Before we had a kid, my wife and I did some research about the best way to raise children in an interfaith family. There seem to be a number of spiritual hazards, not the least of which is confusing your kid to the point where they eventually reject their comparatively liberal, mostly Jewish upbringing and jump off the theological deep end, handling snakes, embracing polygamy, ritualistically eating peyote in backyard sweat-lodges or injecting, without irony, the phrase “Whore of Babylon” into conversations with uncomfortable coworkers.
Given that we now have two kids, I kind of assumed the odds would dictate that one of them would end up joining a cult, at least for a little bit. But, as in the case of my five year-old, Stella, I just didn’t think it would happen so soon. Caught up by forces unknown, she has taken to intoning with hypnotic repetition the same unnerving chant:
“Care a lot. We care a lot.” (clap clap, clap clap) “Care a lot. We care a lot.”
This first began when my wife gave Stella a copy of The Care Bears Movie 2: A New Generation that she’d picked up from a bargain DVD bin. But, I can only blame myself, because I’d been warned about this, and I wish I’d listened.
For the longest time, I didn’t realize there were cults other than the devil worshipping kind. Much of my own religious upbringing – it’s probably a relevant factor here that it was Southern Baptist – transpired in the shadow of what has come to be called the Satanic Panic. While this would be a fantastic name for a good naturedly self-aware metal band, the Satanic Panic was actually a mass freakout that took hold of Evangelical congregations and media outlets in the early 1980s. Lots of rumors, boycotts, arrests, ruined reputations and hand-wringing over Dungeons and Dragons ensued before the panic finally petered out a decade later, although there would be a few Harry Potter and Marilyn Manson-related flare-ups in subsequent years.
As a kid, I first became aware of the rash of ritualistic child abuse and human sacrifice said to be committed by devil worshipers after watching an episode of 20/20. Self-designated experts would later cite an estimate that nearly 60,000 Satanic ritual murders were committed in the US each year, although the actual national murder rate during this period was somewhere around 25,000, a discrepancy perhaps indicating a flaw in the experts’ methodology more significant than, say, a failure to carry the one. But, more than the violence, what really stuck in the mind of a nine year-old boy were tales of the hideous initiation rites that involved drinking blood and eating poop. Ew!
After a while I got over the fear of sex-crazed Satanists with terrible breath kidnapping me and offering my still-beating heart as a sacrifice to The Beast, but my morbid fascination with tales of devil worship would return in my early teens, thanks to a youth minister named Mike. (He was not really named Mike.)
Ritual abuse, blood sacrifice, backward-masked rock ‘n roll lyrics, demons intruding into the physical realm: Mike warned us about it all, and more. He told us there was a coven of witches that regularly performed rites at the school softball field. When I jokingly asked if there were any teachers involved, he said I’d be surprised. While I guess it was good there were, supposedly, a few faculty chaperones, this all struck me as odd, because if black rites performed at home plate were common knowledge, why did no one put a stop to them? Or, at least charge a facilities rental fee?
Mike also claimed there was a place near the local YMCA summer camp where a Satanic cult convened to take drugs and have orgies and kill stuff. Of course, anyone who came of age while watching 80s movies knows that bad shit goes down at summer camp, and I don’t just mean in Friday the 13th.
In Care Bears 2, Dark Heart, a shape-shifting, magical entity who dwells in a shadowy underworld but who is not explicitly referred to as the devil because, y’know, Care Bears movie, strikes a Faustian bargain with a camper named Christy. Dark Heart has an unexplained mad-on for the Care Bears, and promises Christy the title of “Camp Champ” if she helps him capture them. As a side note of interest, the character of Dark Heart is voiced by Hadley Kay, whom you might remember as that kid who was messing around on the wrong side of the railing and took a dive off of Niagara Falls in Superman II. As played by Kay, Dark Heart really just seems to be going through the evil motions, at one point delivering a poor attempt at a sinister laugh with the cadence of a jaded and sarcastic slow clap. “Ha. Ha. Ha.”
Despite his questionable level of enthusiasm, Dark Heart manages to play everyone, campers and Care Bears alike, for suckers, as he assumes a number of forms, including but not limited to snake, vulture, toad, dragon, spider, weasel and fiery cloud, but most often, he manifests as a surly teenager with heavy-lidded red eyes wearing an off-brand Adidas tracksuit, which is to say, he disguises himself as someone you bought weed from in high school.
It was demonic subterfuge of a different sort that really began to worry my youth minister. Within a couple years, he had shifted his attentions from overt devil worship to a more insidious spiritual foe: the New Age movement. There wasn’t much Mike did not lump in under the rubric of New Age: touchy-feely hippy stuff, quartz crystal necklaces, neo-paganism, astrology, transcendental meditation, Eastern religions, the Force. From Star Wars.
The only difference between buying into any of this and worshiping Satan was that people in the New Age movement just didn’t know they were worshipping Satan. It was really all the same. Except for the killing and poop eating, probably.
For a while, Mike obsessively devoted every single youth bible study to the New Age threat, once bringing in an expert, the wife of a local dentist in whose waiting room I had once read a comic book about how the Catholic Church is a tool of Lucifer and the Antichrist will be a Pope.
Although her entire audience was made up of teenagers too old to play with toys, or, in my case, too old to admit it in front of peers, the expert felt it was important to warn us about those soft, pastel-colored Trojan Horses of New Age subversion, the Care Bears.
As I understand it, it was because they are magic, I think, and their weird cosmology with the Kingdom of Care-a-Lot in the clouds supplants God in heaven, and they value feelings over faith, and, I dunno, there are rainbows and stuff. Actually, I don’t really understand it, so in my desperation, I’ve turned for answers to that authoritative, as-seen-on-tv compendium of 1980s occult wisdom, the Time Life Mysteries of the Unknown book series, but details are suspiciously absent. Apparently, my daughter is not the only one in thrall to the pervasive and undermining influence of this Ursine Empathy cult.
But, on the plus side, I had to write this review, and I couldn’t really remember how everything with Dark Heart wraps up. So, I thought that Stella, who has watched the movie on a self-imposed non-stop indoctrination loop, could fill in the blanks and I wouldn’t have to sit through Care Bears 2 again.
“Hey Stella, can you tell me the story of the Care Bears movie?”
She looked confused. “I don’t know the story.”
“You’ve watched it, like, five million times.”
“But I don’t know the story, Daddy.”
It seems that Stella had come to her recent conversion solely through blind faith. However, she was pleased I was asking so many questions about the Care Bears and was intrigued by my openness to learning more. I’ve always found this to be a dicey situation where zealots are concerned, but thankfully, she didn’t try to prosthelytize.
“Are you writing a movie?” she asked, hopefully.
“A Care Bears movie?”
I tried to explain what I’m doing with this review, but essentially, my daughter still thinks I’m writing Care Bears fan fiction. That’s as good an alibi as any, I guess. Given the frequency with which I’ve recently Googled and cross-referenced “Care Bears,” “occult ritual,” and “Satanic human sacrifice,” I’m fairly certain I’m now on a watch-list of some sort.
And really, it’s probably for the best that she not understand the truth. Homespun Care Bears stories might serve Lucifer’s nefarious New Age scheme, but for me to write something purported to be a critical analysis of the theatrical trailer for what is, essentially, a long-form toy commercial and then convince people to read it all the way through as they hope in vain for a solid, well-developed conclusion? Now that would seem truly devilish.
Ha. Ha. Ha.
The Care Bears Movie 2: A New Generation was released in theaters on March 7, 1986. The author is indebted to the book Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend by Jeffrey S. Victor for helping him recall bits of the 80s cult scare that he had forgotten, and no, not in an “OMG I suddenly remember that the devil-worshiping babysitter tried to sacrifice me to Baphomet” kind of way.