Possession has always fascinated me. It's irrelevant to me whether it is supernatural or psychological. But recently I started wondering why the phenomenon is popular again, whether in the form of the Fox series The Exorcist, which is inspired by Blatty's novel and the movie from 1973, or whether it comes in the form of movies based on the files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, famous long ago for their involvement with the Amityville case and more recently The Conjuring films and Annabelle.
As a writer and reader, I'm aware that certain narratives are cyclical. Vampire stories, for instance, are cyclical in popularity. We are in a bit of a slump lately, which is ok, as I'm way behind on book 4 of The Olivia Chronicles. We are coming out of a Zombie phase, too.
What is very much in vogue right now, though, are stories of people being taken over by powers that are invisible. Against all odds, Fox renewed it's lukewarmly received series The Exorcist, and this season is good, but I have been having a hard time really enjoying it--in part because it is too political. The first season picked up where the movie left off by picking up Regan's life years later. Finally, we get some answers about what happened after Father Karras was successful in liberating Regan, even though he had to take his own life to do it.* And Sharon Gless played her estranged mother. What's not to love?
I can see why other folks are latching on to the possession trope, though. We hear apologies and rationalizations for sexual harassment claims, for instance, that sound like "Oh, that's not the Roy Moore I know." Even Trump has started suggesting that's not his voice on the infamous "grab 'em by the p*ssy" video.
As the image above indicates, I clearly am not the only one with exorcism on their minds in relation to the White House; but, even though this image enjoyed some popularity as a meme depicting the kick off of the Mueller investigation, I think we need to realize that the possession theme is more far-reaching than just the idea that Trump is possessed. We have no reason to doubt that Trump is who he's always been--he's not acting out of character, after all. We saw what was going on in the election, for instance. And, we also witnessed years of antics prior.
I went in search of political tension between 1971 and 1973 (the year that the novel The Exorcist came out and the year the blockbuster film adaptation came out. Some observations:
Looking at these events, it makes sense that possession narratives are enjoying a renewed popularity. It's easier to wrap our heads around the evil that we see when we can abdicate responsibility for it by assigning the blame to invisible forces that are beyond human rationality. Even people who did know and work with the accused have a hard time: "Kotb noted, of Lauer, that she 'loved him as a friend and as a colleague.' She added: “'t’s hard to reconcile what we are hearing with the man who we know who walks in this building every single day.'”**
Our current fascination with possession is also related to the constant barrage of "oh, no, not the guy I know" as one popular figure after another is revealed to not be the person we thought they were. Whether we're sad and unbelieving that our old Saturday Night Live buddy Franken would act inappropriately or that our coffee and danish companion Matt Lauer could really be a predator, many of us are having those moments where we realize that people we thought we knew are behaving in ways that are not what we expect.
While this is easy enough to deal with when it is a celebrity--after all, we don't really "know" those people--it's harder when we do know people who vote for and continue to support predators and con men. Instead of The Exorcist where it's easy to see who is possessed and that possession is unambiguous we're currently living out a scenario more like that found in Tremblay's amazing book A Head full of Ghosts where the lines between reality and teenage fantasy are too blurred for us to make any clear determination about the validity of the possession.
In Tremblay's novel, the possessed girl becomes the subject of an MTV style reality show. The novel is told from the point of view of her younger sister, and there are moments where the events seem to be the result of family dynamics and to have no supernatural source at all. Add a film crew and director who want to keep things interesting and lively enough to keep pulling in the ratings, and you can imagine how murky the waters get. Even by the end of the novel, the truth is uncertain to the readers and even to the narrator.
Karras was the perfect mix for the job. Despite being a man of faith and a psychologist he still was no match for the evil forces. In the end, they took him over just as easily as they did a young, innocent girl. Ultimately, we have to stop waiting for Father Karras to save us--we know how that wound up last time.
*I am aware that Karras comes back in Legion. But, he's in no shape to help humanity at that point, either.
**Do I believe that Hoda Kotb, Samantha Guthrie, and other women on the set didn't know? I do. That's how sexual predators work--they aren't going to go after the people who have the standing to destroy them.