There’s so much you’ll never know

There’s so much you’ll never know November 25, 2023

The “A” in A’s stands for “Abandon.”

The Oakland A’s are about to become the Las Vegas A’s. “I’m having a hard time seeing how this ends well,” Charles Kuffner writes. “I’m just going to sit here and watch the (likely) disaster as it unfolds.”

Yep. This will make hometown No. 4 for the franchise. I met a guy back in the ’90s who was still unwilling to forgive the A’s for leaving Philly, so I’m wondering what people in Kansas City think of this latest move.

Religion Dispatches talks to Eric Harrelson and Joseph P. Laycock about their new book, The Exorcist Effect, “What Happens When We Use Horror Movies to Interpret the Real World?

We think we’ve come up with a cogent model of how horror films shape religious beliefs, practices, and experiences. To do this, we looked at archival sources, concepts from folklore studies like “ostension” (essentially the way that stories affect or are mimicked in real life), and studies by psychologists and neuroscientists. We also know that the opposite is true: religion shapes horror movies. So what we’re really looking at is a Möbius strip in which movies and culture transform each other. We call this phenomenon “The Exorcist Effect.”

There could be a sequel to this book called “The Omen Effect” that would also demonstrate what Harrelson and Laycock are saying.

Go back to any popular work of premillennial dispensationalist preaching or storytelling or “Bible prophecy scholarship” from before 1976 and pay attention to their “teaching” about the birth and rise of “The Antichrist.” The Omen took some of that lore, but built on it, embellishing and elaborating to make for a more exciting and entertaining story.

The movie was one of the biggest hits of 1976, but of course white fundamentalist Rapture Christians were probably not among the millions of viewers for a secular, R-rated horror movie starring the guy who played Atticus Finch and Phil Green. And yet, if you look at “Bible prophecy scholarship” produced after 1976, and specifically at what it “teaches” about the birth and rise of The Antichrist, you’ll see that the religious teaching has embraced and adopted the embellishments of The Omen and has begun presenting them as orthodoxy and canon and what “everyone knows.”

The specific influence of specific movies like The Exorcist and The Omen are fascinating because their effect can be seen in a relatively short time. It’s a condensed version of the same process of popular storytelling shaping religious imagination and religious teaching that, over the span of centuries, invented the “literal Hell” and “literal Satan” that many Christians today insist are things that can be found in their Bibles.

And when you point out that these things are extrabiblical folklore, they’ll cite chapter and verse, loudly, without even slightly comprehending how they’re assigning folklore story meanings to biblical words that meant something else entirely prior to the popularity of those stories.

Look! 1 John 2:22! It says ‘Antichrist’! Damien Thorn is right there in the Bible! 1 John 2:22 says it right there: Damien Thorn as portrayed by Harvey Stephens and/or Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick. It’s biblical!

• Speaking of the weird dynamics in which stories can turn into a substitute reality for those who want them to be true and thus pretend really hard that they believe them …

The good news is that Paul Stanley is apparently feeling much better, recovering enough from the flu to resume KISS’ “End of the Road” farewell tour. The ’70s pop-rockers and inspiration for half of my classmates’ Halloween costumes from when I was in grade school will rock and roll all night and party every day for another week leading up to their final show at Madison Square Garden.

The bad news is that Stanley’s bout with the flu led the band to cancel Wednesday night’s show in Toronto. That meant that one wealthy couple from New York state who’d planned to go to the concert instead wound up spending the day at a casino near the US/Canada border in Niagara Falls. They left the casino at recklessly high speed, crashing their Bentley in a fiery crash that killed both of them.

The close appearance of the words “border” and “explosion” led to a brief, grimly hilarious freak-out on Fox News and other right-wing media, with Republicans rushing to blame Joe Biden for what they desperately hoped was a terrorist attack. Sen. Ted Cruz and several of his colleagues demanded an immediate shut-down of all cross-border traffic and commerce and called for the impeachment of the secretary of Homeland Security.

They managed to maintain this pants-wetting panic for nearly an hour before realizing that a reportedly drunken driver going way too fast in his ultra-luxury car wasn’t evidence of a sneak-attack by Justin Trudeau or the work of Les Assassins Fateuils Rolents. Fox at that point sheepishly retracted and corrected its earlier “reporting” and moved quickly to pretend like they hadn’t just spent all that time broadcasting xenophobic lies as truth.

But here’s the thing: Six months from now, a year from now, your racist uncle or your Karens Against Schools neighbor will say something to you about “that terrorist attack in Niagara Falls.” They heard the story on Fox. Then they heard the correction. But they preferred the original story to the actual facts of the matter. And so they’ll keep the version they prefer. And from now on they’ll pretend to believe that this was a thing that happened.

“This confirms our worst fear,” Ted Cruz said in his initial excitement over what he hoped was a terrorist attack. But it wasn’t his worst fear. It was his deepest wish and hope and desire and fantasy. Given the choice between that fantasy and reality, they’ll go with the fantasy every time.

• Nazi gold: “Sinclair stations aired a sponsored segment featuring a white nationalist who supports killing journalists

At least 16 Sinclair television stations ran sponsored gold investment segments featuring white nationalist and antisemitic streamer Stew Peters from May through September of this year. In addition to promoting Peters, who has urged the execution of journalists, the Sinclair segment touted his misinformation-filled anti-vaccine movie Died Suddenly to viewers across the country.

Stew Peters doesn’t call himself a Nazi, but he endorses and cross-promotes plenty of people who do call themselves that. Scroll through Peters’ entry at Right Wing Watch at you’ll find a steady stream of explicitly white nationalist, antisemitic, anti-immigrant, eliminationist rhetoric. He has said, for instance, that Judaism is a “death cult built on the blood of murdered babies.” He’s also anti-vaxx and a flat-earther.

Sinclair didn’t give Peters local news airtime on their stations to promote those ideas openly. He was there to promote one of the gold investment schemes that flourish on the right — simultaneously fleecing the easily frightened rubes who are sure the caravans are coming and funding the right-wing media that advertisers who care about respectability tend to avoid.

These gold schemes and scams are such clichéd con-jobs that it makes anyone promoting them seem like a predatory grifter who surely doesn’t believe anything we hear them say. Is that true of Peters? Or is he a true believer who expresses his Nazi views and bigotry because he “really” believes it all? And what of the Sinclair owners — did they choose to platform Stew Peters because of his Nazi beliefs? Or were they just looking to cash in on his precious metals scamming despite those beliefs?

The answer to those questions, as always, is Don’t Know. Don’t Care. Doesn’t Matter.

What do you call someone who doesn’t believe in Nazi ideology but who pretends to, promoting Nazi beliefs only because it’s a way to cash in on some tangential scheme? You call them a Nazi.

• The title for this post comes from one of the biggest hits for KISS, “Hard Luck Woman.”

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