‘Taxi Driver’, Travis Bickle, and the “Satanic Ritual Abuse” Conspiracy Theory

Some things are best forgotten. But like a turd that just won’t flush, fears about “satanic ritual abuse” being conducted by a secret, yet elite echelon of society just won’t go away.

Conspiracy theories litter the internet nowadays, that’s no surprise. But, for me, the most notable one is the SRA, or the “satanic ritual abuse” conspiracy that first swept across the nation in the early 80s. Notable examples were the publishing of the book Michelle Remembers and the McMartin preschool trial. This paranoia also popularized the study of Dissociative Identity Disorder, also known as “multiple personality disorder”.

Thankfully, this paranoia went dormant in the public eye, but resurfaced again last year with “pizzagate”.

Okay, first off, many of these controversies probably involved actual child abuse. HOWEVER, because of the absurdity of many of the accusations (as manipulated by the parents and investigators of each case), that fact gets sort of overshadowed. So because of the paranoia generated from such ridiculous claims, the SRA conspiracy theories likely set back (or at least partially tainted) child advocacy and ruined many careers, AND made children themselves a pawn in adulthood fantasy.

THAT fact should be noted.

Now a lot has been made recently about the psychology behind conspiracy theories. But this one particularly is quite perverse.

One of the greatest movies of all time, Taxi Driver, provides a peek behind the curtain with this form of psychological phenomenon. Travis Bickle lives alone in his New York City apartment and only experiences the world outside through his occupation (being a taxi driver), which usually sends him into the worst parts of the city. Because of his limited contact with others, Bickle begins to view the world as “scum”, and slowly begins to see himself as a vigilante force for good. This, of course, has an infamously violent conclusion.

Bickle saw the world through the windshield of his taxi. When he made attempts to interact with others, it always had disastrous results. This only furthered his isolation and delusion.

Taxi Driver was released in 1976, long before the internet. But Bickle’s taxi could be a stand in for our use of the internet today. If the film could be remade for modern audiences, it should be properly titled Internet User. The only information that Bickle received about how the outer world functioned was by driving a taxi. Bickle only saw the disgusting and overcrowded streets. He only saw violence, pimps, hookers, and other “scum”, which slowly began to pollute his mind.

Modern conspiracy theories work in a similar fashion. Many that believe these things may not be as socially secluded as Bickle was, nevertheless they only receive information from particular sources, which in turn forms their perception of the world. Suddenly there’s a conspiracy around every corner. And some may take things to violent extremes as evident by the many shootings that happen at alarming consistency.

This is how normal conspiracy theories work. But the SRA paranoia seems to have a sexual twist. Believers of wide spread SRA are succombed by images of sex abuse of children, bestiality, and other atrocities. This would likely explain the potency of such paranoia. Even if there is little evidence to support such claims, such imagery is too difficult to shake from the mind.  This prompts the believer to cling onto ANY evidence, no matter how absurd. And such findings and absurdities become supported by networking groups. Thus reinforcing the validity of the conspiracy.

Now Bickle isn’t typically thought of as being sexually motivated to commit his rampage. But such subtleties can be interpreted in the film. There might be a sexual subtext between Travis Bickle and the character that Jodie Foster portrayed, Iris. In fact, we can argue that John Hinckley picked up on these subtleties which (might have) partially motivated him in his assassination attempt. Although Bickle was a socially isolated character, he never crossed the line into pedophilia by taking an advantage of Foster’s character. HOWEVER, if such tensions did exist, that would provide an even greater motivation for him to shoot up an entire apartment building.

Why is that?

Any sexual relationship between Bickle and Iris would have meant that Bickle would have fully descended into the “scum” he despised. Bickle saw himself as a “hero”, and could never permit himself to indulge in any deviant behavior. Nevertheless, because he couldn’t successfully form a successful and healthy sexual relationship with Cybill Shepherd’s character, that energy had to be channeled elsewhere. An easy target that could have corroborated Bickle’s delusion would have been the naive child prostitute, Iris. But knowing that he could never be “intimate” with her, that energy got redirected into violent behavior, where he would have been deemed a “hero” and, in this line of thinking, could have possibly made Iris sexually attracted to him.

Such perverse logic could be underlying the SRA paranoia. This “hero” complex, of feigning disgust at outrageously impossible abuses, might successfully disguise underlying sexual urges. The disgusting images that are conjured up in the mind when such abuses are alleged might be so sexually motivating, that the individual will believe anything about the case, no matter how crazy. This allows the believer to feel like a “hero” when acting disgusted and becoming obsessed by the abuses.

(As a side note, the author of Michelle Remembers, psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder, would later leave his wife and marry the subject of the book, Michelle Smith)

Now this might sound insane. But in the second chapter of Slavoj Zizek’s book Less Than Nothing, when discussing those that showed up to Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, Zizek asks:

is there not always a moment of lust…in witnessing a traumatic event like a crucifixion? And does not the claim that we come to watch out of compassion and respect make it even (hypocritically) worse?”

Zizek is referencing our moral attitude towards such events, and how we claim to be disgusted, when in fact we are lustfully attracted to them.

You may disagree with Zizek’s analysis, but there is a darker part of the human psyche that we’re ignoring here. Particularly those who seek out such atrocities. We like to claim that we are repulsed by such behavior, yet some keep seeking it, claiming to be outraged that such events persist. But could the reality be, that they are in fact attracted to it?

I posted two videos to this blog. The first is a Taxi Driver trailer. The video below is an actual SRA propaganda piece that provides an interesting insight into how this conspiracy thinks of itself. The Pentagon, the Royal Family, the DuPont family…they’re all engaged in this so-called “conspiracy”. So have fun with that one.

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