John Morehead has an interesting article on Satan in popular American culture on this blog at Morehead’s Musings: Satan and America:
W. Scott Poole, an associate professor of history at the College of Charleston. He has written a book titled Satan in America: The Devil We Know (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), and the following essay is adapted from that book. It originally appeared in The Post and Courier.
Quite a lot of the things mentioned in the article have also affected popular South Africa culture, so the article makes interesting reading. The films mentioned in the article, such as Rosemary’s baby and The exorcist were also shown in South Africa, and so influenced the perception of the devil in popular culture in South Africa as well.
Back in the 1980s there was an “occult” unit of the South African Police, which dealt with “satanists”, very much as perceived in American popular culture, and there were indeed some self-described satanists whose own self-understanding appeared to be shaped by the prevalent images in popular culture.
But the most striking example of the American cultural influence on South African popular culture in my experience was back in 1977, when we were in the Anglican Church in Utrecht, a small mining town in Northern Natal. In the town there was a big Dutch Reformed Church (NGK), and a small Anglican Church, and nothing else, so at the Anglican Church we had ecumenical services on Sunday evenings which were for anyone in town who wasn’t white Dutch Reformed. The services were multidenominational and multicultural. There were Anglicans, Assemblies of God, Afrikaans Baptist, and many others, black, white and coloured.
One evening the Assemblies of God evangelist from Newcastle, Piet Joubert, brought a film that that been produced by American Evangelicals, called The burning hell, and this was shown to the congregation. It struck me as a crass materialistic spirituality. Val and I sat at the back and giggled the whole way through, and especially at scenes where middle-class white suburban Americans in dressing gowns were swallowed by holes in the earth in a crude re-enactment of Numbers 26:8-11. The symbolism of the book of Revelation was interpreted in crudely materialistic terms.
But at the end of the film there was an altar call and a very big response, and nearly all the black and coloured teenagers went up, many of them weeping and sobbing. The film had obviously had a profound effect on them in spite of its shortcomings. And it wasn’t simply a short-lived one-off emotional response either. Some of those who had come to the church that evening for the first time returned regularly afterwards, and became active in the Anglican youth group. In this way images from American pop religious culture seemed to have considerable influence in South Africa as well.
I was in three minds about it.
First, I was repelled by the crude materialism and bad theology of the film itself. Secondly, I welcomed the enthusiasm that it engendered in the youth in Utrecht. Thirdly, I was concerned that it was entirely disconnected from the experience of other youth in the country who were being treated to the rocky rioter teargas show in Soweto and elsewhere. In those days, the main sphere of demonic activity was in the implementation of the apartheid policy itself, and the white, middle-class American interpretation in the film did nothing to help the youth in Utrecht or elsewhere to understand that.
And then I compare it with Charles Stewart’s study of folk theology in rural Greece, Demons and the devil, which has perhaps not been quite so strongly influenced by American popular culture. Stewart summarises his findings as follows:
The Orthodox moral world emerges as an arena in which good struggles against evil, the kingdom of heaven against the kingdom of earth. In life, humans are enjoined to embrace Christ, who assists their attainment of Christian virtues: modesty, humility, patience and love. At the same time, lack of discernment and incontinence impede the realization of these virtues and thereby conduce to sin; sin in turn places one closer to the Devil… Since the resurrection of Christ the results of this struggle have not been in doubt. So long as people affirm their faith in Christ, especially at moments of demonic assault, there is no need to fear the influence of the Devil. He exists only as an oxymoron, a powerless force.
 Hopkins, Pat & Grange, Helen. 2001. The Rocky Rioter Teargas Show. Cape Town: Zebra. ISBN: 1-86872-342-9
The Rocky Rioter Teargas Show was the title of a satirical theatre presentation performed by Cape Town students at the time of the 1976 Soweto uprising. The book goes inside the events and their causes, and recreates the drama and excitement of the events. The narrative is illustrated with photographs and documents, many of which have hitherto been secret, such as cabinet minutes giving explicit approval of “more deaths” through police action.