That period of time from the mid-’60s through the dawn of the ’80s was perhaps the single most amazing stretch of pop culture for anyone interested in all things weird. The horror genre rose to new heights, not just in books and films but everywhere from cereal boxes to the pop music charts. Hand in hand with horror’s rise was an eruption of interest in arcane phenomena, with people developing a fascination with bizarro topics like pyramid power, Bigfoot, the Bermuda Triangle and the concept of ancient astronauts being the forefathers of mankind. How the hell did all this happen?
This strange renaissance came to be due to a perfect storm of unique cultural happenings – and you can develop an understanding of that perfect storm in Here’s To My Sweet Satan, a short but info-dense cultural study penned by George Case.
His intro sets up the symbiotic relationship between world events and pop culture, offering a credible theory on how world events of the 20th century that led to the collective questioning of religious, social and political dogma – “belief and ethics” as he calls it – in that century’s latter half. This questioning of ideas considered the bedrock of society opened the floodgate for a revival of interest in occult subject matter that is always lurking beneath the surface of society.
That hypothesis becomes truly credible when one examines the tidal wave of weird, occult-obsessed pop culture that flourished between 1966, when Time famously published an issue with a cover story “Is God Dead?”, and 1980, a year that saw the rise of the religious right and the concept of “satanic panic.”
This time period is what Case considers the occult era and the remainder of Here’s To My Sweet Satan explores it in a very organized style. Each chapter focuses on one venue for occult ideas at a time. The early chapters offer brief but concise breakdowns of how the trend was explored in music, books and cinema that are informed by careful research. Horror buffs are likely to know this stuff but it’s interesting to see it laid out from a cultural anthropology perspective.
However, subsequent chapters are where Here’s To My Sweet Satan really hits paydirt. Case takes his study into the realms like children’s entertainment and alternative religions. For instance, it’s fascinating to learn precisely how the Ouija board became something that could be bought in any toy store. That said, the best chapter in the book is the one that explores the various mystical phenomena fads – the aforementioned Bigfoot, Bermuda Triangle, etc. – explaining the history of each before presenting the scientific evidence that debunks them.
Here’s To My Sweet Satan winds down with an exploration of how the rise of conservatism at the dawn of the ’80s led to a backlash towards the occult that manifested itself via things like the McMartin Trial and the short but feverish mania over the idea of “backwards masking” in rock music. Conversely, it also reveals how the occult’s profound influence in that 1966-1980 period meant it had been absorbed into pop culture’s bloodstream on a permanent basis, mutating into forms that included everything from New Age religions to Harry Potter novels.
It’s a lot of ground to cover yet Case somehow makes it look effortless: in just under 200 pages, he explores all the thought-provoking material detailed above in a manner that is intellectual yet brisk. The result is worth a read for horror fans or anyone else into cultish ephemera because it’ll give you a new appreciation how all the oddball stuff in your media collection came to be.