• Satan, Subliminals, and Suicide: The Formation and Development of an Antirock Discourse in the United States During the 1980s

    John Brackett (see profile)
    Musicology, Popular music, Music, United States, Twentieth century, Devil
    Item Type:
    Popular music, satanism, American music, Moral panic, Popular Music Studies, 20th-century American music, Satan
    Permanent URL:
    For anti-rock activists in the 1980s, lyrical descriptions and visual depictions that glorified and promoted violence, sex, drug and alcohol abuse, Satanism, and related forms of occult activity were symptomatic not only of the declining moral standards of many forms of popular entertainment but also of the overall moral decay of America. Many of the claims advanced by anti-rock activists were informed by a moral panic that swept across the nation beginning in the 1980s. Paralleling the growing influence of fundamentalist conservatism on American culture and politics during this time, the so-called “Satanic Panic” (or “Satanism Scare”) was fueled by an increasing number of news reports that suggested that an underground network of Satanists were active throughout all parts of American society. After briefly outlining some of the religious, political, and socio-cultural conditions that helped the anti-rock movement flourish in the 1980s, I will discuss the background and content of one of the earliest reports linking popular music with Satanism: AB3741, a bill proposed before the California legislature in 1982. Drawing upon documents and testimony related to AB 3741, I will describe how supporters of the bill exploited contemporary fears regarding Satanism and behavioral modification by characterizing backward (or “backmasked”) messages as a form of subliminal stimulation that had the ability to modify the behavior and beliefs of unsuspecting listeners. The arguments and claims presented in support of AB 3741 influenced much of the anti-rock discourse that dominated the 1980s, including the campaign for a record labelling system advanced by the Parents’ Music Resource Center (PMRC) as well as civil suits debated in courtrooms across the country as part of multiple wrongful death suits filed against heavy metal acts by parents of teenagers who had committed suicide.
    American Music, Vol 36, no. 3 (Fall 2018): 271- 302.
    Last Updated:
    5 years ago
    All Rights Reserved
    Share this:


    Item Name: pdf brackett-satan-subliminals-and-suicide.pdf
      Download View in browser
    Activity: Downloads: 806