Her creepy imaginary friend is called Captain Howdy

Sunday, September 15th, 2019

In Primal Screams Mary Eberstadt cites former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, social scientist James Q. Wilson, and Elizabeth Marquardt, author of Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, to document how the Sexual Revolution created Identity Politics:

A writer she doesn’t mention, however, is William Peter Blatty, author of the blockbuster 1971 horror novel The Exorcist. Those who have never read the novel, or are familiar only with its 1973 cinematic incarnation, probably believe the book to be a potboiler about demonic possession. But it is also an allegorical warning about the importance of the traditional family unit and the devastation wrought when it breaks down. Curiously, this aspect of the novel went largely unnoticed by the book’s earliest reviewers.

Back in 1971, the advent of no-fault divorce laws in the United States was seen in liberal circles as an unalloyed benefit for society. Thus, the book critics for most of the mainstream publications that bothered to review The ExorcistTime, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, etc. — treated the book as either a modern day pastiche of Poe and Mary Shelley, or else as a traditional story of the battle between Good and Evil. What’s odd about this is that Blatty made no effort to hide his social conservatism. You don’t have to be a postmodern literary detective to find it in the subtext. Blatty was not a subtle writer, and he set his message out on the page for all to see, although very few have ever remarked upon it.

The Exorcist tells the story of Chris MacNeil, a recently divorced American movie star, and her 12-year-old daughter Regan Teresa MacNeil, whom Chris calls “Rags.” The story takes place in Washington, D.C., where Chris has rented a home a few blocks from the campus of Georgetown University. She is the star of a movie about unrest on campus that is being filmed at Georgetown. Neither Chris nor her daughter have yet recovered from the divorce. And Regan has begun to demonstrate troubling behavior (using obscenities, operating a Ouija board with a creepy imaginary friend, lashing out at the adults around her) that leads Chris to seek help and advice, first from psychiatric professionals.

Every few pages, the reader is reminded about the absence of Regan’s father. Early in the book, as Chris is hanging up a dress in Regan’s closet, she thinks: Nice clothes. Yeah, Rags, look here, not there at the daddy who never writes. Regan appears to be in search of a substitute for the father she has lost, and television seems to be one of the places she has been looking. Her creepy imaginary friend is called Captain Howdy, clearly a reference to two TV characters popular with children of the Baby Boom, Captain Kangaroo and Howdy Doody.

I was shocked years ago, when I learned from watching the DVD extras, that The Exorcist was written as a piece of pro-Catholic propaganda.


  1. Bomag says:

    Data I’ve come across suggests that monogamy is one of the better strategies: more reports of life satisfaction; countries get more economic and social success.

    The thing is a harder sell than it should be.

  2. Kirk says:

    Anything requiring hard work and self-sacrifice is always a hard sale. Self-indulgence and gratification is always easier, and that’s the gist of what no-fault divorce actually implies on both sides of the line between men and women.

  3. Alistair says:

    I think monogamy is vastly under-rated.

    Polygamous societies have some very nasty features. Firsly, all those surplus males. Secondly is the need for unmarried men to take crazy risks to get into the minority of married men. Thirdly, the huge rise in the value of females turns them into a commodity.

    It’s not a co-incidence that the Arabic world is a Patriachy, with women as cattle. It follows directly from 4-wives.

    I ran some simple social models for polygamous pair-matching, just to see how that would differ from a monogamous rule. I assumed a composite measure of “attractiveness” (looks, fitness, wealth etc) that was lognormally distributed for both genders, that woman shared the value of their male partner whilst men summed the value of all their female partners. The results were a hugely unequal distribution of mating opportunities; Gini coefficients of 0.7 or higher. Between 30% and 70% of men didn’t typically get a look in, depending on the sd of the attractiveness distribution.

    Monogamy: good for Alpha females and Beta males. Polygamy: the reverse.

  4. Alistair says:

    ….I mean it looks like wine, and the bottle is a familiar shape….but….you know…Canada…

  5. McChuck says:


    Research has shown that over the long course of history, 90% of women reproduce, but less than 20% of men.

  6. Alistair says:


    I’d heard…slightly less extreme numbers, but along the same lines; do you have a link?

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