A humorously profane music video and a pair of shoes spark mass panic amongst the religious right.
…Of course, it never really went away. While people associate Satanic Panic with a collective hysteria that took hold from the mid-1980s through to the mid-1990s, the belief in powerful Satanic groups sacrificing children has continued, with less publicity but no less belief. Whether it’s the Hamstead case – proven to be malicious lies spread against a father by his ex-wife and her new partner, yet still talked of as if a real thing – or the QAnon-created Pizzagate stories, the hysteria about Satanism and Satanic cults is as powerful as ever. Therapists and interested parties still believe in repressed memories that can be coaxed out with just a little manipulation, various authority groups still give credence to the claims of religiously motivated psychologists and families are still torn apart over claims that in any other circumstance would be seen as delusional. The high profile and often positive press coverage of the Satanic Temple might have made people think that mass hysteria about Satanism was a thing of the past, but there it was, waiting to be re-ignited.
Of all the triggers waiting to be pulled, who would’ve expected that the firing shot in a new Satanic Panic would come from a rap video and a pair of sneakers? But there it is. A single satirical music promo and a provocative pair of shoes have become ground zero in a new division of the culture wars.
Interestingly – and not for the first time – a challenging piece of art has unmasked the right-wing free speech libertarians for what they really are – reactionary, unliberal, censorial Christian fundamentalists who quickly cast aside their opposition to cancel culture in order to demand the crucifixion of someone who has upset them. In this case, it’s rapper Lil Nas X, the video for his song Montero (Call Me By Your Name) and a limited edition pair of Nike-inspired shoes that may be more art statement than footwear. Reverting to the type that we saw howling against sexually and religiously provocative art during – coincidentally or not – the original era of Satanic Panic, right-wing commentators and gobshites have accused the performer of essentially opening up the gates of Hell, corrupting youth and warping minds. Metal fans will be all-too-familiar with such claims, of course, as everything from album cover art to allegations of backward masking was seen as leading kids down the left-hand path back in the 1980s. How little progress we have made as a society.
The video, for those of you yet to have seen it, features Lil Nas X giving Satan a lap dance. Lil Nas X is a gay rapper, which is provocation enough in a notoriously macho scene, and the video seems to be a middle finger in the air to homophobes, moralisers and Christians alike – though how satanic it actually is might be open to question. The video ends – spoiler alert – with Nas making Satan his bitch and sprouting angel wings, so there’s certainly an ambiguity about just how much it is in thrall to Lucifer.
Coinciding – or not, depending on your cynicism – with the video was the release of the singer’s Satan Shoes, a pair of modified Nike Air Max 97’s that have a black and red design, a pentagram and a reference to Biblical verse Luke 10:18, which – as I’m sure all Reprobate readers know – reads “He replied, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven’.” Each trainer also contains a single drop of blood. We’ve come a long way from Kiss pouring their blood into the ink used on their Marvel Super Special back in 1978, eh?
666 pairs of the trainers were made, and with a retail price of $1,018, they were probably not going to be bought by your average sneaker wearer. Perhaps they were – obviously, we don’t wear anything as crass as trainers, so for all we know, that might be the market price for Nikes. But it seems that manufacturers MSCHF were creating these as art more than footwear, a new version on modified commodities and recreated artwork in the tradition of Warhol‘s soup cans and Roy Lichtenstein’s comic book panels. The company had previously created Jesus Shoes – which oddly caused no copyright complaints – that are shown in museums and private collections. Whatever the market, the shoes sold out within a minute of going on sale.
Nike, however, has not been best-pleased about the Satan Shoes. No matter that Miley Cyrus was seen promoting them. No matter that they are artworks. No, Nike is not at all happy, and have taken legal action to prevent the sneakers from being shipped out to the people who bought them. According to the lawsuit, “even sophisticated sneakerheads were confused” by the shoes, which brings up all sorts of questions – including the baffling concept of the ‘sophisticated sneakerhead’, and how just smart these people were if this concept by an outside company confused them. More tellingly though, Nike claims that “some consumers are saying they will never buy Nike shoes ever again” as a result of their ‘involvement’ in the Satanic footwear.
Commercial companies tend to weigh their principled stands against commercial damage, and Satanists probably come pretty low down the intersectional lists of people to stand up for. It’s sadly predictable to see Nike suddenly fretting over the outrage of Christian cranks and the sort of far-right blowhards like Candace Owens that they would otherwise ignore – imagine the company pulling their BeTrue gay pride collection because religious and political homophobes objected to it? It’s pretty much unthinkable. But when the same people pipe up about Satanism, they jump into action. Standing up against bigotry and ignorance only goes so far, apparently; Satanists and their supporters are not “stronger in numbers”.
By taking action against the Satan Shoes, Nike has not only stood up against artistic freedom; the company has effectively bought into one of the most malicious myths of the age, the Satanic conspiracy hysteria of the lunatic fringe. In doing so, they’ve at least revealed what we already knew about corporate virtue signalling – that it is nothing more than commercial showboating, a calculated gamble that the profits of such moves will outweigh the losses rather than any seriously held principles. Perhaps they should’ve taken a leaf out of Lil Nas X’s book, and told their critics “don’t care and UR a flop.”
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