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Church of the SubGenius

courtesy The SubGenius Foundation, Inc.

The Church of the SubGenius is a pseudo-religious organization which gained popularity in the 1980s and 1990s subculture, with a large presence on the Internet. It claims to have been founded in 1953, though its current popularity can be traced to the publication of SubGenius Pamphlet #1 in 1980. It has found acceptance in underground pop-culture circles and been embraced on college campuses, in the underground music scene, and on the Internet. The organization is widely seen as a satire that mocks organized religion, though its most devoted adherents adamantly challenge this viewpoint, usually on the grounds that it is far much too much trouble to attack something which is already dead.

Because of its similarities to the tenets of Discordianism, SubGenius is often described as an offshoot of that belief. Its members state that the organization developed on its own, however, with the publication of SubGenius Pamphlet #1 (a.k.a. The World Ends Tomorrow And You May Die!) by Ivan Stang and the original SubGenius Foundation. The original group, using such pseudonyms as "Pastor Buck Naked," "Suzie the Floozie," "Palmer Vreedeez," and "Pope Sternodox," forwarded their literature to a number of underground pop-culture figures such as R. Crumb and the New Wave rock group Devo, 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 High Weirdness By Mail in 1988, Three-Fisted Tales of "Bob" in 1990, and Revelation X: The "Bob" Apocryphon in 1994. 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. Ivan Stang maintains the official SubGenius home page at today. The Church's weekly radio program, the Hour of Slack, is a staple of many college radio stations.

Such high-profile names as Pee-Wee Herman, David Byrne, Mark Mothersbaugh, and actor Bruce Campbell have become SubGenius ministers, though they generally keep their affiliations with the Church quiet in order to protect their public image.

Table of contents
1 "Bob"
2 Slack
3 Sense of Humor
4 Devivals
5 Clenches
6 X-Day
7 External Links


Image copyright
(C) The SubGenius Foundation, Inc.

The central figurehead and symbol of the Church is the smiling, pipe-smoking face of J. R. "Bob" Dobbs, an image based on 1950s clip art. The Church claims that "Bob" (the quotes are included when spelling his name) founded the Church after he saw a vision of God on his homemade TV. Since that time, "Bob" has been killed and raised from the dead numerous times, though the Church denies any similarity between this claim and the Biblical account of Jesus Christ'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 the movie The Wizard of Speed and Time by Mike Jittlov. (The Church has recently adopted a new symbol called the "Dobbs Icon," 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.)


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 were all born with Original Slack, but that Slack has been stolen from us by a worldwide conspiracy of normal people. The Church encourages originality and frowns on actions seen as "pinkness," which happens when you bow down to authority and the accepted limits of society. Popular Church phrases supporting these goals are "The SubGenius Must Have Slack" and "Fuck 'Em If They Can't Take A Joke."

Sense of Humor

The Church encourages humor, comedy, parody, and satire to a point far exceeding that of most other religious faiths. This belief is probably why the Church is seen as an elaborate joke, a mockery of organized religion, and a parody of controversial religious groups and cults. Almost nothing is considered off-limits to comedy in SubGenius circles, and the group's jokes often veer into the realm of bad taste. Church members frequently pull practical jokes on each other, even as they are using their comedic talents to other ends.


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 Swinging Love Corpses, Doktors for "Bob," Saint N and Hellena Handbasket, Jehovah Hates Phred, Einstein's Secret Outlaws, and the Kings of Feedback. 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, 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 (the organization claimed to have been responsible for the Columbine high school shooting tragedy).


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 a Devival together. Some of these clenches even 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!"


The biggest SubGenius Devival is held each year on July 5th, or X-Day. The Church claims this is the day foretold by "Bob," when the world will be destroyed by invading alien armies (known as the Xists). Only the members of the Church of the SubGenius will be saved from the coming apocalypse, though so far each July 5th has passed without incident. The Church encourages its members to gather in upper New York state at a festival campground to celebrate X-Day with parties, bonfires, and rock concerts.

External Links


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Also See:

Stanislav Szukalski