Weekend Reads (Nov 19): Satanic Panic, 2022 World Cup, Elon Musk, Terrible Christmas Movies, Alaska
Recommended weekend reading for November 19, 2022.
Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.
I will never not be fascinated by accounts of the Satanic Panic, i.e., the belief (often promoted in Christian circles) that there was a widespread-yet-underground cabal of Satanists seeking to capture, abuse, and sacrifice kids. This conspiracy theory had its heyday back in the ‘80s, but has been revived in recent years thanks to QAnon’s nonsense.
My friend Luke wrote an excellent breakdown of the phenomena, and why it ultimately proved so inviting for so many.
Despite my earlier joke, it’s not really a mystery why people yearn to believe bizarre and dramatic tales of evil: the actual truth about evil is that it’s mundane, pervasive, and unfixable, at least to us mortals. The latter half of the twentieth century was the first time in modern history that serious inquiry into the phenomenon of child abuse was undertaken by academics and social workers, and for a lot of people, the sudden realization of how many kids were living in fear and misery was shocking. The truth — that some kids’ parents, relatives, and teachers were broken people and/or sociopaths — was just one more disappointment on the big stack of disappointments life serves up to all of us, but the alternative — that there was a global conspiracy of Satan worshipers and all we had to do to end it was blow the lid off the whole thing — was, comparatively… oddly comforting.
Matt Crosslin has blogged about his own experiences with the Panic, including a humorous instance with a rock ‘n roll t-shirt.
In high school in the late ‘80s, I was even added to our school’s “Most Likely to be a Satan Worshipper” list. The reason? I wore a black t-shirt with a peace sign on it. It was actually a band shirt for Enuff Z’Nuff — but they probably had no idea who that was.
Why is the peace symbol satanic? Because to many people, it is an occult symbol — an upside down broken cross. Just calling it “occult” adds an entire layer of mystery that no one would question.
Finally, Will Morgan has compiled a list of the dumbest things kids experienced as a result of the Satanic Panic. Anyone else remember the outcry over backmasking and the possibility of hidden Satanic messages in your favorite songs?
After he criticized comedian Dave Chappelle, NPR’s Eric Deggans found his own Blackness called into question during the ensuing backlash.
Of course, it’s difficult to tell which of these accounts might have been bots or malicious hackers more interested in sowing division and hate than any logical argument. But some of the arguments raised in these spaces nevertheless echoed justifications and defenses I’d seen delivered by actual people — inadvertently embodying my concerns about Chappelle’s original comments encouraging those who believed terrible stereotypes about Jewish people.
And, as always, it was discouraging that we seem to be having the same discussions about stereotyping and fairness which once seemed resolved years ago — reignited by a performer whose oblique and provocative comedy touches nerves without really offering any resolution.
The 2022 World Cup in Qatar promises to be the most controversial World Cup of all time, with concerns over bribery, human rights abuses, and more.
[I]t’s incredible that Qatar are hosting the 2022 World Cup. People are right to argue that football fans in Qatar deserve to experience a World Cup in their home country, but for many that’s just not enough of a reason. There’s a balance to strike between spreading football across the world and handing it over to the highest bidder, with no regard for human rights abuses or match-going experiences. Whatever happens this winter, and however much superstars like David Beckham try to whitewash reality with shameless PR stunts, the Qatar World Cup will leave a damning legacy that football fans won’t forget.
Developer Brent Simmons resents Twitter’s stranglehold on the Web.
The internet’s town square should never have been one specific website with its own specific rules and incentives. It should have been, and should be, the web itself.
Having one entity own and police that square could only deform the worldwide conversation, to disastrous ends, even with the smartest and most humane people at work.
Related: Earlier this month, I encouraged people to see the ongoing Twitter snafu (#ClusterMusk) as an opportunity to reclaim their online autonomy.
Also related: Now that the majority of Twitter’s staff has either been fired or quit in light of Musk’s demands, Twitter’s existence looks more tenuous than ever — and all of this right before the World Cup, a high-traffic event for the platform.
Twitter’s embattled CEO, Elon Musk, has developed a considerable legion of fans over the years, but some of those fans have reconsidered their allegiance and found Musk wanting.
This shift of opinion might seem sudden, but for many of the former fans Recode spoke to, the journey of disappointment was years in the making. They pointed to several issues, many of which have played out on Twitter — such as Musk opposing Covid-19 restrictions, allegations of racism and worker mistreatment at Tesla and SpaceX, and the often incendiary manner in which Musk responds to detractors, to name just a few. To some, it seems that Musk has changed from the person they once admired. To others, the shift was proof that it was a mistake to worship a billionaire CEO as a hero in the first place.
Several former fans only agreed to be interviewed anonymously, given the massive backlash (including death threats) that some Musk critics have received from the billionaire’s fans. As the article notes, no other billionaire or CEO has a similarly devoted fanbase.
Related: Last week, I mentioned Casey Newton’s Platformer as a great source of tech-related news. In a recent newsletter, he highlights more of Twitter’s ongoing struggles (e.g., loss of advertiser revenue), and how those struggles are largely of Musk’s own making.
Let’s turn from Twitter for a moment and instead, look at another tech debacle involving a reckless billionaire: the collapse of the FTX crypto exchange. Josh Barro offers a succinct explanation of the FTX meltdown, as well as some sage advice when looking at crypto businesses.
This is why I hate crypto so much: it comes attached to a narrative that makes scams possible. Because cryptocurrency assets have no fundamental economic value — unlike stocks and bonds, they do not reflect a claim on the cash flows of some business creating real value in the economy — there can be no such thing as fundamentals-based investing in them. When people invest in crypto, they out themselves as marks for scammers who might believe any nonsense about what something is worth. And therefore it’s the least surprising thing in the world that someone would open up a crypto exchange, offer implausible interest rate terms in order to hoover up billions in customer deposits from the gullible masses, and then misappropriate the proceeds.
Related: Earlier this year, Dan Olson offered an in-depth explanation of why crypto and NFTs are so bad: “[H]e makes numerous observations about crypto’s empty promises and reveals how, contrary to its claims of decentralization and democratization, it really only benefits elites and early adopters.”
Whether you like it or not, we’re heading into the holiday season, and that means Christmas movies. But if you’re feeling particularly grinch-y, Matt Singer has compiled a list of the worst Christmas movies of all time. Take 1964’s Santa Claus Conquers the Martians for instance:
On a purely technical level, this really is one of the worst movies ever made. The Martians are bad actors in green turtlenecks, smudgy green facepaint, and helmets covered in scrap metal. Even the title is inaccurate; Santa doesn’t conquer the Martians so much as he endures their kidnapping attempt with jolly good cheer. Subjectively, you might get a kick out of the totality of incompetence on display; if Tommy Wiseau had made a Christmas movie in the 1960s it might have looked something like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. (It definitely would have sounded like this; the screenplay is peppered with lines that are hilariously matter-of-fact about its deranged premise, such as a newscaster announcing to his viewers “And Mrs. Claus has positively identified the kidnappers as Martians.”)
I watched Santa Claus Conquers the Martians via Mystery Science Theater 3000 back in the day, and even with Joel and the bots, it was still excruciating to watch. But don’t take my word for it…
Dan Kois gets a lot of publicist emails and one day, he decided to agree to every single one of them. The resulting conversations were intriguing, to say the least.
Every day I get dozens of emails from publicists around the country, and around the world, informing me about new products, pitching story ideas, and always assuring me that the publicist would be happy to connect me to this pool safety startup CEO or that divorce attorney to talk about their very important topic. As I delete these emails, I often wonder: Who are all these people who want to talk to a reporter, any reporter, so badly that they will pay a publicist to email every journalist they can think of — including me, a guy who doesn’t write about pool safety or divorce or witches at all? Who actually opens these emails, let alone responds to them? Do they ever work? And what would happen if I tried?
Between Opus and Christ and Pop Culture, I probably receive dozens of publicist emails every day, and many of them are clearly just bulk emails sent out without any knowledge of my areas of interest or coverage.
Finally, here’s a fun bit of trivia that’ll bake your noodle: Thanks to a bit of geographic pedantry, Alaska contains both the westernmost and easternmost points in America.
Translated from Russian, Semisopochnoi means “having seven hills.” It sits about 10 miles from the 180th meridian, making it America’s most eastern piece of real estate in the eastern hemisphere (coordinates: 51.960°N, 179.772°E). “In other words,” Ken Jennings writes for CN Traveler, “Semisopochnoi and the dozen or so Aleutian islands lying beyond it are so far west that they’re actually east!” Of those, Semisopochnoi is the closest to the 180th degree longitude.
From the Blog
Recording under the Lingua Ignota moniker, Kristin Hayter has released some of the most harrowing music of the last ten years. Her recent decision to retire that project for her own health and healing is a welcome challenge to the romanticization of “tortured” artists.
There may be some who lament Hayter’s decision, who want her to keep making music in the vein of Caligula and All Bitches Die because they find it exhilarating, groundbreaking, etc. However, there’s wisdom in realizing when it’s time to let go and move on, to retire the pain (as Hayter puts it) rather than keep reliving it. Otherwise, I imagine there’s a risk that the music becomes less about the pain and more about the performance of the pain, which risks cheapening everything that Hayter set out to accomplish with her art.
This post is available to everyone (so feel free to share it). However, paying subscribers also get access to exclusives including playlists, podcasts, and sneak previews. If you’d like to receive those exclusives — and support my writing on Opus — then become a paid subscriber today for just $5/month or $50/year.