Enter the Church of the SubGenius, the Parody Religion Backed by R. Crumb, David Byrne & Other Alt-Icons

You may not know much about the Church of the Sub­Ge­nius, but you’ve def­i­nite­ly seen its prophet. The inten­sive­ly groomed, Ward Cleaveresque J. R. “Bob” Dobbs (below) began as a hum­ble piece of 1950s clip art and went on to become “a way of life to mil­lions… yet half of them don’t even know it.” Or so claims the sweep­ing, absur­di­ty-laced, son­i­cal­ly (and per­haps intel­lec­tu­al­ly) twist­ed nar­ra­tion of Arise! The Sub­Ge­nius, an “instruc­tion­al bar­rage video” put out by the Church in 1992 as the most potent dis­til­la­tion of its reli­gion-sat­i­riz­ing sen­si­bil­i­ty.


The obses­sion with world­wide con­spir­a­cies, the impor­tance grant­ed to vora­cious con­sump­tion and “remix­ing” of pop cul­ture (vis­i­ble every­where in Arise!), the hard­line oppo­si­tion to work, the all-impor­tant and nev­er-defined qual­i­ty of “Slack,” the askew escha­tol­ogy: how much of the Church of the Sub­ge­nius’ doc­trine has remained mere par­o­dy reli­gion, and how much, since its found­ing in the late 1970s, have its “followers”—a group that includes such alt-icons as David Byrne, Robert Crumb, and Mark Mothersbaugh—come to con­sid­er as good as the real thing?

But what­ev­er legit­i­ma­cy this sur­pris­ing­ly long-run­ning post­mod­ern joke has attained, we can also view it, like all reli­gions, as a cul­tur­al move­ment. This approach rais­es its own ques­tions: how, exact­ly, did Dobbs’ pipe-clench­ing, father­ly yet sin­is­ter vis­age become one of the most rec­og­niz­able sub­cul­tur­al emblems of the 1980s and 1990s? You may nev­er learn the answer, just as you may nev­er get a han­dle on the entire­ty of the Church’s ever more labyrinthine and aggres­sive­ly pre­pos­ter­ous mythol­o­gy, but you’ll cer­tain­ly find it all strange­ly com­pelling in the attempt.

And even if Arise! The Sub­Ge­nius does­n’t recruit you into the Church of the Sub­Ge­nius’ ranks, you’ve got to respect what they’ve pre­dict­ed: not the end of the world, as much as they talk about it, but our cur­rent­ly thriv­ing 21st-cen­tu­ry cul­ture of media appro­pri­a­tion, recon­tex­tu­al­iza­tion, and absur­di­fi­ca­tion. If ever there were a reli­gion for the Youtube era, here it is. And if you find noth­ing nov­el in its char­ac­ter­is­tic ambiva­lence about what counts as seri­ous and what does­n’t, maybe the Church of the Sub­Ge­nius’ teach­ings have pen­e­trat­ed even deep­er into the zeit­geist than all those “Bob” stick­ers made us sus­pect.

via Net­work Awe­some

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch 8 Clas­sic Cult Films for Free: Night of the Liv­ing Dead, Plan 9 from Out­er Space & More

When William S. Bur­roughs Joined Sci­en­tol­ogy (and His 1971 Book Denounc­ing It)

Mon­ty Python’s Life of Bri­an: Reli­gious Satire, Polit­i­cal Satire, or Blas­phe­my?

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture as well as the video series The City in Cin­e­ma and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (3)
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  • BitCoin Bob says:

    Dri­ven to the brink of san­i­ty by The Conspiracy’s false real­i­ty and the pres­sure of a crum­bling Econ­o­my? Do you feel like there’s just no Slack? Do you want some­thing for noth­ing? Then this may just be for you.

    Dobb­scoin a “Dobbs Approved” pri­vate set­tle­ment instru­ment: The Cur­ren­cy of the Econo­ca­lypse &
    The ONLY cryp­to-cur­ren­cy accept­ed on the Plea­sure Saucers.

    It’s US ver­sus THEM! — Are you gonna FRY in HELL ON EARTH along­side the PINK BOYS, Or will you pull the wool over your OWN eyes and ACCEPT “BOB” into YOUR Wal­let.


    The Graven Image of ‘Bob’ Dobbs’ Face is a reg­is­tered trade­mark of The Sub­Ge­nius Foun­da­tion, Inc.
    Get RIGHT with “Bob” — http://www.subgenius.com

  • Tervuren says:

    I per­son­al­ly am a fol­low­er of the Invis­i­ble Pink Uni­corn. For only she can be simul­ta­ne­ous­ly invis­i­ble and pink.

  • J.R "Bob" Dobbs says:

    God is dead. Signed J.R “Bob” Dobbs.
    I’m dead too. Signed J.R “Bob” Dobbs.

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