I regret ever thinking that it was a good idea to critique non-fiction writing on this blog. Aside from books covering genre films, the sort of non-fiction I read really doesn’t fit the theme of “brain slop.” How exactly would I write about G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man in a way that will actually fit the, uh, unique tone of the rest of my blog? I suppose that a case against Chesterton being adopted into the horrible cult of Christian “cool” would be sort of relevant, but that cultural trend is a perfect example of fun that makes itself.
But something that fit was bound to present itself, as foolish things so often do. This subject actually caught my attention on the clearance rack at a nearby Half Priced Books. Perusing the $3 and under section every couple of weeks has become a habit of sorts, and the community college students that work the registers apparently look forward to seeing what I purchase. In fact, they’re usually more excited about seeing what I buy than I am about actually reading it.
Jacob Aranza’s Backward Masking Unmasked was one of the more unusually masochistic experiences resulting from these excursions. Aranza’s silliness and arrogance amused me, but in some spots, his prose reminds me of the ESL students I used to tutor. An actual quote on page four: “While speaking recently with Jeff Pollard, former lead singer of the nationally known rock group ‘Louisiana LaRue,’ also the one who lead Kerry Livgreen of the rock group ‘Kansas’ to Christ; he stated a view of backward masking that I very much agree with.” Ending on a preposition is the least wrong thing about that sentence.
In spite of having already heard many of his accusations from other attention-seeking pastors, Aranza still surprised me a few times for reasons other than ignorance of prosaic style and grammar. The man apparently has no grasp of sarcasm. “This is the front of the latest Styx release, an open admission to the use of backward masking,” declares Pastor Jacob on the first page. “By order of the Majority for Musical Morality, this album contains secret backwards messages and the songs…” is the supposed admission. He also relays utterly insane quotes (like Gene Simmons claiming that he always wanted to be a cannibal) that most thinking people would assume the product of overzealous showmanship, while providing his own eye-rollers, such as, “Queen’s top song ‘We Are the Champions’ is the unofficial national anthem for gays (homosexuals)...” Gay people consider themselves a separate nation?
And really, the strangest thing about Aranza’s insistence that he can actually hear backwards messages on albums where clearly none exist is his even greater insistence that everybody else can hear them too. Try listening to “Another One Bites the Dust” backwards and tell me if you can actually hear, “Decide to smoke marijuana, marijuana, marijuana.” And did you know that The Eagles’ “Hotel California” is actually about Anton LaVey’s founding the Satanic Church? According to Aranza, “Yes, Satan organized his own religion” is a back-masked message on the song. One wonders if he realizes that among the Church of Satan’s core tenants is materialism. LaVey brand Satanists are many things, often, but actual Devil-worship cannot be counted among their peculiarities and iniquities, because they don’t actually believe in the Devil’s existence.
Pastor Aranza would know that if he had actually familiarized himself with LaVey’s writing. But then, that would require him to evaluate things like rock music and the Church of Satan at face value and contend with them on a mere earthly level. KISS is a band of hedonists, not devil worshippers, and they make it clear, if not in their manner and method, than certainly in their music. Aranza, one might assume, knows in his heart of hearts that he lacks the light critical thinking and rhetorical skill necessary to coax the Lord’s sheep from the glamour of Dionysian revelry evoked by the rock’n’roll of the fifties, sixties, and seventies, and back into the equally barren, but comparatively bland chorus of contemporary, “mainstream” American Protestantism. Unable to contend with reality, Aranza searches for strawmen woven backwards into music, convinced of some sort of clandestine satanic plot to lure the children of America into debauchery with catchy tunes.
At some point it stops being funny and starts being sad. Backwards Masking Unmasked conveys the depth of American Christianity’s wrongheaded approach to culture, and does so completely unwittingly: when young people ignore the church in favor of potentially destructive vices, it is because of the influence of occult beings, not because young people chose to ignore the church. Aranza never supposes that perhaps he and his fellow pastors failed to instruct their flocks on the possibility of better, more fulfilling alternatives to the shallow navel-gazing pop culture or the empty self-destruction of drug culture. People like Aranza probably aren’t even aware that genuinely fulfilling alternatives exist. The goals of such people in 2010 are slightly different (rock music is no longer the main target) but the methods have only hardly changed.
Believe it or not, this isn't the only hidden message in this post! Jacob Aranza was the first to find the other one, and he believes it too!