This is the first time I’ve blogged about a Kickstarter campaign (you’re welcome) because this documentary film, Slacking Towards Bethlehem: JR “Bob” Dobbs and The Church of the SubGenius, needs to happen! Read all about the accomplished team of Austin filmmakers on their highly amusing Kickstarter Page. (Update: The campaign was fully funded as of 11/8/17. Get info on the film here)
The doctrine of The Church of the SubGenius and its deity, J.R. “Bob” Dobbs, the world’s greatest salesman, is brilliant social satire and funny as hell.
The filmmakers, on their quest for the real story, made me confess that I am indeed “Bob’s” Head Nurse. I was onstage with the Church of the SubGenius at the International Night of Slack in San Francisco and at The SubGenius Devival in Los Angeles, 1985. I take no credit for formulating the Church. I was there, a member of the San Francisco SubGenius cell and post-punk performance art scene. Kelly Cash and I became “Bob’s” Nurses (the only two) due to artistic, political, hormonal and comedic impulses, and by divine decree of J.R. “Bob” Dobbs.
The Church of the SubGenius began as a prank pamphlet and miraculously gained what we now call a media platform – several published books, celebrity endorsements, and the image of “Bob’s” head popping up nationwide.
The doctrine of Slack went viral before there was an Internet. (Insert joke here: “Bob” knows the secrets of time travel.) A true SubGenius will switch relentlessly between the prank doctrine and the real story. Newcomers to the SubGenius mythos are justifiably confused. The narrative is generative, subject to elaboration that sometimes misses the mark and sometimes hits the bull’s-eye of Slack.
“Slack”, according to the Church of the SubGenius doctrine that birthed the term, is not merely a lack of effort. Slack is thinking for yourself (!) outside the bounds of normality. Slack is a transcendent, aspirational state of leisure and non-conformity.
In the 1980’s, when “Bob” launched to subcultural fame, normality in America meant hawkish Reagan politics and televangelists hawking salvation. Weirdos stood in opposition to Wall Street money-grubbers and nuclear arms proliferation. Throw in UFOs, the Kennedy assassination, the Jonestown cult suicide, aerobics and cocaine. Those guys who produced the Book of the SubGenius:The Sacred Teachings of J.R.”Bob”Dobbs (1987) deployed absurdity as an art form and gained a following larger and stranger than anyone could predict.
You can describe the Church of the SubGenius as Prankster art, cultural satire, a Dada-esque social network, brazen weirdness or early Culture Jamming. We certainly spoke back to the spectacle. Now I’ll let you in on a little Church secret: you can’t define the SubGenius phenomenon in any way without sounding like a big old “Normal.” Yet these filmmakers, directed by Sandy K. Boone, are doing their damnedest.
There is a kernel of absurdity in all things serious. SubGenius founders were of the generation that prepared for atomic blasts in Kindergarten. The horror of conformity was heightened by the Vietnam War. Here’s one of my favorite truths about my friend, SubGenius Paul Mavrides: When his military draft number was called and he submitted to a standard interview, the Selective Service classified him as “pathologically anti-authoritarian.” A true SubGenius resists the confinement of socially dictated norms. While laughing.
In 2017, when the U.S. has a mad vulgarian President and social media puts us in the virtual spinning house with Dorothy of Oz, who among us can discern the boundary between the absurd and the real?
As a lapsed SubGenius who has survived these many decades, I say the parallels between then and now are radiant. We are living in “the coming weird times” and so I turn to my old religion. I return to the pursuit of Slack. From the Nurses Hymnal, we sing: “Bob Was Always Here, Cos He Was Never There.”
Non-conformist thinking, friendship, art and humor feed the soul of every SubGenius. Pushing the level of absurdity to new heights, we make each other laugh.