On this edition of Parallax Views, noted Portland, OR radio personality Rick Emerson joins us to discuss the wild story of the controversial anti-drug book Go Ask Alice as explored in his book Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposer Behind the World’s Most Notorious Diaries.
In 1971, a book purporting to be the diaries of a teenage girl who fell into drug addiction through LSD swept the nation. In an age of growing concerns over teenage drug use, especially psychedelics, the book became a sensational success and has continuously remained in-print since that time.
Questions about the authenticity of the book, credited to “Anonymous”, arose and the truth about the book’s actual author leads one to Beatrice Sparks, a conservative Mormon youth counselor who would later go on to fan fears about Satanism through the similarly-claimed-to-be-autobiographical-account-of-teen-trouble Jay’s Journal.
Rick and I will discuss the story of Go Ask Alice and the question of its authorship throughout the conversation on this episode as well as delving into the political climate of the 1970s, legendary TV personality Art Linkletter and the crusade against drugs in response to the 60s counterculture, the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, the TV movie version of Go Ask Alice starring Star Trek‘s William Shatner, why Go Ask Alice resonated with many youths who read the book, parents offended by Go Ask Alice subject matter and depiction of drug use, book banning and Go Ask Alice, the religious background and conservative Republican politics of Beatrice Sparks, the American press/media and Go Ask Alice, literary frauds and literary imposters, Richard Nixon and the War on Drugs, teenaged sex in Go Ask Alice and how that made the book scandalous, Go Ask Alice as the birth of the YA (Young Adult) novel, the infamous “Another day, another blowjob” line in the book, parental fears about the state of the youth reflected in Go Ask Alice, Go Ask Alice as sensationalistic anti-drug propaganda in the form of a “cautionary tale” (and why it may be more than that for many of the people that read it), Go Ask Alice as a book with a cult following today due to its camp quality, how Rick became interested in Go Ask Alice and the story behind it, the diary format of the book and the mystery/allure around the book being written by “Anonymous”, Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane song “White Rabbit” with the line “Go Ask Alice”, the teen suicide follow-up to Go Ask Alice entitled Jay’s Journal, Go Ask Alice‘s protagonist as being a composite of people Beatrice Sparks treated as a counselor, the early advertising for Go Ask Alice, the early reviews of Go Ask Alice and the glowing New York Times review that treated it as an authentic diary without much skepticism, the question of whether Go Ask Alice is a good book (well-written vs. impactful to the reader), exploring Go Ask Alice in light of phenomena like fake news and right-wing conspiracy theories like QAnon and Pizzagate, how Jay’s Journal helped create or accelerate the fears about Satanic cults and cult-related teen suicide, scapegoating and how books like Go Ask Alice and Jay’s Journal can actually cause us to sweep the real causes of youth issues like adolescent mental health under the rug, the moral panic about Dungeons and Dragons being a tool of the devil of the 1980s, moral panics and the muzzling of child creativity, how lines from Go Ask Alice were recycled in later Beatrice Sparks books, why do literary hoaxes like Go Ask Alice and the JT Leroy books happen?, and much, much more!
It’s an amazing story that will lead us into discussion of politics, social mores, censorship, paranoia, moral panics, history, literary hoaxes, the War on Drugs, the tumultuous climate of the 1970s, and the struggles of being a teenager in America.