It’s All About the Occult

You might already be aware that my wife Beth has a thing for really disturbing movies and such. To that end, she and I recently watched the two parts of Paradise Lost. No, not the John Milton poem, but a documentary about three teenagers (well, they were teenagers at the time, anyway) who were accused of murdering three second-graders in an incredibly gruesome fashion. At the time, all three were found guilty. Two of them, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin, were given life sentences. The third, Damien Echols, ended up on death row. The second film is about their attempt at a mistrial, and how people have joined together to try to get them released. Recently, all three have been temporarily released from prison under a plea deal. I really don’t know whether any of these three committed the murders, but it appears that there’s a lot of evidence that wasn’t taken into consideration. What was especially troubling was how the case against Damien in particular was tinged with Satanic panic. He was largely a loner who dressed in black, studied the occult, identified as a Wiccan, and listened to heavy metal music. And when I say “heavy metal music,” I don’t mean any obscure hardcore stuff, but rather Metallica. Really, I have to wonder why any of this stuff was relevant to the case at all. It seems to have all been an attempt by the prosecution to sway a reactionary conservative jury. You know, the kind of people who think Wicca and Devil worship are the same thing, and that a mainstream band like Metallica is somehow radical. And I’m not saying this just because the public view is largely that Damien wasn’t guilty, because even if he clearly DID commit the murders, what do the clothes someone wears and the music they listen to have to do with that? I think back to Columbine, where the kids were definitely guilty, and how people insisted they’d snapped because they played violent video games, listened to Marilyn Manson, and wore trenchcoats. (And here I thought a trenchcoat indicated you were an old-time detective, not a Satanist.) I see it as all part of a disturbing trend to avoid examining what might make a teenager set himself or herself away from society in favor of blaming a convenient scapegoat. After all, Marilyn Manson rips up kittens! And he cheated on Dita Von Teese! (Okay, that was some time after Columbine, and I doubt the scapegoaters would have cared about it, but as a fan of Dita’s I couldn’t let that pass.) Don’t you think the nature of mental illness and the gang mentality at schools might be more worth looking into than what color kids prefer to wear? But that would take some actual effort, while blaming a video game is easy. Mind you, in the case of Paradise Lost, we don’t even know that any of the accused were mentally ill (although Jessie was legally retarded, which is hardly the same thing). Most of the focus was on Damien, and the impression I got was that he was just kind of a quiet, nerdy kid. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s innocent, but just because he decided to channel his geekiness into the occult hardly pegs him as guilty either. I was always a loner in my youth (really, I still basically am), and even though my preferred areas of concentration are somewhat different and less “dark,” I identify with people who feel marginalized.

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