UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Too hot to handle: A look at Satanic Panic in pop culture


Lil Nas X’s “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” cover art.

Regardless of where you get your news, there is one story that you have undoubtedly heard about by now: Lil Nas X, the musician who previously dominated radios and playlists everywhere with his song “Old Town Road,” released a controversial music video to accompany his new song “Montero/Call Me By Your Name”. It featured scenes in both Heaven and Hell, but the part of the video that was most scrutinized was the sequence in which the rapper gave the devil a sexual, personal dance. 

This, followed by a line of shoes that had human blood in them, led to many Christians decrying the video as blasphemous. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem tweeted that “We are in a fight for the soul of our nation.” Nike ordered MSCHF, the company who customized Nike shoes into the aforementioned ‘human blood’ footwear, to halt further sales of them. With so much outrage over this satanic imagery, one might think that this kind of thing is unprecedented. However, they would be wrong.

Back in the 1970s, the band KISS was also under fire for their own brand of “demonic” looking imagery. With their faces made up, long tongues sticking out, and the rumor that their name stands for “Knights in Satan’s Service”, the band was no stranger to being frowned upon. When Marvel released a KISS comic book in 1977, the members of the band drove to a printing facility, had their blood drawn, and mixed it with red ink before having it printed onto the book. It sold well, just like MSCHF’s shoes sold well. While over forty years apart, these two incidents surprisingly have a lot in common. 

The reason for that is Satanic Panic has been around for generations. Eighties TV screens were filled with rants by televangelists claiming that there was Satanic imagery in popular culture. Ever hear the rumor that “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin played backwards was about the devil? This was the focus of a five minute segment of television, hosted by televangelists Paula and Jan Crouch. The backwards version is online, and personally, I don’t hear it. However, many let claims like this terrify them.

To be clear, this kind of fear was not harmless. In 1986, McMartin Preschool was accused of conducting satanic rituals before the case was dropped due to insufficient evidence. Years later, the West Memphis Three were wrongfully charged of murder. They were accused of killing children in a satanic ritual and spent two decades behind bars. So, while it can be easy to see all of this paranoia as harmless or overblown, the truth is that it really is not. 

So, why bother with the satanic imagery? The answers vary. Some just want to shock. Others use it as a political statement. In the case of Lil Nas X, an openly gay man, it was an effort  to speak out against bigotry. Specifically, it was in reference to the claims that gay people will go to Hell because of who they are attracted to. The music video ends with the artist giving a dance to the devil, because it is his way of saying, “I don’t care if I’m going to hell, I’m proud of who I am.” 

Regardless of what you think of this particular song or artist, the fact is that what Lil Nas X is doing is nothing new. Our parents were being yelled at for listening to ‘satanic’ heavy metal. Their parents were watching “The Exorcist” in theaters. History is there for us to look at. What we do with that knowledge, whether we learn from the past or not … that’s up to us.

About the Contributor
Kyle Makkas, Humor Writer