everything that happens in his house, caused by his son, he also attributes it to a religious evil, interprets all the signs, and the dead animals with fear of God, with a naive reaction of a Christian family of the time. .
The boy wants to show that the hypocrisy of the brave new world of the fifties hides skeletons in the closet and shows his own sins to his parents, who present themselves to the world as good and normal people but have stains inside like the rest. Here reinforces the idea of the hypocrisy of the American way of life, the same one that leads to the persecution of role-playing games and rock music, only here it is concentrated in the family sphere. The mother distrusts him and fears him, she wants to take him to a doctor, making Henry another victim of ignorance, only his plan is a retroactive revenge that ends with terrible murders, including his sister.
The origin of the conflict that unleashes the entire series
Henry’s anger comes because everyone told him “he was broken”, and it seems that he is blamed for his family moving house to start from scratch and this is related to Eleven, who is also attacked and marginalized for what It is, even if I take a different path the villains in the first instance are all those who blame “satan” for what is differentconcentrating the entire theme on a moral panic that points to “monsters”, a theme very present in the horror genre since ‘Frankenstein’, only here it is taken to a terrain that, again, is assimilated with the ‘X -Men’.
The Hellfire Club is a reference to the ‘Dark Phoenix’ saga comics that already appeared in the first episode of the series. This time they are the ones being persecuted, but the whole plot of Eleven and Henry/Vecna has a lot to do with the rebellion of the mutants, who have always been the most dramatic representation of marginality in fantastic comicsand in this case Creel plays Magneto, a “mutie” fed up with alienation and abuse, inviting Eleven to join him.
The Satanic Panic of this season of ‘Stranger Things’ is a symptom that fits conveniently with the theme of the role, but its fear engine of otherness appears even in flashbacks, which are finally revealed as the origin of the conflict that explodes the entire mythology of the series itself, carrying the idea of the persecution of the different, the strangeat a plot level integrated into the corpus of the fight between good and evil, with all its associated fantasy and horror elements.