Stranger Things, the Satanic Panic, and Life as a Nerd in the 80’s

I spent the last two weeks recovering from another bout of COVID. This time, I had to quarantine from the family in a hotel room. As a fan of heist movies, I have always wondered what it would be like to hide out in a crappy motel somewhere. Turns out that it’s pretty boring. I watched a lot of TV.

I finished season 4 of Stranger Things. For me, the story has taken on a life of its own. Whether this season is “good” or not is kind of immaterial. I just need to experience the story. The satisfaction part will come later when I re-watch it for the second or third time.

In many ways, the show is a stylized version of my own childhood. I grew up in a small town, and I went to a small high school. Like Mike, I got bullied for being a nerd. Like Lucas, I used sports (Tae Kwon Do and Kung Fu) to break out of that mold. This season also introduced Eddie, a metalhead who used drugs and music to define his identity as something more than a nerd. Instead of metal, I was into punk and alternative.

Of particular interest to me in this season is the association of Dungeons and Dragons with Satan worship. The fear of Satanic Cults was palpable when I was in middle school in the 80’s. My choices in music and games lead to some real conflict with teachers and other kids. Especially those who were practicing evangelicals. This became known as the Satanic Panic, where religious people were terrified of a massive covert conspiracy to sacrifice children to Satan. There are a number or parallels between that and QAnon today. Being misunderstood and even bullied by evangelicals is why I don’t religion of any kind. I have embraced some of the Taoist and Zen philosophy from my martial arts training, but by Western standards I am an Atheist.

Fantasy stories like Lord or the Rings and Dragonlance, combined with my study of fighting arts helped me find my identity as a warrior. It’s why I went into the military, and it’s why I find myself out on the streets marching in protests and Pride parades.

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