Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapters 16 and 17

The next two chapters of the worst book of the 1980's cover Michelle's recollections of being part of a lengthy and important Satanic ritual. It also opens with yet another uncomfortably romantic interlude in which Dr. Pazder gives Michelle a recording of himself reading a passage from Michel de Montaigne's essay "Of Friendship" (Nope. Still not fooling anyone, buddy) to let her know how much she means to him. But I've already spent plenty of time detailing how creepy and inappropriate the--ahem--"doctor-patient" relationship between these two comes across and I'm kind of tired of talking about it, so let's talk about another of this book's (many) failings.

The ritual Michelle describes in these chapters gets the most thorough and detailed treatment of all the rituals we've seen. Together they are fifteen pages long, and the flashback scenes comprise a good 85-90% of the text. Michelle describes the clothes the cultists are wearing, the color of the candles, even how she dealt with bodily functions while she was locked in a cage for a prolonged period as part of the ritual.

Yet I still came out of these chapters utterly confused about who these people are, what their core beliefs are (besides "be evil for the hell of it"), why they do what they do, and what exactly they hope to accomplish. Here are but a few of the reasons I'm confused:

1. How much stuff do these Satanists keep in their temple?

The first time we saw Michelle's "round room," I noted that the Satanists had a stage with a large white effigy of Satan on it, a lot of candles, and a chintzy round bed in their temple. Now they suddenly have a cage* to keep Michelle confined in as well. That may not seem like much, clutter-wise, but keep in mind that their rituals involve a lot of wild dancing around and you need space to do that. A cage big enough to confine a human child would take up a non-negligible amount of space, even if it's only "the size of a small table, and not quite big enough to allow Michelle to stand up."

2. If these people are so powerful and untouchable, how come they don't know children have to breathe?

Michelle tells us her cage had removable wooden panels on the sides, and that when these panels were closed--which they were frequently--"it was like being shut up in a box." She also doesn't mention any air holes in said panels. After all the time and hard work the nurse put into brainwashing Michelle, you'd think they would put a little effort into not accidentally suffocating her.

3. Snakes don't work that way.

Michelle has to share her cage with a large colony of live black snakes. This works when the panels are closed and the snakes have nowhere to escape to, but once the panels are down they just kind of stay there. Instead of slithering out through the bars like actual snakes would have done. Where are the Satanists finding these amazing trained snakes?

I suppose you could argue that the floor of the cage could be heated so the snakes stick around for the warmth. Thing is, though, snakes are kind of dumb. My husband's brother had a pet python "run away" from its nice cozy heated cage. In the middle of January. In Minnesota. There's simply no way I'll believe not one of those black snakes boogied off before Michelle started literally flinging them out of her prison in an attempt to scare other children out of the temple later in the scene.    

4. Fukkin' possession, how does it work?

In chapter 16, we meet an unnamed "lady from Vancouver" who seems to be very high-ranking in the cult. Michelle notices that the other cultists feed her and kowtow to her every whim. She is also very beautiful and Michelle is drawn to her until she notices that the lady's face changes at random intervals, becoming ugly and bestial for a few seconds before just as quickly returning to normal. She later finds out that the lady is possessed, and this is the reason for both her exalted place in the cult and for her periodic attacks of uglyface. does possession happen? How are the possessees chosen? Are they marked from birth, elected, chosen by the possessing demon, or what? And why is it necessary/important for high-ranking cult members to be possessed? It's not like Catholics demand that every Pope must be a literal angel in disguise, so why do Satanist head honchos have to be clogged with demons? One-upmanship? This info is important, damn it. If you're gonna make demonic possession a requirement for admission into the cult's top circle of leadership, we need to have some idea of why that's so, or it fails to be interesting and is just random and confusing.

5. Why doesn't this powerful cult have a bigger materials budget?

You know that effigy of Satan that was made such a big deal of? When it was first mentioned, I assumed it was made of painted wood, or maybe even stone of some kind. In chapter 17, Michelle and Dr. Pazder work out that it was probably made of papier-mâché. Yes, yes, I know that some artists can do incredible stuff with that particular medium, but I mostly associate it with middle-school-aged kids who unintentionally mangle poor Pikachu in art class:

Pictured: Probably not Satan. But who can tell?
Even if they managed to construct an excellent and tasteful likeness of the Evil One from paper and glue, though, they regularly smear blood on this effigy as part of their thirteen-day rituals. In case you haven't noticed, paper isn't built to withstand having lots of fluids repeatedly splashed on it. Damn thing would be a soggy, shapeless mess before the first night was up.      

6. Michelle just rendered herself superfluous.

One night, the Satanists bring in lots of kids to participate in their rituals. Kids who seem to know exactly what to do, kids who seem to be having fun. Dare I hope that the Satanists actually took my advice and did something halfway sensible, raising their own children in the faith since birth to ensure wholehearted participation in the rituals?

Except...that should eliminate the need for Michelle. Why don't they just pick out one of their own kids to be the sacrifice? They seem to have plenty of them. Plus, in real-life cultures that practiced child sacrifice, being chosen for such a sacrifice was usually considered a high honor. Why should this cult view it any differently? Especially since the alternative is wasting several months' worth of labor-and-time-intensive and not terribly effective brainwashing techniques on some stranger's intractable kid who wants no part of what you're doing.

7. How has Michelle not starved to death?

At one point the cultists lock Michelle in her cage with remains from a sacrificed victim and tell her to eat said remains (she refuses) but that's the only time she ever mentions them feeding her during the whole multi-day ritual.You saved a bundle of money on your paper-and-string "idol," Michelle Remembers Satanists. You can afford to toss the kid a granola bar every now and then.  

*The passage about the cage includes a footnote about "the dreaded Ekpe Society of West Africa," who Dr. Pazder believes raise kidnapped children in cages, turning them into half-feral assassins. Well. The Ekpe society is actually a thing, though they don't seem so much "dreaded" as "highly respected" and their alleged practice of raising "leopard children" ought to have a big fat [citation needed] hanging off it. Please just stop talking about Africa, Dr. Pazder. Every time you open your mouth, you only look more like an old-timey imperial-era racist.

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