Friday, April 3, 2015

Michelle Remembers: Chapter 26

After the smoke from the whole "He is called Satan" bombshell from the last chapter (except it wasn't really a bombshell; come on, the character all but showed up waving a big neon sign that said "I'm the Goddamn Devil" when we first saw him) clears away, we see a little more of the ritual. I won't discuss it at length because it's just more of the same old random, unexplained crap we've seen over and over again throughout this book--Mary popping down from Heaven just long enough to tell Michelle that oops, the time hasn't quite come for her to be rescued yet, but she should keep on praying and steadfastly watch all the horrid traumatizing stuff going on around her because reasons. An unspecified number of Satanists presenting naked, apparently drugged children before Satan as new "children of darkness" initiates or some shit. Said children burning Bibles at Satan's (long-winded, rambling, rhyming) command.

You know, Bibles cost money. I can't be bothered to look up what the price would have been in the 1950's, but nowadays the King James Version that you'd see in a church pew will set you back $10-14. That may not seem like a huge amount, especially if the cult isn't opposed to buying cheaper used copies, but I get the impression that there are rather a lot of children at this gathering. And they each have their own copy to burn. And we have no idea how often this particular ritual takes place, and it's not like you can re-use this particular "prop." And given that these people apparently spend all their time worshiping the Devil in the round room instead of earning money at those day jobs Michelle implied they had once and then never showed them going to wonder they couldn't afford to have their Satan idol made of anything more expensive than papier-mache.

Oh, and Satan says, "Look at me!" to Michelle, without following it up with, "and then climb a tree" or "cause I've gotta pee" or "Tee hee hee." First time in the whole book he hasn't spoken in rhyme. Good fallen angel. Have a soul.

The chapter ends with Dr. Pazder discussing Satan's obnoxious speech patterns with Father Guy. This conversation ensues:

     "On the surface [the rhymes] can sound foolish," Dr. Pazder commented.
     "Yes, on the surface perhaps," Father Guy said. "But underneath, there is a lot more. Double and triple meanings. Satan will not humiliate himself to speak like ordinary people. He considers himself too brilliant for that..."

Wait a minute--you're saying Satan isn't being all ironic and wink-wink-nudge-nudge with his terrible poetry? He's actually taking it seriously? Oooooooh Goooooood. I can't decide which would be more awkward--watching horrible full-of-fail pickup artist types of the kind mocked in this blog show no awareness at all that their techniques are terrible and won't work (even as they strike out with woman after woman all night), or watching Michelle Remembers Satan spout doggerel that a first grader would be embarrassed to come up with and strut around like he really thinks those weak-ass verses make him look like OMG TOTALLY A GENIUS in our puny mortal eyes.

Then Father Guy ramps up the clusterfuck factor by bringing the idea of "the banality of evil" into the discussion, and applying it to Michelle Remembers Satan of all people:

Banality, triteness, these are the superficial attributes of evil--and its principal disguise. We expect it to be big and flashy and glamorous. But it is small and mean and unoriginal. Nonetheless highly dangerous of course. Indeed, all the more dangerous for its apparent triviality, its unnoteworthiness..."

But...but...but...Michelle Remembers Satan is big and flashy and glamorous. Did you not see the fire? The weird shape-shifting? He conjured a storm in the round room. Maybe those things are boring and commonplace among other demons, I don't know. But Satan isn't among other demons here. He's among humans, and I'm sorry, if you can perform legitimately supernatural acts, humans are going to consider you flashy and glamorous.

Also, Satan's personality and mindset may be mean and unoriginal, but he sure as shootin' ain't small.

In fact, let's run our villains through the list of personality traits Hannah Arendt observed in the original banality-of-evil case study himself, one Adolf Eichmann:*

1. Based his world view on a grossly simplified version of Kant's categorical imperative.

Don't know. I can't tell you whether Michelle Remembers Satanists even had any philosophies to pervert or oversimplify, because Michelle doesn't bother to tell us about what they believe. Dr. Pazder seems to think that their entire religion is basically just a bizarro darksided imitation of Roman Catholicism, but for all we know he could be jumping to the entirely wrong conclusion based on superficial similarities, and the cult actually has its own complex set of theologies that have little to do with Christianity. There's just not enough data to say.

2. An "inability to think for himself" that manifested itself in "consistent use of 'stock phrases and invented cliches.'"

Could apply to Satan. As for the rest of the Satanists...I don't know. I've only just realized it now, but the Satanists themselves have very, very few actual spoken lines in this book--mostly just yelling at Michelle when she messes up their rituals. We are told that they're "chanting" and the like quite often, but we're never told what they're chanting, and we never, for example, have Michelle report on overhearing conversations between cultists. So...again, not enough data to tell.

3. "Constantly joined organizations in order to define himself, and had difficulties thinking for himself without doing so."

Maybe? I've no idea how or why any of the Satanists got into Satanism, because not a one of them is an actual character with a backstory. No real idea why Satan (I guess?) started Satanism either. The book seems to think--in the rare moments it thinks at all--that he did it because he's evil and hates God, but honestly he just seems like a petty bully who can't live without weak underlings to kick around. I guess that sort of counts as needing to be part of a group?

4. Made some claims to intelligence, but was not actually very intelligent.

YES. Nobody in this book comes off as very intelligent, actually. Especially the ones who take the most pride in their intelligence. In fact, I think Dr. Pazder and Satan have more in common than either would care to admit.

5. Lied about being responsible for atrocities which he was not, in fact, responsible for, possibly because he would have "preferred to be executed as a war criminal than live as a nobody."

I'm not seeing it in the Satanists, to be honest. Their evil is grandiose and attention-grabbing, but it's...well, pretty monolithically grandiose and attention-grabbing. We never see a mediocre Satanist try to lift himself out of mediocrity by claiming credit for an outstanding one's work of evil. We never see a mediocre Satanist, period. I guess maybe Malachi is sort of ambitious sometimes, but most of the time, they're all the same. I could see Satan being petty enough to steal credit for somebody else's work, but the book hasn't shown him doing that, so no banana on this one.

6. Felt that his moral responsibility for his role in the Holocaust was diminished by the fact that many other people--including members of "respectable society"--were taking an active role too.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that there's a lot of groupthink going on among the Satanists, but this doesn't really fit because they're not trying to ignore or explain away their evil--they're reveling in it. Also, I doubt Satan even cares about any human notion of morality, except as something he can amuse himself by poking at.

7. Psychologists noted that there was nothing psychopathic about his personality and that in fact, "his overall attitude towards other people, especially his family and friends, was 'highly desirable.'" 

Except for that one chapter where Malachi (unconvincingly) plays the poor rattled car crash victim, Satan and his followers all act like braying, unapologetic assholes to absolutely everyone in this book. The one character we see associate with them regularly who isn't a cult member (Michelle's mom) seems utterly terrified of them. I can't imagine any psychologist, even Dr. Pazder, examining them and saying, "Yep, that attitude of yours is totally normal and desirable."

*List courtesy of Wikipedia.

Not to mention the whole issue that a secret society which practices gory human and animal sacrifice, steals bodies from hospitals without the law being able to touch them, and dabbles in genuine, functional black magic and casually summons Satan in the flesh is the exact opposite of banal.

Damn it, book, the banality of evil is an interesting concept. If you must use it, is it really too much to ask that you actually portray evil that is banal? I should think it wouldn't be too hard for you. You already do boring so, so well.

I'm not putting a picture of Adolf Eichmann here to illustrate banal evil because
Nazis suck. Please enjoy this photo of two dull, unremarkable old evil guys who
suck ever so slightly less instead.    

1 comment:

  1. "[...]we never, for example, have Michelle report on overhearing conversations between cultists."

    Well, she'd supposedly somehow found out where the Satanists were getting their bits of dead body and what type of death worked best for them. That implies that they were having some sort of conversation in front of her, unless they just explained all this directly to her as part of her indoctrination.