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Dear America: Let’s NOT Have Another Satanic Panic

I’m a proud American. I love my country and I celebrate its highest ideals. I also believe most Americans are good, decent people who cherish these values as well. I don’t deny its flaws, nor do I deny its mistakes in the past, as well as the present. I genuinely want America to be the best it can be.

That’s why I’d like to make a plea to America and all my fellow Americans at the moment.

Please, for the love of whatever deity you believe it, let’s not have another Satanic Panic.

This isn’t just about politics, although there are some distressing links. This isn’t just about culture, even though the imagery is certainly present. This is me, a proud American, urging his fellow Americans to not give into the temptation to start blaming demons and devils for their problems.

It’s not just absurd and idiotic. We’ve done it before. I’ve written about it. The lives of innocent people were ruined because of it. On top of it all, none of it turned out to be true.

There was no reason for the panic. There were no Satanic cults secretly torturing or abusing children. It was all made up. It was basically Christian Conservative fan fiction that people took too seriously. Much like the character of the devil they fear has no basis in Christian theology. It’s just a boogie man for adults.

None of it amounted to anything other than baseless fear and ruined lives in the 1980s. Now, it seems too many people have forgotten what a huge waste of time that was because concern about Satanic cults abusing children are back and more political than ever.

Much of that is because of a bullshit conspiracy theory that I won’t name or link to. You probably know who I’m referring to. They’re the one that thinks Tom Hanks is part of a Satan worshipping cabal. As it just so happens, this same cabal includes everyone who leans right politically absolutely hates.

If they’re to the right of Ronald Regan, they’re a Satan Worshipper.

If they didn’t vote republican in the last four elections, they’re a Satan Worshipper.

If they support position that doesn’t involve cutting taxes, ignoring racist policies, or overfunding the military, they’re a Satan Worshipper.

I’ve been avoiding this absurd, asinine, infuriating excuse for a conspiracy theory for years. It’s just too stupid to take seriously, let alone discuss in an honest, balanced way. However, thanks to the recent outrage surrounding Lil Nas X and his homoerotic, Satan-centered music video, I worry another panic is brewing.

Much of it is coming from the same part of the political spectrum as it did in the 1980s. This time, however, isn’t just a bunch of Christian conservatives with too much time and money on their hands. People who don’t even identify as religious are buying into this crap.

It’s not just about theology anymore. It all comes back to this age old belief that there’s a group of objectively evil supervillains who are causing all the problems in the world. Satan worshippers who eat children and deal in human trafficking is as evil as you can get. There’s nothing complicated or nuance about it. It’s the ultimate good versus evil match-up.

Except, and I cannot stress this enough, it isn’t real.

That evil conspiracy doesn’t exist. I could cite any amount of evidence, but I know that won’t convince those who ardently cling to it, even after its many predictions end up being wrong. Instead, I’m just going to point out one simple issue.

For any conspiracy of any level to function in any capacity, it requires that those involved are completely obedient, always keep their secrets, and never make mistakes. Since these conspiracies involve people and people, in general, are imperfect beings, they’re not just difficult to maintain. They’re impossible.

Human beings can’t keep secrets.

They can’t avoid simple mistakes.

When it comes to something as evil as Satan worship and child sacrifice, you’re just can’t keep that sort of thing a secret. Also, people that evil generally struggle to organize. It’s why most serial killers act alone. That kind of evil is an aberration. Building a conspiracy around that is like trying to herd a thousand cats all strung out on crack.

I’d sincerely hoped that after the events of the last election, the talk of evil Satan worshippers and conspiracies around them would die down. Sadly, I think Lil Nas X revealed there’s still a contingent of people out there who think the evil Satanic cabal is still out to get them.

That’s why I’m making this plea. My fellow Americans, this is not the way to a better tomorrow. Fighting invisible evil enemies will only ever succeed in making real enemies, both in our minds and among our fellow Americans. No good can ever come from something like that in the long run.

Moreover, believing and obsessing over a conspiracy of Satan worshippers acts as both a distraction and a delusion. Fighting something that isn’t there only keeps you from fighting actual problems involving actual people who are doing real harm, but not in the name of Satan.

It’s easy to think that there’s some centralized force of evil in the world. It makes the cause of all our problems seem tangible. It makes you feel like you’re a soldier on the front line of an epic battle, fighting alongside others who are every bit as committed as you. Unfortunately, this mindset is both dangerous and counterproductive.

There are real problems with America and the world. However, those problems don’t come from Satan, demons, or some secret cabal of lizard people. They come from other people. They come from your fellow humans, as well as your fellow Americans.

It’s complicated and messy. Just winning an epic battle against evil isn’t an option. We have to put in the work. We have to take responsibility. We have to operate in the real world with real people who have real issues. That’s how we do the most good for ourselves and our fellow Americans.

Once again, I urge everyone reading this to learn the lessons of the past and embrace the challenges of the present. Let’s hold off on another panic. Satan isn’t conspiring against us or our country or our fellow citizens. The cabal isn’t real, the conspiracy is fake, and Tom Hanks is a national treasure. If you really want to fight true evil, start by doing good by your fellow citizen.

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Ode To “Hold My Hand” By Hootie And The Blowfish: My First Favorite Love Song

When we’re kids, we rarely listen closely to the songs we love. It starts almost immediately after we graduate from singing along to nursery rhymes to singing along to whatever song is on the radio. We rarely understand the meaning of the song, the lyrical structure, or any subtext or innuendo. We just like how it sounds.

As a result, some of the songs we love as kids age better than others. Kids who sung the lyrics of Prince probably didn’t pick up on the incredibly sensual undertones to his lyrics. As adults, it can be somewhat jarring to learn just what those lyrics meant.

On the other end of the spectrum are the songs that only seem to get better with age. They’re not nearly as common or appreciated, but they hold a special place in our hearts, none-the-less. For me, one song in particular stands out. It’s a song that I think everyone who was alive and had a radio in 1994 probably heard at least once. It’s “Hold My Hand” by Hootie and the Blowfish.

I know they’re not the coolest band from that era. In fact, they’re one of those bands who people love to hate for shallow reasons. They’re an easy band to be cynical about. They had one massively successful album, but they never duplicated it. Their songs are cheerful, upbeat, and fun. That kind of thing just doesn’t work in a world steeped in cynicism, pessimism, and internet trolls.

However people might feel about them, they’ll always have a special place in my heart for one simple reason. That song, “Hold My Hand,” was the first love song I ever genuinely liked as a love song.

That matters a lot to me because, at the time, I was still a young kid. I was just starting to develop a taste for romance. I started noticing the romantic subplots of my favorite cartoons. I began appreciating romance in a way that set me apart from others. Then, this song came out.

It was a simple, genuine love song. The lyrics were easy to understand and follow. The tune and rhythm was catchy. Everything about it just clicked with me. While it’s not my favorite love song right now, it’s always been in my top ten. Even if you’re not a fan of the music of that era, I encourage you to appreciate the sentiment of the song.

What makes it stand out even more is just how well this song has aged. Whereas some love songs have gained a more creepy, if not stalker-like subtext, the sentiment in “Hold My Hand” actually works better today than it did in the mid-90s.

The song doesn’t involve someone professing complete and utter captivation.

It doesn’t rely on the kind of fairy tale love that exists only in Disney movies and bad romantic comedies.

It relies on love that feels real. Just read the lyrics.

With a little love and some tenderness
We’ll walk upon the water
We’ll rise above the mess
With a little peace and some harmony
We’ll take the world together
We’ll take them by the hand
‘Cause I’ve got a hand for you, oh
‘Cause I wanna run with you
Yesterday, I saw you standing there
Your head was down, your eyes were red
No comb had touched your hair
I said, get up, and let me see you smile
We’ll take a walk together
Walk the road awhile, ’cause
‘Cause I’ve got a hand for you
I’ve got a hand for you
‘Cause I wanna run with you
Won’t you let me run with you, yeah
Want you to hold my hand
(Hold my hand)
I’ll take you to a place
Where you can be
(Hold my hand)
Anything you wanna be because
I wanna love you the best that
The best that I can
See I was wasted, and I was wasting time
‘Til I thought about your problems
I thought about your crimes
Then I stood up, and then I screamed aloud
I don’t wanna be part of your problems
Don’t wanna be part of your crowd, no
‘Cause I’ve got a hand for you
I’ve got a hand for you
‘Cause I wanna run with you
Won’t you let me run with you
Want you to hold my hand
(Hold my hand)
I’ll take you to the promised land
(Hold my hand)
Maybe we can’t change the world but
I wanna love you the best that
The best that I can, yeah
Let me walk, oh won’t you let me, let me
(Hold my hand)
Want you to hold my hand
(Hold my hand)
I’ll take you to a place where you can be
(Hold my hand)
Anything you wanna be because
I oh no, no, no, no, no
(Hold my hand)
Want you to hold my hand
(Hold my hand)
I’ll take you to the promised land
(Hold my hand)
Maybe we can’t change the world but
I wanna love you the best that
The best that I can
Oh, best that I can

It feels like an honest, sincere love letter. It says I’m not going to try and love you like a queen, goddess, angel, or something other than human. I’m just going to try and love you the best that I can. I don’t want to take you far away and do all these strange, lurid things. I just want to hold your hand.

As a romantic sentiment, it’s hard to have something as simple and sweet.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, romance

How The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” Became Less Romantic Over Time

Some love songs are just assumed to be romantic, regardless of what the lyrics say or how the song was inspired. You hear it on the radio. You see the music video. Like a reflex, you think love. It might be the cheesiest kind of romance there is, but it’s still romance none-the-less.

It has its place in pop music. I certainly appreciate music like that to some degree, but it only works if you don’t think too hard about it. To really enjoy it, you just have to turn off your brain and let it feel like it’s in a bad romantic comedy. This was, to a large degree, a part of what made boy bands so popular in the late 90s and early 2000s.

I remember that era. I was still young at the time. I heard all those cheesy love songs and the fanatical girls who squealed with incoherent joy whenever they heard them. I wasn’t a big fan, but I didn’t hate boy bands. I see their music like overly processed cheese. It’s good, but you can taste how bland and superficial it is.

To me, the absolute apex of the boy band era came with the Backstreet Boys and their sappy super-hit, “I want it that way.” It’s hard to overstate how big this song was in 1999. You could turn on any radio, find a random station, and hear it at some point. It was played on a loop at proms and middle school dances. I imagine more than one teenager lost their virginity because of this song.

It is, by far, the quintessential boy band song. It’s cute hot guys singing about love. You can’t get much more basic than that. Just listen to the music video that MTV played at least once an hour from that era. Even if you weren’t alive during that era, the romantic undertones are overt.

All that said, I doubt anyone who was alive in the late 90s or ever really scrutinized the lyrics. Even though the pace of the song is slow and every word is understandable, I don’t think anyone takes the time to read them in their entirety. The tune and the backdrop is just so romantic that the ambiance overshadows the actual words, but when taken as a whole, those words undermine that romantic intent.

I started noticing this years after the boy band crazed die down. Being a romance lover, I have a tendency to scrutinize all things romantic more than most. I’ve already shared some of my favorite love songs and at one point, this song was on that list. However, over the years, as I’ve listened closer to the lyrics, the song just got less and less romantic.

For reference, here are the lyrics without the backdrop of an attractive boy band and a soothing overtone. Read it closely. Really think about what they’re saying.

Yeah
You are my fire
The one desire
Believe when I say
I want it that way
But we are two worlds apart
Can’t reach to your heart
When you say
That I want it that way
Tell me why
Ain’t nothin’ but a heartache
Tell me why
Ain’t nothin’ but a mistake
Tell me why
I never want to hear you say
I want it that way
Am I, your fire?
Your one, desire
Yes I know, it’s too late
But I want it that way
Tell me why
Ain’t nothin’ but a heartache
Tell me why
Ain’t nothin’ but a mistake
Tell me why,
I never want to hear you say
I want it that way
Now I can see that we’ve fallen apart
From the way that it used to be, yeah
No matter the distance
I want you to know
That deep down inside of me
You are my fire
The one desire
You are (you are, you are, you are)
Don’t want to hear you say
Ain’t nothin’…

Parts of it are romantic. I don’t doubt that. When taken in their totality, though, it walks a fine line between love and obsession. I won’t say that it echoes with the sentiments of a stalker or someone with a creepy obsession, but it does walk the line. I would argue it’s way too close to the line.

Those first few lines about someone being their one singular desire are sweet, but more than a little obsessive. Making someone your deep, loving desire is one thing. Making them your only desire is a little unhealthy.

Then, there are the parts about heartache, being apart, and drifting away. Those are concepts inherent in many great love songs, but it doesn’t quite work here. Again, look at that first line. It’s telling someone they don’t want to hear them say they want something a certain way. It sends the message that what someone else wants is wrong. That’s not really romantic. That’s an accusation of a thought crime.

Wanting someone to love you is one thing.

Wanting them to not want something is very different. It also has some disturbing implications.

The lyrics alone tell a story of two people drifting apart and separated by distance. One person wants it that way. The other person doesn’t. On top of that, the other person has a singular focus on the other and doesn’t want them to feel that way. Is that sentiment love? Is it even romantic?

You can twist the meaning through music and context. You can make the song about longing for someone over a distance, but it requires a hell of a stretch with the words. Anything that requires that much of a stretch shows just how lacking the romance is.

I’m not saying this song isn’t a great song. I think it is. It’s popularity and staying power is proof of that. As a love song, though, it’s one of those songs that gets less and less romantic the more you scrutinize it. For any song that’s supposed to convey a romantic sentiment, why would you ever want it that way?

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