What do roleplaying games and heavy metal have in common? In the 1980s, they were associated with Satanism. “At the time, people were convinced that in just about every American suburb there were satanic congregations meeting and making human sacrifices,” says Antonio Dominguez Leiva, a UQAM professor specializing in cultural history. According to him, the success of Roman Polanski’s film Rosemary’s Baby, released in 1968, certainly contributed to rekindling this fear of the devil. In the United States, daycare educators, suspected of being part of Satanist groups, have been accused of sexually touching children. Francis Langlois, history professor at Cégep de Trois-Rivières, draws a parallel between the distrust of these men and that of drag queens in the past year. “It’s part of the same kind of trend. We demonize categories of people. And where does that come from? From a form of Puritan Christian fundamentalism. »

The idea that there is another form of life in the universe has not always been called terrifying. “Aliens became worrisome when it came to abductions in the 1980s,” says Antonio Dominguez Leiva. People have testified to being transported on ships to undergo medical experiments. “They are really convinced that they have been in contact with these creatures,” he continues. Earlier this year, the Pentagon filed a report on “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena,” which continued to fuel the debate over whether or not extraterrestrials exist.

The images of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, completely razed by the explosion of two atomic bombs during the Second World War, marked the spirits. Throughout the ensuing Cold War period, the nuclear threat scares the entire planet. “We were really afraid that at any moment the USSR or the United States would decide to attack with a nuclear bomb and the other would retaliate. […] It was the fear of the end of the world,” recalls historian and teacher at Villa Sainte-Marcelline Sophie Doucet. The war in Ukraine and rising tensions between Russia and the United States have reignited this fear. However, the nuclear threat had never disappeared, underlines Francis Langlois. “Nobody is fully aware that there are still many nuclear weapons and that they are significantly more powerful than those used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. »

They are supposed to cause joy and laughter, but in 2016 they caused panic in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, among others. “Suddenly there were people who started seeing disturbing clowns in their garden, in the woods or on the road,” says Antonio Dominguez Leiva, author of a book about this “great clownish fear”. Sometimes filmed, these incidents were the subject of media reports… as was also the case in the 1980s and 1990s. The many horror films featuring evil clowns, including John Carpenter’s Halloween, then It , by Stephen King, contributed to feeding this fear. But beyond fiction, a very real character has also fueled this fear of clowns: John Wayne Gacy. An American serial killer who took the lives of at least 33 young men in the 1970s, he was dubbed by the press as the “killer clown” as he disguised himself as such to volunteer in hospitals.

The attacks of September 11, 2001 completely changed the fear of terrorism in the United States, of course, but also elsewhere in the world. If before 2001 it was associated with an internal threat, as was the case in 1995 when a far-right group blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City, the collapse of the Twin Towers has changed this view. “With 9/11, terrorism became the fear of Islamism. We have “ethnicized” terrorism, ”notes Francis Langlois, associate member of the Observatory on the United States of the Raoul-Dandurand chair. “The fear that it would happen again made many people suspicious of a category of the population that we associated with these events. Fear fuels racism, intolerance,” adds historian Sophie Doucet. Even today, we feel the effects of this “fear of the other”, think the two experts.

Absent from the thoughts of many Quebecers just four years ago, the fear of viruses has returned in force in 2020, thanks to a certain disease called COVID-19. However, the fear of pandemics has been observed in waves since the end of the 19th century, suggests Antonio Dominguez Leiva. “At that time, there was paranoia around the discovery of microbes and microbial medicine. The fear that anarchist groups would use viruses against a portion of the population was real at the turn of the 20th century. This fear of bioterrorism has also reappeared during the world wars, the cold war and even quite recently. “It remains the hypothesis of many people about the origin of COVID-19,” said the UQAM professor.