THE EARLY YEARS
“Well, we’re not exactly geniuses.”
Born into the suburban world of the 1950s, future founders of the Church of the SubGenius Reverend Ivan Stang (Douglass St. Clair Smith) and Dr. Philo Drummond (Steve Wilcox) come of age during the 1960s and 70s – a time of unprecedented social and political tumult. They experience the rise of a deafening consumer culture, the tarnishing of the “American Dream,” the violence of the Vietnam War abroad, and the Kennedy assassinations and conspiracies that follow.
As youths, they revel in the delights of stable families, monster movies, Science Fiction, super-8 moviemaking, dinosaur figures, comic books, and Rock ‘n’ Roll. As they grow older they witness the emergence of televangelism, the Jonestown Massacre, punk culture, and Reaganomics.
Despite both growing up in Texas, it was not until the mid 70s that Stang and Drummond meet and quickly forge a friendship over a shared love of comic books, Captain Beefheart, and UFO paperbacks. One not so particular eve in 1977, while bemoaning their lack of conventional “success” for two such intelligent, well read chaps, Stang remarks, “Well, we’re not exactly geniuses.” To which Drummond replies, “yeah, we’re sub-geniuses.”
And in that moment the Church of the SubGenius is born. It is not long after that J.R. “Bob” Dobbs reveals himself as the Church’s iconic prophet and foremost patron of ineffable Slack. In fact, Stang and Drummond will later come to the realization that “Bob” has been planting evidence of his presence for them for the past twenty years!!!
THE SUBGENIUS DIASPORA
“There was that moment of realizing that this thing goes further than I ever imagined.”
– Puzzling Evidence (Doug Wellman)
In late 1979 Stang and Drummond, with the help of their wives, brainstorm what would become perhaps the single most significant marketing effort made at the inception of the Church of the SubGenius – the writing, design, printing, and distribution of Pamphlet #1. The doctrine of the Church quickly spreads, and the word of “Bob” and the teachings of JHVH-1 teach “time control” as a way to wrest “Slack” from the ‘Pinks’ and ‘Normals.’ The Church, it seems, has struck a nerve amidst the deadening consumer culture, the evisceration of basic social services, and the worship of wealth that occurred during the Reagan/Thatcher years.
As “Bob”’s pamphlet continues to travel the world, the emergent punk publishing scene and new wave comic writers seize on the humor and cultural critique of the Church’s doctrine. In San Francisco it is fished out of a trashcan by cartoonist and artist Paul Mavrides, igniting a SubGenius cell that gives the movement some of its most enduring art and performances through LIES (Paul Mavrides), Dr. Howland Owl (Hal Robins), Puzzling Evidence (Doug Wellman), Janor Hypercleats and Pope Sternodox.
“Bob” captures the zeitgeist of the day. Cartoonist Robert Crumb reprints Pamphlet #1 in the first issue of his comic Weirdo. A few years later Simon and Schuster publish The Book of the SubGenius. Acclaimed film director and SubGenius Alex Cox channels Church mythology in Repo Man as the glowing, alien-owned Chevy Malibu soars high above Los Angeles with Otto (Emilio Estevez) and Miller (Tracy Walke) inside, their faces shining with Slack as Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) watches from below.
Dr. Howl and Puzzling Evidence conduct legendary “Devivals,” radio shows (More than an Hour, Less than a Show), and introduce the word of “Bob” to Burning Man. The Stark Fist of Removal newsletter, The Hour of Slack podcast, an MTV special, and countless cassette tapes, posters, comics, videos, websites, and Facebook groups perpetuate the word of “Bob.”
By the turn of the century, publications as powerful as TIME Magazine begin to get the SubGenius joke when “Bob” is voted ‘Fraud of the Century” by readers of its online poll. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the “Free Party” constituents of Brighton in Great Britain voted “Bob” Dobbs as an M.P. to the House of Commons three times.
Today, “Bob”’s hucksterism and the wisdom of JHVH-1 is apparent in all fifty states and a multitude of countries across the globe!
‘‘THINK FOR YOURSELF”
The Church of the SubGenius is the underground movement that has galvanized the imaginative, the artistic, the nerdy, even the deranged – to examine the simmering dystopia in their culture, and do absolutely nothing about it… except, maybe, poke fun at it all. The Church of the SubGenius is taking over the universe. The sooner you learn about it, the better off you’ll be.
Now more than ever we feel that the story of the Church of the SubGenius needs to be told. There’s a core of ideas within the SubGenius ethos – of fighting oppression with humor, community, and creativity, of using absurdity as a nonviolent weapon, giving time, permission and priority to expression, creation, and zaniness with friends – that we think has great value we believe these ideas are necessary in today’s world and that our film about the SubGenius is the perfect way to invoke them.
Amongst all the spaceships, frop, pipes, eye-bludgeoning graphics, bulldada, yeti ancestors, (and yes, ‘macho spoutings’), join our merry band of pranksters on the culture-jam of the century! It’s going to be a lot of fun!!!