In “Part I: The Exorcist as Hero”, Cuneo describes America's surprisingly widespread fascination with exorcism. He points out two major contributing factors: the influence of the mainstream entertainment industry and the impact of contemporary cultural attitudes on society.
He discusses the novel and film of The Exorcist, claiming that its instant media attention sparked an avid interest in the healing power of faith. Since Blatty created the narrative from a supposed exorcism case, audiences across the nation had difficulty in separating reality from fantasy. Cuneo believes there was an overwhelming consensus regarding the image of the two Fathers who performed the exorcism--that of self-sacrificing heroes who commanded respect for the Church. It was not their scientific expertise that helped them wage the battle against evil, but rather their faith and knowledge of mysterious powers that saved Regan.
Consequently, from the mid to late-1970s, almost every media outlet concerned itself with exorcism and its validity. Newspapers, radio casts, talk shows, and even a series of related films were released (Devil Times Five, The Possessed, Good Against Evil, etc.). Furthermore, possibly because the entertainment industry is known to shape public opinion and capture the national psyche, there was a sudden increase in possession cases reported to Catholic rectories.
Throughout the rest of the section, he argues that modern US culture supports the use of exorcism. It is apparently readily available, cheap and fast; it does not require a lot of time and investment like many other treatments. Exorcism practices are also morally exculpatory, in that they place the blame of one’s problems outside of the self—it is essentially a guilt-free process. These are all precisely American values. In addition, it can even be seen as an alternative therapy. Since the current biomedical system is often unfeeling, heavily bureaucratic, and too technical, such therapies are seen as comforting and supportive. In line with Cuneo’s ideas, instead of seeing the problem as cholesterol or genes, many Americans actually think of it as a demon. Exorcism offers the possibility of a fresh start—a rebirth of sorts.
However, he acknowledges the fact that not everyone is equally influenced by the media nor our current cultural ideals. He maintains that exorcism is a “ritualized placebo”—those who want it to work, will believe it to work, and will actually feel changes as a result.
In continuation, though Cuneo watched hundreds of exorcisms, he never witnessed any strange happenings. He attributed many conditions to sound medical, social, or psychological causes. Since people report its efficacy though, he concludes that the practice has the potential to be advantageous, but not in the ways as advertised by the media. One can only judge its effectiveness on a personal level. Overall, American exorcism tests the limits of traditional religious values, pop culture, and current beliefs in psycho-spiritual healing practices, thus shaping the face of modern religion.