Satanic Panic and the Political Fear of Uncanny Queerness

Uncanny [uhn-kan-ee]

  1.  having or seeming to have a supernatural or inexplicable basis; beyond the ordinary or normal; extraordinary: uncanny accuracy; an uncanny knack of foreseeing trouble.
  2. mysterious; arousing superstitious fear or dread; uncomfortably strange: Uncanny sounds filled the house.

As I mentioned in the previous entry, queer theorist Lee Edelman argues that politics is typically understood through the symbolism of “reproductive futurism” in which the Child (and, as he points out, he is referring to the figure of the Child as a projection of a better, unified future and, by implication, a failed past in need of redemption) is the signifier by which the political discourses of both the Left and Right revolve; an “insistence on sameness that intends to restore an Imaginary past.”[1]

Edelman argues that queerness should choose no side in this bogus dialectic of political hope for saving the figurative Child. According to Edelman,

Truth, like queerness, irreducibly linked to the “aberrant or atypical,” to what chafes against “normalization,” finds its value not in a good susceptible to generalization, but only in the stubborn particularity that voids every notion of a general good. The embrace of queer negativity, then, can have no justification if justification requires it to reinforce some positive social value; its value, instead, resides in its challenge to value as defined by the social, and thus in its radical challenge to the very value of the social itself… [T]he queer dispossess the social order of the ground on which it rests: a faith in the consistent reality of the social – and by extension, of the social subject; a faith that politics, whether of the left or of the right, implicitly affirms.[2]

Queer negativity then might be considered, in a sense, as what Alain Badiou calls “supernumerary” to a set, what is beyond counting. What Edelman and Badiou are describing is that which cannot be named precisely because it cannot be (re)cognized – at least not fully – by a world structured according to a particular (Christian) understanding of history, society, philosophy, and politics. This unnamable negativity or what is uncountable is simply uncanny to the Christian world. It does not necessarily precede the languages and discourses of that world, despite the fact that it takes its grounding as a lack of ground, as a negative space or check on that world. It is counted in that world but only as a void.

The so-called “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s and 1990s was an all-too-real, all-too-human collapse of rational discourse in which the uncanny specter of satanism dominated the Christian Imaginary. Indeed, political Left and Right both paid not only lip service to purging the world of sadistic satanic violence but actively sought to convince the world that figurative and literal demons were not only in plain sight – like Tipper Gore and the PMRC’s absurd attack on obscenity with its ridiculous list of “objectionable” musical performers that glorified violence, sex and the occult[3] or James Dobson’s unintelligible crusade against satanic back-masking in ZZ Top and Aerosmith songs – but also hiding amongst us, most notably in daycare centers across the country, performing Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA).

Even in the 1990s, right here in blasphemous San Francisco, warfare was being waged for the hearts and souls of God-fearing humans of all political stripes. Crackpots like Eric Pryor, who was eventually clobbered by a truck, pranced around enlightening believers in the supernatural that the bogeyman was lurking around every corner. Watch Pryor and his mullet mope around former favorite gay cruising and dog-walking locale, Buena Vista Park, in this 1994 video while pointing out all of the evidence of satanic rites, including a bloody noose and a bunch of spray painted inverted crosses, a video aimed at law enforcement officers so that they could recognize the signs of satanic deviants which, as Pryor is quick to point out, also means sexual deviants (aka homosexuals). In the video he explicitly states,

There are two different communities that use this park. One is the pagan or occultic community. And the other community is, of course, the homosexual community. Interestingly enough, they go hand-in-hand.

If this dude was looking for satan in San Francisco, where was he in 1985?

The bogeyman of the uncanny, of the unnamable, dominates the Imaginary of the paranoid mind of Western man. Queer negativity haunts the political landscape, structured as it is around the figure of the Child and its sanctity and purity, because it not only stands in for this satanic specter but embraces its place in the spectral void of non-representation. Its speculative moveability within the architecture and language of the political Left and Right gives its barbarism an uncanniness that ironically displaces the repetitious logic of that architecture and language. As we move on with this line of argument, again, it is worthwhile to consider the political importance, for both the political Left and Right, of its fundamentally Christian endeavor to protect the figurative Child and, in a very real sense, literal children.

[1] Lee Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, 21.
[2] Lee Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, 6.


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