The Church of SubGenius is an order of Scoffers and Blasphemers, dedicated to Total Slack, delving into Mockery Science, Sadfuturistics, Megaphysics, Scatalography, Schizophreniatrics, Morealism, Sarcastrophy, Cynisacreligion, Apocolyptionomy, ESPectorationalism, HypnoPediatrics, Subliminalism, Satyriology, DistoUtopianity, Sardonicology, Fasciestiouism, Ridiculophagy and Miscellatheistic Theology.The Rev. Ivan Stang is on his knees, genuflecting before a 13-foot-tall statue of J.R. "Bob" Dobbs' disembodied head. An impromptu game show is underway as part of Tucson's first Church of the SubGenius Devival, erupting here at The Hut on this crisp Saturday night. The question of the moment is whether the Rev. Jerry Falwell was right when he outed beloved Teletubbies character Tinky Winky.
--The Book of the SubGenius
"Oh Dobbs, great enslackened one, living avatar of slack," Stang prays, "I beseech you, at risk of assassination, to enter this great papier-mâché head and grant us the wisdom we must know: Is Tinky Winky truly of what is known as the gay sexual persuasion?"
Flames burst from Bob's pipe. His glowing eyes survey the crowd, some 200 strong, mixed between SubGenius faithful and curious Normals who might never be the same after tonight. The giant head rumbles, rumbles, rumbles before the deep tone proclaims: "I am Bob -- Bob -- Bob! You have asked my wisdom -- Tinky Winky is as queer as a three-dollar bill! Don't you people in Tucson know anything? But far worse--they didn't give him any genitals! What kind of sick thing is that? Bob has spoken!"
The crowd erupts as a chorus: "Bob has spoken!"
What is Slack?
You were born with it--everyone is born with original slack--but the Conspiracy has most of it now. They don't even know what it is, but that hasn't stopped Them from siphoning off what little you have left. (The stealing of Slack paradoxically becomes easier the less of it there is around.)
SLACK IS THE ESSENCE OF THE Church of the SubGenius, a cult that emerged more than two decades ago. The SubGenii follow the teachings of J.R. "Bob" Dobbs, the pipe-smoking High Epopt of the church. His gospel was first revealed by the Rev. Stang, who today heads up the SubGenius Foundation, witnessing the word of Bob and hawking T-shirts, books, video tapes and bumper stickers.
Boiled down, Bob's gospel teaches that a Conspiracy of Normals is relentlessly seeking to steal our original Slack. While the holy books maintain that slack is virtually indefinable, longtime church member Dr. Rev. Hal Robins shared his thoughts on it last week.
"What is the opposite of tension?" Robins asks. "Slack. Slack is what you need, leisure, the basis of culture, the opportunity to fabricate, to create on one's own, to deal with the matters of life unmediated by unwelcome other elements and agencies."
There's more to the religion than that, of course: the secrets of the Mutant Yeti Genetic Substrain, the power to be found by Surfing the Luck Plane, the Pleasure Saucers of the Sex Goddesses. But those details are best explored by perusing the holy scriptures found in The Book of the SubGenius (1983) and Revelation X (1994), both thick volumes filled with lunatic visions and twisted illustrations that strip away the Conspiracy's illusions, revealing the ugly true face of SubGenius reality. All dogma aside, however, the church is about the pursuit of Slack--which tends to be more difficult to grasp the more it is pursued. It's a deceptively simple concept that nonetheless remains beyond the reach of the Dupes of the Conspiracy.
"It's funny," says Robins. "Either people immediately understand it or they never do."
Robins, who grew up in Tucson, now gets by as a cartoonist and performer in San Francisco. He's serving as master of ceremonies at tonight's Devival, dressed in an orange-and-white checked suit with a straw hat perched upon his head.
Robins is one of the church's earliest members. The gospel was first revealed to him in the early '80s, while he was toiling in, as he puts it, "a comic-book factory." One day a fellow cartoonist, Paul Mavrides (also known in the church as LIES) fished an odd religious pamphlet from the wastebasket, where it had been thoughtlessly tossed by the boss. In bold letters, it warned "The world ends tomorrow and you may die!"
The flier touched something inside him. Since then, he says, the work of the Conspiracy has been as plain as day. "Look around and you'll see it in operation," Robins says. "Remember, the Conspiracy wants to sell you its False Slack to replace the Original Slack you were born with."
They've ALREADY rounded us up like cattle, herded us into slave labor gulags, and replaced our names with urine test result numbers--ONLY MOST OF US DIDN'T NOTICE, because at the end of the day they still let us clock out, go home to our cell blocks, and punch in again for a few minutes of "quality time" with the spouse and kiddies, or the drugs and TV, or all four. The takeover, or "domestication," we believe they call it, happened so gradually, so quietly and so thoroughly, that, even if you happen to know who "Bob" Dobbs is, you might not really CARE! Of course, THEY keep you from caring whether you care or not, and it's so much easier to just QUIT FIGHTING --
A SUBGENIUS DEVIVAL IS BASICALLY, IN THE words of Rev. Crawford, "a variety show for the socially maladjusted." It's a chance to expose the insidious Conspiracy and its ignorant dupes for what they truly are: soul-leeching slavemasters who suck the vitality from creative effort to better commercialize it and sell it back to us as False Slack. There's a reason every community in America is finding itself wrapped tight in bland chains inside strip malls: The Conspiracy is out to turn you into a well-managed wageslave programmed to increase profit through efficiency. The nail that sticks up gets hammered.
Crawford, a.k.a. Rev. Thereheis, is a local computer programmer who has been organizing the Devival over recent months. He's assembled quite a gathering of the church's high priests, including Stang, Robins, the Rev. Onan Canobite and the Rev. Nikki Deathchick, who entertains the crowd with a quasi-striptease as she spits out blowjob jokes. He's also tapped local mechanartist Mat Bevel and several musical acts, including the Duke of Uke, who has traveled from Portland to knock out tunes like "I Wanna Be Sedated" on his electric ukulele.
Now that the big night is here, Crawford is moving frantically around the Hut, dressed in a yellow suit highlighted by orange-and-black flames licking the front. The show is off to a late start and there are troubles with the lights near Stang's table of merchandise. Crawford has to crash into a pit of college-crowd Normals across the street at O'Malley's to try to find a sound guy who might understand the damned electrical system.
Still, none of it is enough to overwhelm the Word of Bob. Behind his aviator sunglasses, Crawford welcomes the crowd with the first rant of the night, railing against Arizona's voracious real-estate developers, idiot politicians, mindless shoppers at big-box stores and other Normals--or "Pinks"--who deal in False Slack.
Here in Tucson, the Conspiracy is so insidious that not one bookstore in town currently carries a copy of the SubGenius tomes. Sure, they'll order one if you ask for it--just as long as you don't mind giving them your name. And wouldn't the Conspiracy like that!
Crawford warns that the Conspiracy is stronger than ever. "What's the name of that mall down there on Broadway?" he asks. "El Con. They're completely brazen about it. That's part of the reason I wanted to have this show. I want to bring the message of Bob to Tucson."
Devivals like this erupt whenever "somebody gets off their ass and organizes one," says Crawford. In this case, he was able to rent The Hut because the owners, Brian and Scott Cummings, are sympathetic to the church. Their first bar, Bob Dobbs Bar and Grill, is named for the SubGenius icon. It was opened by an early follower of the church in the early '80s, and the brothers Cummings stuck with the name when they took over, although they tend to play down the notion that it's a temple to anything other than sports and cold beer.
Crawford has been with the Church since the early '90s, when he came across a copy of The Book of the SubGenius in the humor section of a bookstore. It was either that or a Garfield collection, and the odd religious book seemed to have more heft to it. Little did he realize at the time that he was on the verge of regaining his lost Yeti Powers of Psycho-Consciousness.
"It's a lot less demanding than most cults, as far as putting restrictions on your personal behavior and your finances," Crawford says. "Scientology and Amway are probably the biggest rivals as far as mind-control and money-grubbing cults go."
A membership in the church costs a mere $30, which includes eternal salvation or a triple-your-money-back guarantee. "If you don't make the afterlife of your choice--and I stress your choice--we will refund your money in full to the third," says the Rev. Onan Canobite. "You'll search high and low and find there are a lot of takers but not many givers."
Canobite, who has written many of the gospels involving the Pleasure Saucers of the Sex Goddesses, first learned of the church in 1982, while attending high school in Knoxville, Tenn. "I was in sociology class and my friend Debra turned around in the seat in front of me and said, 'My boyfriend wanted you to have this.' " She handed him a pamphlet with three ugly faces encouraging him to join the Church of the SubGenius for a mere dollar. (Inflation has since driven up the cost.) "I signed up and haven't looked back since," he says.
Rev. Canobite says the Conspiracy "is, in fact, as strong as ever. There's no indication the Conspiracy has lessened its war on the SubGenius nation by one iota. We resist them with all the means at our hands." Resistance is not futile, but must be done carefully, so as not to rob one of Slack. "You have to resist properly," explains Canobite. "For some people, you have to lie in bed and watch TV a lot. Others make pipe bombs, others read funny comic books. The path to Slack is the one that you have to choose for yourself."
But choosing that path may be difficult in the years ahead. "The Conspiracy has two modes of operation," Canobite says. "There's the friendly-faced conspiracy and there's the mean-faced conspiracy. And I think we're entering into a phase of the mean-faced conspiracy with the election of President W. Things will be more overtly conspiratorial. It will be the conspiracy of bullies picking on you instead of teachers picking on you."
Canobite begins his rant tonight by promising to "initiate each and every one of you in the mystery of SubGenius magic!" Along with references to dinosaurs, robots and half-astral projection, his sermon warns of an impending Armageddon and the power of the Conspiracy.
"No matter how much the Man tries to harsh your mellow," he roars, "you can make light of the situation through levitation! You can say, Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke! "
The crowd echoes the cry: Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke!
All things considered, the Tucson Devival is going pretty well. It's certainly facing less trouble than a recent Boston Devival. As Canobite relates the tale, the SubGenius congregation ran into trouble shortly after the gun-wielding duo of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot up their classmates and themselves in Columbine, Colo. It seems an unknown prankster called into the TV program Talk of the Nation and suggested that the Colorado teens were misguided youths led astray by the Internet and groups like the Church of the SubGenius. "He was spreading the word of Bob in the guise of spreading the anti-word," suspects Canobite.
But no one anticipated what happened next. A group of concerned Boston citizens contacted the club hosting the Devival. "They said that the Church was a hate group and we should not be allowed to practice our freedom of religion on stage, as we had scheduled," says Canobite, who more-or-less dismisses the accusation. "What hatred we do have is well-earned and is not based on any race, gender or age, it's based merely on being a SubGenius or not being a SubGenius. Our hatred is reserved only for the Normals--the majority of people on the planet. We don't discriminate."
In steps the American Civil Liberties Union, which helps the SubGenius congregation find an alternative location in the basement of a Baptist church. The show is ready to go on, until a local politician declares no hate group will be allowed to spread its vile words in Boston while hiding behind the ACLU.
When the SubGenii arrive at the Baptist church, they are barred from entering and find themselves surrounded by riot cops with giant spotlights. "So the Devival occurred on the front steps of that church and for lights we used the police lights," Canobite recalls. "Even the finest efforts of several Conspiracy members could not thwart us in our appointed rounds."
For SubGenii in America, July 4 is the day of disappointment and shattered illusions, of lies and rushes to judgment. The Big Letdown -- The Blown Potential. The day to remember Wounded Knee -- The Philippines -- The Spanish American War -- Haymarket -- Vietnam -- the JFK assassination -- Watergate -- Iran-Contra -- A day of drunken Pinks and car wrecks, depressing Desert Storm parades and pathetic fireworks displays.
July 4th is Independence Day for the American Normals.
July 5th is Independence Day FROM ALL NORMALS--the day of TRUE independence, an independence undreampt of by the American forefathers, foremoms and fore-slaves -- Ragnorak, the Eschaton, Judgment Day, the Last Call, XistMas. THE ARISAL.
The Harvest Moon shall rise, the horn shall blow, and the call to arms shall sound! Huge Xist spaceships will suddenly, in the blink of an eye, hover over all major cities; the Judgment of Wotan and the Coming of the Antichrist will be upon us. Everything normal will cease to be; only the reality of the Xists will exist. A select few--we, the Xist Army of Occupational Service (XAOS)--will have bestowed upon us the duty, nay the PRIVILEGE of carrying out "Bob's" wrath on a sick and sinning world.
Oh, how the Pink patriots LOVE those July 4th fireworks. Well, on 7-5-98, they'll see some fireworks, all right!
JULY 5, 1998, promised to be a big day for the Church of the Subgenius. As foretold in Revelation X, that was X-Day, the end-all of end-alls. The Conspiracy would stand revealed, the Pinks would fall victim to a multitude of contradictory and hideous fates, and paid-up SubGenii would be taken aboard the Pleasure Saucers of extradimensional Sex Goddesses and whisked off to the Galactic North Pole or Planet X or some such place.
In anticipation of what the faithful call the Rupture, the Subgenii gathered, as they had previous Independence Day weekends, at Brushwood, a clothing-optional pagan campground near an Amish community in upstate New York. (Crawford, who has attended several of the annual congregations, says the Amish are quite tolerant of the SubGenii, but that pagans are becoming a little skittish. "A lot of these pagans get whiny very quickly," says Crawford, his voice slipping into a mocking falsetto. "Those rockets they're shooting off are messing up our karma."
But 1998 was different. It was the prophesied X-Day, the day the pleasure saucers were due to dock. After a long night of celebrating what he believed could be his last hours on earth, Crawford remembers staggering back to his campground to break into the supply of hard liquor before the countdown began. As he looked to the sky, he saw a giant X had formed. Could it be?
Alas, no. The appointed hour, 7 a.m., came and went, and no saucers appeared. Rev. Stang announced to the let-down congregation that he may have misread the sacred text, written down by Bob on the back of an envelope. Perhaps, he conjectured, it had been upside-down, and the true X-Day was actually July 5, 8661.
The assembled SubGenii didn't buy it. "After Stang trotted out that lame lie," says Crawford, "they stripped him naked, covered him in honey and feathers, paraded him around the campground and then tossed him in a scummy, leach-filled pond. The crowd gathered at the edge of the scum pond, chanting "Triple back, triple back!"
The faithful yet believe the Rupture will one day come. "We're scratching our heads wondering but keeping the Faith In Bob, or FIB," says Canobite. "The best hope we have is to have a party every year around July 5 just in case. So the SubGenius from around the world continue to gather at Brushwood, N.Y."
"The Rupture hasn't taken place yet," Robins says. "Like many other religions, our end of the world has had to be revised for several years now."
But Robins says that's no reason to take any chances. He points to those tiny religious tracts drawn by Jack T. Chick that promise an eternity in flaming hell for those who do not accept Christ as their savior.
"As you know, those present a very grim picture that only those who perform the particular ritual will be able to avoid the flames of Christian hell," Robins says. There's no mercy, not for "even the innocent pagans and those who haven't bothered to read the Bible too closely. Well, we don't want it to be that way, but the overwhelming fact is that only those who take care to follow the SubGenius principles to their conclusion can expect to receive a seat on the Pleasure Saucers of the Sex Goddesses when they arrive."