The Church of the SubGenius is a religious group that satirizes religion, conspiracy theory, UFOs and popular culture. Originally based in Dallas, Texas, the Church of the SubGenius gained prominence in the 1980s and 1990s subculture, and currently has a large presence on the Internet. Publicly accessible cited figures from 1988 indicated a membership of 3500 at that time and "more than 5000 by 1990.
The Church of the SubGenius claims to have been founded in the 1950s by the world's greatest salesman J. R. "Bob" Dobbs
. "Bob" Dobbs is depicted as a cartoon of a Ward Cleaver
-like man smoking a pipe. The church really started with the publication of SubGenius Pamphlet #1
in 1979. It found acceptance in underground pop-culture circles and has been embraced on college campuses, in the underground
music scene, and on the Internet
Because of its similarities to the tenets of Discordianism, The Church of the SubGenius is often described as a syncretic offshoot of that belief. However, its members state that the organization developed on its own with the publication of SubGenius Pamphlet #1 (also known as The World Ends Tomorrow And You May Die!) by Reverend Ivan Stang and Dr. Philo Drummond, the original SubGenius Foundation. The original group, using such pseudonyms as "Puzzling Evidence", "Susie the Floozie", "Palmer Vreedeez", and "Pope Sternodox", forwarded their literature to a number of underground pop-culture figures such as R. Crumb, Paul Mavrides, the New Wave rock group Devo, and Erik Lindgren (producer and president of indie label Arf! Arf! Records in Boston), who embraced it and incorporated it into their work. Crumb's promotion of the Church through his comic book series Weirdo brought many new members into the fold, including artists, musicians, and writers. Their efforts resulted in the publication of the Book of the SubGenius in 1983, followed by Three-Fisted Tales of "Bob" in 1990, Revelation X: The "Bob" Apocryphon in 1994 and The SubGenius Psychlopaedia of Slack: The Bobliographon in 2006. The popularization of the Internet in the mid-1990s brought a new surge of interest in the Church, resulting in dozens of home-made, elaborately decorated web sites and two Usenet newsgroups, alt.slack and alt.binaries.slack. (A third newsgroup, alt.binaries.multimedia.slack, was created on March 12, 2005.) Ivan Stang maintains the official SubGenius home page at http://www.subgenius.com today. The Church's weekly radio program, the Hour of Slack, is a staple of many college radio stations.
In 1996, Rev. Stang and Steve Bevilacqua worked together to manage the corporate entity of the Church, the SubGenius Foundation Inc. Their efforts helped to bolster the Church's revival through the late 1990s and early 2000s, until Bevilacqua had to retire from Church management in order to support his wife, Rachel Bevilacqua (see Legal matters). The first X-Day gathering also took place at Brushwood Folklore Center in Sherman, NY in 1996, and the annual Church festival has continued there through the present day.
Such high-profile names as Paul Reubens ("Pee-wee Herman", who placed a picture of "Bob" in every episode of Pee-wee's Playhouse), Magic Mose & his Royal Rockers, featuring 'Blind Sam' (who actually gave a free advertisement to the Church on the back of one of their EP's), David Byrne, Mark Mothersbaugh, Penn Jillette, Robert Anton Wilson, science fiction authors Rudy Rucker and John Shirley, and actor Bruce Campbell have become SubGenius ministers. Composer Frank Zappa says in his autobiography The Real Frank Zappa Book that he agrees with many of the beliefs of the church but refrained from joining as a full member. Comic book author Warren Ellis has stated the influence of the Church on his writings, though as of 2007 he has not yet admitted if he actually sent the $30 membership fee. Patrick Volkerding, the founder and maintainer of Slackware Linux, is also a SubGenius affiliate, and he has confirmed the Church and "Bob" inspired the name for Slackware.
It is claimed waggishly in church doctrine that Dobbs inspired L. Ron Hubbard to create his own cult when he remarked to him that the general public may be pink, "but their money is green Ivan Stang also claims that in 1986, an official SubGenius ordainment for Hubbard was paid for and mailed to his address—only two weeks before the Scientology founder's death
Basics of "Bob"
The Church describes its philosophy in the following manner:
These terms, used in a manner that deliberately parodies Scientology and New Age terms, reflect the Church's appeal. It portrays itself as an organization for "mutants, blasphemers, disbelievers, rebels, outcasts, hackers, freethinkers," and people who generally consider themselves outside the "mainstream" of society. The organization is widely seen as a satire that mocks organized religion, or as the church describes itself, "a cynisacreligion."
In a manner that mocks the nature of many non-profit religious organizations, the Church is known for blatant appeals for money from believers and non-believers alike. The Church is incorporated as a profit-making enterprise, and declares itself to be "the only religion that is proud to pay its taxes." Anyone can become an ordained SubGenius minister by paying a fee of $30 US for a lifetime membership. No other requirement is laid upon prospective members, though the cost of ordination separates the Church from the Universal Life Church and other paper churches that offer ordination to all comers. The Church of the SubGenius is known for a standing offer that stems from the ordainment fee: "Eternal Salvation or TRIPLE Your Money Back!" The organization claims that if an ordained SubGenius minister dies and finds himself standing at the gates of "Normal" or "Boring" Hell, he will be personally greeted by Church founder J. R. "Bob" Dobbs Himself and receive a refund check for $90.00, along with a booklet titled, "How to Enjoy Hell for Five Cents an Eternity," which costs $89.95.
The Church claims that true SubGeniuses are not actually human, but rather are descendants of the Yeti. According to Revelation X: The 'Bob' Apocryphon (published in 1994), SubGenii are actually the mutant offspring of a forbidden sexual union that took place millions of years ago between a resident of Atlantis and a human; at that time, humans were little more than a slave race. The resulting offspring was the catalyst that led to the fall of Atlantis. SubGenii often refer to one another as "Yeti" (or yetinsyny), though this origin story is generally not well known outside of the Church itself. (The term yetinsyny was appropriated from the artist Stanisław Szukalski, whose Behold! the Protong posited that Communists and other people Szukalski disliked were descendant from such unions.)
The Church has said that the name "SubGenius" has nothing to do with intelligence, of a level below genius or otherwise. It appears to be an effort to repudiate pretentiousness. (However, in a purposely contradictory fashion, they have also claimed that they are "SubGenius" because being a genius is not very fun.) The term may have something to do with the general unhappiness and absolute slacklessness of the self-proclaimed super-genius, Wile E. Coyote.
The central figurehead and symbol of the Church is the smiling, pipe-smoking face of J. R. "Bob" Dobbs
, an image based on 1950s styled clip art
, and bearing a striking resemblance to 50s comic strip character Mark Trail
. (In the SubGenius film 'Arise', "Bob" is described at one point, quite aptly, as "A comicbook character who communicates with space aliens
and worships money".) "Bob" was considered to be the best salesman of all time. The Church claims that "Bob" (the quotes are included when spelling his name, supposedly as a symbolic halo around his name) founded the Church after he saw a vision of JHVH-1 (or "Jehovah-1")
on his homemade TV.
"Bob" was killed in San Francisco in 1984 (though former Church members state this was just a publicity stunt). Since that time, he has been killed and subsequently returned from the dead many times, though the Church denies any similarity between this claim and the Biblical account of Jesus's resurrection. The Church guards the trademark and copyright on "Bob's" image, though his face has been used by many artistic figures, showing up on such places as albums by the rock band Sublime and George Clinton; the movie The Wizard of Speed and Time by Mike Jittlov; in the graphical character set of the Atari ST computers; printed on CDs for Slackware Linux (up to the Version 3 days); on the set of Pee-wee's Playhouse, in British comic 2000AD, inside the strip Robo-Hunter, and in Devo's video for the song "Love Without Anger". "Bob" made an appearance in the comic The Badger, his form having been taken by a demon who commented at one point "Do? I'm going to beat you to death with this pipe." He also made a brief appearance in Marvel Comics' Slapstick as a coffee store clerk.
The Church has recently adopted a new symbol called the "Dobbs Icon" (Also known as the sacred ikon), which is a stylized cross with three bars and a pipe, placed in a pattern that matches the eyes, nose, mouth, and pipe of "Bob"'s image. This symbol resembles the patriarchal cross as it is possibly a parody.
Nothing is more central to "Bob" than his pipe, which is said to be filled with the mysterious substance known as habafropzipulops or "frop," (not a common drug) which may contain either mystical, hallucinogenic, or Divine powers. The pipe may also allude to surrealist painter Rene Magritte's famous work, The Treachery of Images, which features an image of a pipe and the words "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" (This is not a pipe). According to the church, the image of "Bob" and his pipe are often seen on random objects, possibly to herald things to come or as an omen, or possibly for no reason at all.
The number 13,013 (usually seen as "13013") is the Number of "Bob", or the Mark of Dobbs.
In its January 1, 2000 issue, a Time magazine internet-based poll named J.R. "Bob" Dobbs the #1 "Phoney Or Fraud" of the 20th century.
The central belief in the Church is the pursuit of Slack
, which generally stands for the sense of freedom, independence, and original thinking that comes when you achieve your personal goals. The Church states that we are all born with Original Slack, but that Slack has been stolen from us by a worldwide conspiracy
of normal people, or "pinks". The Church encourages originality and frowns on actions seen as pinkness, which happens when one bows down to authority and the accepted limits of society. Slack is also about doing nothing and getting what you want anyway. "Bob" being the center of the Slack plane cannot fail, even his failures are startling successes as a result of his absurdly high Slack. Popular Church phrases supporting these goals are "Give Me Slack or KILL ME!", "The SubGenius Must Have Slack" and "Fuck 'Em If They Can't Take A Joke."
The Linux distribution Slackware is named for Slack. The card game Chez Geek uses Slack to keep score; the object of the game is to accumulate Slack counters until one player wins by reaching his or her Slack Goal. One of the cards that a player can use within the game to gain Slack is the Book of the Subgenius.
Sense of humor
The Church encourages humor, comedy
, and satire
far more than most religious faiths. This belief is probably why the Church is seen on one level as an elaborate joke (the Church argues that if it is a joke, then it is "a very serious joke" and "a joke that you can believe in"), an arguably postmodern
mockery of organized religion, and a parody of controversial religious groups and cults
, especially Scientology
(evangelical, or fundamentalist
, and "televangelism
"), to those unfamiliar with the church. Some refer to it as a "joke" or "parody religion
"; for instance, in their book Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet
, Lorne L. Dawson and Douglas E. Cowan
characterize it as a "sophisticated joke religion"
. Almost nothing is considered off-limits to comedy in SubGenius circles, and the group's jokes often veer into the realm of bad taste. The Book of the SubGenius
says: "If you don't laugh, you didn't get it, but if you ONLY laugh, you didn't get it." Church members frequently pull practical jokes
on each other, even as they are using their comedic talents to other ends.
Church members living in the same geographic area are encouraged (though it is not mandatory) to form a group: a local club or "clench". These clenches are typically the ones who bind together in order to put on a Devival. Some of these clenches position themselves as their own religion; this is encouraged by the Church, and is officially known as a schism. Ivan Stang himself has been quoted as saying, "Quit the church and start your own damn religion!" Paradoxically, one of the ways one can most fully embrace the philosophy of the Church of the SubGenius is to ultimately declare oneself to no longer be a faithful member of the Church, but to instead have schismed and formed one's own heretical sect or denomination. This dynamic embodies the nature of the Church as fundamentally individualistic, and antithetical to the adherence and obedience-based ways of most religions.
SubGenius gatherings, or Devivals
, can be seen as a combination of religious preaching, stand-up comedy, and rock concerts
. When the local members of the Church hold a Devival in their area, it typically occurs at a popular nightclub
, and it features SubGenius preachers backed by rock bands with such names as the Swingin' Love Corpses
, Doktors 4 "Bob"
, Saint N and Hellena Handbasket, Jehovah Hates Phred, Einstein's Secret Orchestra, The Mondo Retardo Band, The Amino Acids, and the Kings of Feedback. Devivals have been held each year as part of both the Starwood Festival
and WinterStar Symposium since 1991. Attendees at Devivals are encouraged to bring money and spend it at the ever-present sales table. Some Devivals have been known to veer out of control. In 1999
, overly cautious officials of the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts
pressured owners of The Middle East
nightclub to cancel the booked devival because of a mistaken belief that the organizers were affiliated with the Trenchcoat Mafia
(an organization which was mistakenly accused of being responsible for the Columbine High School massacre
An important SubGenius event occurred on July 5
. The Church had been predicting that on this day the world would be destroyed
by invading alien
armies known as the X-ists (which is short for "Men from Planet X"). Only the members of the Church of the SubGenius were expected to be saved from this SubGenius version of the apocalypse
, by being carried away in the spaceships of the Sex-Goddesses. When the promised cataclysm failed to manifest, Rev. Stang was tarred and feathered by his fellow SubGenii. Nevertheless, Stang was permitted to retain his position as Church administrator, and although that day and each subsequent July 5
has passed without evidence of an alien invasion
, the faithful membership still gather for the "Rupture" at a campground
called Brushwood Folklore Center
in western New York state to herald this SubGenius holiday
. Reverend Ivan Stang
has given many excuses for the failure of the Rupture to happen, such as claiming that "Bob" betrayed all SubGenii, that the scriptures were accidentally read upside down (hence the real year of the Rupture will be 8661), or that due to calendrical error or sabotage it is not yet really 1998. Some would argue that it did happen, albeit in a metaphysical
manner requiring greater shift of paradigm
to truly understand. Others have suggested that the X-ists did visit Earth as predicted, but that the planet we know as Earth was either secretly switched with Mars
sometime during or shortly after World War II
, or that the X-ists left with the persuasion that mankind will do the job just as well, if not better.
Reverend Stang has argued that X-Day is a religious holiday for the Church, and members of the Church should take the day of July 5th as vacation or holiday: "...if you can't get off the planet, at least get off from work."
Other Holy Days
Besides X-Day, the Church of the SubGenius has six seasons as identified in The Book
(Advert, Epicacophony, Emaculation, Turnover, Passaround, and M'Moreal Day) and has also published a "Sacred Calendar of SubGenius Saints" at the end of their most recent major publication, The SubGenius Psychlopaedia of Slack: The Bobliographon
(a partial version of it can also be found buried in the archives of their website.) It assigns a feast day or holy day (sometimes several) to every day of the year. Many of these feast days are rather unusual:
- The Night of the Lemur
- The Feast of St Klaatu
- Cremation Wednesday
- The Feast of St Monty Python
- Quaternary Prolapse begins
- The Feast of Weird Al Yankovic
- The Feast of the Blessed Leprechaun
- Palmistry Sunday
- The Feast of Saint Eris
- St Bill Hicks Day
- The Feast of Saint Dracula
- The Feast of St Guinness the Stout
- Desecration Day
- Yell "Fudge" at North American Cobras Day
- The Feast of St Kali
- The Display of the Embarrassing Swimsuits
- The Feast of St Caligula
- Drug Side-Effects Day
- The Dance of the Insensitive Bastards
- Start of the Holy Month of "Ramalamadingdong"
- Caesarean Section Day
- Rock Star Day The earth is nolonger a planet, its a dormant star
- Yummy Kippers Day
- All Asquires' Day
- The Feast of St Attila
- The Feast of St Oliver the Humanzee
- The Feast of St Cthulhu
- Hate for the Sake of Hating Day
- The Martyrdom of St Kenny
- Whiny Victimization/Co-Dependency Day
- The Feast of St Lucifer
Additionally, in the e-mails sent out by the SubGenius foundation to confirm orders made at their online store, mention is made of a holiday called "Xistlessnessmess", which falls on December 25. Furthermore, it has been asserted that "Bob" has died and been reincarnated at least 366 times throughout history & prehistory, thus every day is "Bob"'s birthday (and cause for celebration).
In 2006, Rachel Bevilacqua, known as Rev. Magdalen in the SubGenius hierarchy, lost custody and contact with her son after a district court judge took offense at her participation in the Church's X-Day festival. Judge James Punch asked Bevilacqua to explain the humor of pictures from the event, and required that she produce a picture that would "absolutely knock my socks off with the humor of it." Without identifying anything in her testimony as specifically false, Punch pronounced her description of the church's activities as "clearly prevaricating" and "obviously so not true from anybody who's looking at it from any normal perspective" and Bevilacqua herself as "mentally ill" and a "pervert." (Ironically, the Official X-Day Video comes with a humorous instruction pamphlet that, among other things, warns people not to show the film to normals, because, "they will think you are insane.") Punch subsequently recused
himself, and Bevilacqua retained the law firm of Paul Cambria
. On January 5
, district Judge Eric Adams issued a ruling in Bevilacqua's favor requiring her son to be returned to her, but a temporary stay order was issued preventing this ruling from taking effect. The case was apparently ended on July 6
, when a New York appellate court awarded custody of Bevilacqua's son to her ex-boyfriend, the boy's father. However, further incidents have resulted in an additional custody hearing taking place in August 2007, with Judge Punch returning to the case. As of August 14
, custody of Bevilacqua's son has been awarded to her, pending the outcome of an upcoming felony hearing (drunk driving) for the boy's father.