The 6 Most Insane Moral Panics in American History
What's wrong with kids these days? Not enough, apparently, since grown-ups seem to feel the need to just make shit up. Even the flimsiest evidence can convince parents and lazy journalists alike that there is some new, horrible threat to our moral character.
Often these turn out to be grossly exaggerated. Or, as in cases like the ones below, completely fucking retarded.
We Heard About It From:
The Evil Genius Dr. Frederic Wertham.
1954 was a different time in America. The streets were safer and kids played just about anywhere they wanted. Coca-Cola was only five cents a bottle and every kid had a comic book rolled up in his back pocket. There were superhero comics, crime comics, romance comics and horror comics. If you forget the rigidly enforced social rules, the racism, bad haircuts and constant threat of nuclear annihilation, the early 50s were a pretty sweet time to be a kid.And then this fucker showed up to ruin everyone's fun.
Frederic Wertham. Or maybe George Burns. Who could tell?
Fredic Werthem was a respected psychologist who fought to integrate the mental health care system, refused to serve in a racial-segregated army and was a pioneer in working with troubled youth. Having conquered all of the real world problems, he then decided to devote his life to bullshit.
During his time working with young offenders, Wertham noticed that many of them were fans of comics. Forgetting his education and lifetime of experience as a scientist, Wertham assumed that comics must be somehow responsible for the trouble these kids were in.
His 1954 book, Seduction Of The Innocent, outlined what he saw as the depraved effect of comics on kids. Granted, some comics in the 50s--especially the horror comics published by E.C. Comics--were pretty gruesome.
Dr. Wertham is inexplicably shocked by the contents of Shock Illustrated.
But Wertham didn't just go after stories of cold-blooded murder and busty dames. Oh, no. We went after the superheroes, too.
In his mind, Wonder Woman was a lesbian who got off on bondage (we wish!) and horror of horrors, Batman and Robin were actually gay lovers. His evidence for Batman being gay? He wore a dressing gown. Honestly. That, combined with the fact that he had flowers in his house and had a butler, were proof to Wertham that Bruce Wayne and his young ward Dick Grayson were performing Bat-sodomy behind the scenes.
The lynchpin of Wertham's case against the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder (okay, that does sound a little gay) were panels like these:
Hey, if two dedicated crime fighters can't spend a little time under the tanning lights together, then something's gone terribly wrong with the world.
Leaving questions of Batman and Robin's perversions aside, Seduction Of The Innocent was a huge bestseller and the tempest that Wertham stirred up led to the end of horror comics and the introduction of the Comics Code, which basically meant that superheroes lost what little balls they had left, and Batman always kept a discreet distance from Robin- at least in public.
But it wasn't all bad. E.C. Comics, faced with the cancellation of all its horror and true crime comics, threw all of its effort into perhaps the single greatest corrupter of America's youth: Mad Magazine. Mad Magazine then led to the publication of Cracked, which eventually led to this very website. So, the next time you're enjoying an article about sexy cartoon characters you can thank the overactive gay-obsessed imagination of one Dr. Fredric Wertham.
We Heard About It From:
The Queen of Believing Anything, Oprah Winfrey.
"Rainbow Party." Doesn't sound too bad, right? It could be a coloring party for kids, or a house decorating get-together. Maybe some kind of friendly gay pride thing.
But no, according to a guest featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, rainbow parties were wild, oral sex parties that were being held by teenagers all over America. At these orgies, each girl would wear a different shade of lipstick and as they each serviced a lucky guy in sequence, it'd leave a "rainbow" of colors on his dong.
The story was so widely believed that sex educators across the country started to investigate. Simon & Schuster quickly published a young adult novel imaginatively entitled Rainbow Party to warn of the non-existent danger. Don't bother reading it. We flipped right to the end and the party never happens. Turns out the girl's dad comes home early, so the party gets canceled. Fucking douche!
It didn't matter, the damage was done. Once the teen literature industry dips its filthy beak into something, the moral panic is on.
But alas, as awesome as these parties sound, they turned out to be absolutely, tragically, untrue. According to that wicked cool newspaper for kids, The New York Times, sex educators couldn't find any evidence of even one rainbow party having taken place, ever.
Teens were aware of the slang, but no one had ever been to an actual Rainbow Party. And that's remarkable because it just sounds so totally plausible, and not like something a 15-year-old boy thought up during a masturbation fantasy. Relieved, the busybodies of the world went back to worrying about their neighbor's uncut grass.
Jenkem, A Drug Made of Poo
We Heard About It From:
A bunch of dumb local TV stations and a bunch of dumber local sheriffs.
Could American kids ever sink so low that they would actually suck on the fumes from raw sewage to get high? If you're an American kid, you're probably saying no. If you're a small town cop who hates teenagers or a lazy local television reporter, you'd say "hell, yes!"
It started with a message board post from a kid calling himself "Pickwick" (Shitbreath was already taken) where he claimed to have made and tried the poop fume drug "jenkem," a practice that supposedly originates from Africa.
"Okay, so when you said you wanted to do some bowls, you meant actual... okay."
Soon the boys in blue at the Collier County Sheriff's Office took action.
They released a law enforcement bulletin claiming that "jenkem is now a popular drug in American schools" using the pictures that Pickwick had posted.
The only problem, besides the idiotic assumption that because one kid in the country may have tried it, it was now "popular in American schools," was that Pickwick made it all up.
His "jenkem" was actually a mixture of flour, water, beer, and Nutella. Nevertheless, the story spread like a foul stench through local media outlets and sheriffs' offices, until parents were told they should smell their kid's breath for shit when they came home.
There is still no record of anyone in the U.S. doing this for real (that we can find). Here is where you'd be tempted to scold the rumor mongers for planting the idea and thus encouraging kids to try it. But we're guessing even with detailed instructions most of you wouldn't be tempted to start collecting fermented shit in your closet. Not for this, anyway.
Dungeons & Dragons
We Heard About It From:
Anti-occult campaigner Patrica Pulling, author Rona Jaffe, Jack Chick and others.
The "Threat:"When most people think of Dungeons & Dragons, they picture a group of people--usually male--sitting around a table with some books, odd-shaped dice and, in particularly sad cases, costumes.
But it's just harmless, escapist fun, right? And they're doing it with friends! That alone puts it above most geek pastimes. So what's the problem?
Well, according to some, D&D is either an occult training manual used to lure youngsters into Satanism, or it's a dangerous fantasy world that traps teenagers and leads them to madness, suicide or murder.
Artist's depiction of an actual D&D "party."
The moral panic started like a lot of them do: with a death and an idiot. In 1982, Patricia Pulling's teenage son committed suicide. Looking for answers, she turned to his D&D hobby as explanation for his death. Pulling sued the makers of D&D, T.S.R. Inc., and for some bizarre reason, her son's school principal. Why him? Because the mother accused him of placing a "D&D curse" on her son shortly before he died.
Luckily for the defendants, they had a Dexterity score of 17 and Gilligar's Gloves of Legal Protection and easily made the saving throw. Both cases were thrown out of court.
It helps that this was their judge.
But Pulling couldn't let a good panic die. She formed one of the most politely named protest groups of all time, Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons (B.A.D.D.) and began touring the country lecturing on the nonexistent evils of the game. Luckily, her goofball propositions about the occult dangers of the game never met with any support outside the usual crazy demographic. That would have to wait for the publication of a sleazy mass market paperback and Tom Hank's first big break.
This is not Photoshop.
Once again we see that moral panics may hatch from people with too much time on their hands, but lazy journalism gives them their wings. In 1979, James Dallas Egbert disappeared in a series of steam tunnels under Michigan State University. Assuming he was a nerd after hearing his name, local newspapers reported that he had committed suicide (or was killed) during a real life session of D&D.
Their phones apparently broken, they failed to discover that he was in fact not dead, but was hiding at a friend's house after a failed suicide attempt. Reporters also failed to learn that he was addicted to drugs and clinically depressed.
The story might have died there, but a columnist for Cosmopolitan named Rona Jaffe saw an opportunity and wrote a thinly fictionalized version of the events in a book called Mazes and Monsters. It was later turned into the above terrible TV movie starring a young, then unknown Tom Hanks.
But alas, his burgeoning star power wasn't enough to keep the panic going. Geeky teenagers were left to enjoy their 12-sided die, Yoo-Hoo and adolescent power fantasies in peace while Tom Hanks went on to make the most beloved television series of all time, Bosom Buddies. We don't know what became of him after that.
Backwards Messages in Rock and Roll
We Heard About It From:
A few Christian DJs and parents who don't understand their kids.
From the seductive swivel of Elvis's hips to John Lennon saying he had a bigger dick than Jesus, rock music has always been considered the soundtrack to our moral decay. This belief reached the heights of its retardedness during the furor over backwards subliminal messages.
"Good point, AC/DC, I should kill the president."
After two kids attempted suicide in 1985, their parents accused the heavy metal band Judas Priest of hiding subliminal messages in their songs to convince listeners to commit suicide. The technique was as simple as writing the songs so that, when played backward they would convey a message. What if the listener never bothered to reverse their turntable? That's okay, the message can still be conveyed thanks to that secret part of the brain that hears everything backwards. Don't ask us to explain it! It's science!
Anyway, a few Christian DJs got wind of the story and decided to fan the flames, playing records backwards for signs that bands were trying to kill their fans. Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Pink Floyd and even Jefferson Starship were all alleged to have place secret messages encouraging their fans to give it up for Satan.
Everyone was so caught up in the moral panic fun, that they forgot to ask the obvious question. Why the hell would rock bands want to kill off their customers? Rob Halford of Judas Priest said at the time that if they were going to put subliminal messages in their songs, they would have gone with something like "buy more records" or "don't forget to pick up Judas Priest t-shirts and keychains at fine stores everywhere."
The case against Judas Priest was eventually thrown out in 1990 when the judge realized it was completely fucking insane. The panic would have continued, but, luckily, the CD was invented; making backwards messages impossible to hear. Then gangsta rap hit the mainstream and suddenly parents wished they could have the backwards Satanism thing back.
Related: Who Got The Ball Rolling On QAnon?
Satanic Ritual Abuse
We Heard About It From:
Michelle Smith, author of Michelle Remembers and Oprah's even less skeptical colleague, Geraldo Rivera.
In 1980, a book called Michelle Remembers told the horrifying story of Michelle Smith's years of alleged ritual abuse at the hands of a cult called "The Church Of Satan." The book, written with her psychiatrist, Dr. Lawrence Pazder, became an explosive best-seller and touched off one of the most damaging moral panics of all time.
In the book, Pazder and Smith describe horrible abuse meted out upon her as a child. Her abusers were said to be a just one sect of a worldwide cult that was torturing and murdering children and adults all over the globe.
The book claims that Smith was involved in an 81-day ritual where not only Satan, but Jesus, Mary and the archangel Michael made an appearance. This was so convincing that suddenly reports were coming from all over the country of Satanic cults masquerading as daycares and schools.
People were being accused left and right of organized rituals involving torture, murder and rape. Law enforcement agencies and even prosecutors used Michelle Remembers as a guide when they were forming their cases.
The only problem was that all the witnesses were usually either very young children or clinically insane adults. No one was actually convicted of Satanic abuse, probably because the fact that the whole thing was bullshit was visible from outer space. Then again... if there was a worldwide Satanic conspiracy, can you imagine how awesome their lawyers must be?
For more big retarded mountains made out of mole hills, check out 7 Bullshit Rumors That Caused Real World Catastrophes. Or find out about how our own beloved Internet is lying to us, in 7 Retarded Food Myths the Internet Thinks Are True.
And visit Cracked.com's Top Picks to save your youthful souls!