Hypernormalisation

A fascinating new documentary created for the BBC iPlayer video platform features some great footage of a young John Perry Barlow. It traces the last 40 years of history through a counter-cultural lens.

“You were so much a part of the system that it was impossible to see beyond it…the fakeness was hypernormal”

Burning Man: Back to the Future

by Whatsblem the Pro

Or you can just sit there forever in your Rules-Royce, sucker

Or you can just sit there forever in your Rules-Royce, sucker


Whether the topic is children on the playa, cops on the playa, feathers on the playa, or just rules in general on the playa, burners are going to argue bitterly and at great length about it. Any time these topics are raised in any burner forum online, the conversation draws hundreds of comments, many of them aggressive to the point of abuse. It’s as though the desert fosters endless dispute in spite of all the groovy talk about togetherness and family and unity of purpose.

How can we resolve these seemingly unresolvable disagreements?

Consider the original reasons for going out to the Black Rock Desert in the first place; it was largely because the remoteness and harshness of the place made it a good place for a Temporary Autonomous Zone. It was a place where you could get your dog good and drunk and let him drive your car across the playa at 120MPH while you leaned out the passenger window, peppering the drive-by shooting range with buckshot. . . and there was nobody who could tell you with any authority that anything about that was wrong.

Ever since Larry Harvey and his gang co-opted that freedom by putting a fence around it and selling tickets, you aren’t even allowed to bring your dog, much less get him drunk. The speed limit is 5MPH, and firearms are frowned upon. . . because as everyone will tell you if you happen to lament those bygone days, the event is just too big for it to be practical to not have any rules. While that’s probably very true, it’s also true that without the fence and the tickets the event may very well have remained small enough for it to be OK. . . but I digress.

When the festivities on Baker Beach grew too large to avoid unwanted attention from the police, it became clear that San Francisco was no place for a Temporary Autonomous Zone of any size, as it would not and could not be tolerated by the locals. . . so, thanks to the Cacophony Society, a TAZ capable of supporting Burning Man as it existed in those days was established in the Black Rock Desert. Now Black Rock City itself is so big that the locals there balk at the idea of having no rules. . . so instead of discarding the best thing about the event in its early days, why aren’t we establishing a new TAZ to serve the needs of the woolier, more freedom-loving denizens of Black Rock City?

The obvious answer, of course, is that no matter what Larry Harvey or Marian Goodell say in speeches and press releases, Black Rock City LLC is a corporate business entity that exists for the purpose of making money, not for fostering anything too radical in the way of culture, and that purpose is inimical to the very idea of autonomy. The Disneyfication of the playa marches ever onward in the name of profits, and public relations problems are dealt with in the corporate way: by paying people off and covering things up. For example, I speculate that rape kits are not available at Burning Man, not because the environment is too harsh or the chain of custody being too difficult to maintain; but because having rape kits on the playa would mean that far more rapes at Burning Man would be reported, instead of shrugged off and forgotten about. Many rape victims would rather stay at Burning Man and quietly put the rape behind them than spend the rest of the burn in a Reno hospital talking to cops and doctors. In short, maybe we don’t have rape kits out there because it would hurt the corporate brand that the Org owns and profits from.

The profit motive is what brought us to this, and the profit motive has swollen the numbers of people attending to the point that most of them no longer have much in common with the free spirits that came to share their visions with each other in the early days of the event. At this late date, any proposal that suggests Burning Man might return to its origins of envelope-pushing freedom is immediately shouted down as unreasonable and unrealistic.

Imagine, though, a designated area on the playa – for waiver-signing adults only – with no rules. A place near enough to BRC to get to easily, but far enough away that gunfire isn’t a problem. A controlled-access TAZ. An anarchy park, within the confines of Burning Man. A place with no cops, no rules, and no limits.

Black Rock City can grow and grow, and so can the rules and the Disneyland-like aspects and the mandated safety and the numbers of children and the vast hordes of finger-pointers and burnier-than-thou shamers. . . and we’ll still have (we’ll once again have) a place to be ourselves, completely unfettered by anyone’s rules or expectations.

Comments are encouraged.

Krampus: The Grinch That Saved Christmas

by Whatsblem the Pro

St. Nicholas and the L.A. Krampus Troupe - IMAGE: Phil Glau/Al Ridenour

St. Nicholas and the L.A. Krampus Troupe – IMAGE: Phil Glau/Al Ridenour


UPDATE 12/05/2013: If you are planning to attend the Krampus Ball on December 7th, PLEASE NOTE that due to the popularity of the event, it has been moved to a larger venue. The Krampus Ball will be held at 
Highland Park Ebell Club, 131 S Ave 57, LA, CA 90042.

We’ve told you about the Cacophony Society; we’ve told you about their role in creating Burning Man, flash mobs, the film Fight Club, and SantaCon; we’ve introduced you to Al Ridenour and his psychomedical-cum-burlesque arts troupe, the Art of Bleeding.

Al Ridenour is not one to rest on his laurels. His latest project, Krampusfest, is rapidly coming together in Los Angeles for this year’s Yuletide.

Working from an idea by comrade-in-arts and co-producer Al Guerrero, Ridenour, Guerrero, and the troupe – many of whom have been active both in Cacophony and at Burning Man – are poised to unleash a robust echo of traditional European Krampus festivals on Southern California. Wearing elaborate, unique Krampus costumes made largely by hand and from scratch, the L.A. Krampus Troupe will make scheduled and unscheduled appearances throughout the month of December.

Krampus is a Yuletide boogie man who acts as the yang to Saint Nicholas’ yin. With a cruel switch of birch wood in hand, he takes care of the naughty list from December 5th until the 21st, punishing children for their misbehavior. Regional traditions vary; depending on where you wander, Krampus morphs and mutates into Knecht Ruprecht, Hans Ruprecht, Rumpknecht, Rû Clås, Bûr, Bullerclås, Zwarte Piet, Père Fouettard, and others. He arrives traveling with Saint Nicholas, and his various guises range from that of a wizardly old bearded man who looks like a second Saint Nick, to a Moor in fancy dress. . . but the canonical Krampus, the oldest of Krampuses, is a hideous demonic or demon-like abomination, first seen in obscure medieval iconography depicting St. Nicholas taming a chained-up demon.

Typically, the European traditions involve young men of the community dressing as the local interpretation of Krampus, having a parade accompanied by Saint Nicholas to mark his arrival, and running loose in the streets bearing chains and/or bells. Sometimes they carry birch switches or whips, sometimes they distribute booby-prize gifts (like lumps of coal), and sometimes, in the milder traditions, they hand out candy. It is often customary to offer them schnapps or other strong drink, to placate them.

Krampusfest, like SantaCon and like the Art of Bleeding, carries a sulfurous whiff of mayhem to us from a less safe and more primitive world. It reaches through and beyond the lurid horror commonly found in original-version fairy tales, in which brutality, beheadings, immolation, dismemberment, and horrible, violent death of all kinds is featured prominently; Krampusfest reaches deeper and farther back for its elements of terror. One does not touch the truest archetype of Krampus without touching all the implied menace of prehistory; the tradition has its deepest roots in the adrenal, primitive-dark sympathetic magic of forgotten hunters gathered ’round fires on the edges of eldritch forests. That primal, mist-obscured, stag-headed terror of which Krampus is an agent will allow Krampusfest to carry out its mission with sublety; it will surely be wild, but the blatant mayhem and hobo-style public drunkenness of an old-school SantaCon wassail won’t be necessary.

The website of Ridenour’s L.A.-based Krampus troupe explains:

“While the Cacophony Society was known for a general attitude of cynicism and satiric manhandling of sacred cows, Krampusfest encourages an inquisitive and respectful regard for the practice of Krampus traditions (along with playful reinterpretations!). Krampus Los Angeles is in correspondence with Krampus groups overseas in an effort to ground our activities in authentic practice and understanding of the tradition.”

Al Ridenour works on a Krampus mask - PHOTO: Phil Glau

Al Ridenour works on a Krampus mask – PHOTO: Phil Glau

I caught up with Al Ridenour early this week for a Q and A:

Whatsblem the Pro:
Al, what is Krampus?

Al Ridenour:
Well, the name probably comes from Austria, but it’s also used in Southern Germany and elsewhere. He’s a folkloric devil character who basically plays bad cop to St. Nicholas’ good cop, when Nicholas is off doing his gift-giving. . . and I don’t mean Santa Claus here. All this mythology is associated with December 6th, the feast day of the 4th century saint. The Nicholas figure dresses like a medieval bishop and is accompanied by a few Krampuses on house visits.

There are also Krampus runs, which consist of lots of these groups, each traditionally with their own Nicholas marching down the street. The bigger Krampus runs, the ones people here are more likely to see videos of, can be very elaborate with pyrotechnic effects and such, but in the smaller Alpine villages where this stuff originates there’s not really an organized parade route; it’s more just like a bunch of groups running around the town all at once — and there’s more risk, i.e., fun; that is, spectators get chased and get some light smacks with switches. . . especially women.

Whatsblem the Pro:
How much of that will you be reviving in L.A.?

Al Ridenour:
We’re actually trying to do all of it. We put the word out offering a traditional home visit, but somehow no one has jumped on that. Maybe something about having their kids scared shitless.

Actually, I should say that kids are never really smacked with switches. We certainly wouldn’t be doing that, and from talking to Austrians and what I see in videos, it’s really just about the Krampus throwing scary theatrical tantrums and rattling his chains and cowbells.

Whatsblem the Pro:
But you’ll be doing a Krampus run?

Al Guerrero suiting up - PHOTO: Phil Glau

Al Guerrero suiting up – PHOTO: Phil Glau

Al Ridenour:
Yes, a run and some other events. We’re doing a public run in conjunction with the Downtown Art Walk on December 12th. The Krampus L.A. Troupe will be there in full costume, and we even have an ‘Austrian’ band marching alongside. They’re actually a Balkan band, the Free Range Orkestar, but the one I talked to lived in Austria, and they’re learning Austrian-style folk tunes. So there’ll be music and switch-swinging and we’ll have a Saint Nick giving out some sweets, too.

Whatsblem the Pro:
How many of you are there in the troupe? Can other people just join you in costume?

Al Ridenour:
Yes. That’d be great. We just want to touch base with any participants first. We’re just asking them to arrive early to check in with us to go over some guidelines. Because switches are involved, and it’s a new potentially scary tradition, we just want to take that precaution.

There are about fifteen of us with full costumes, maybe even a couple more. Some people are still working on stuff, so I’m not sure.

Whatsblem the Pro:
The costumes look pretty elaborate. Do you expect a lot of people to show up in full Krampus suits?

Al Ridenour:
Well, that’d be wonderful, but I know the suits I made took quite a lot of time. Unfortunately, I don’t know a way to do it quickly or that cheaply, really.

At first you might just think “gorilla suit plus devil mask,” but if you look at the European costumes, there’s much, much more going on. Still, simplified costumes are okay, particularly for the other events. In fact that’s part of the reason we added other masquerade-type events, so that folks who just want to wear furry boots and their horned headdress but don’t want to go whole hog will also be able to take part. We’re doing Krampus Ball, and a Krampus Rumpus where we’re mixing up traditional stuff — like an Austrian brass band, and a Bavarian group doing traditional dance and music accompanied by alpenhorn — with goofier costumed parody bands like The Kramps and Krammpstein. Of course, the Krampus troupe will attack those events too.

Jason Hadley (foreground) and Al Guerrero (right) ponder a naughty child's fate - PHOTO: Jon Alloway

Jason Hadley (foreground) and Al Guerrero (right) ponder a naughty child’s fate – PHOTO: Jon Alloway

Whatsblem the Pro:
So how did you make those costumes? They’re wonderful.

Al Ridenour:
Everyone approached it somewhat differently. There are certainly some elements you can buy ready-made; in fact, you can buy a whole traditional suit ready-made online from European websites, if you want. . . but it’ll cost you a grand or more.

We did a lot from scratch as well as adapting some ready-made stuff. I’m not really sure how everyone made what they did. My masks, I actually used lots and lots of pieces of cardboard, hot-glued together. Then over that, coats of Bondo mixed with Fiberglass resin. Some epoxy putty details, some more tooling of the plastic, and you’re ready for paint.

The horns are all real; I used goat and kudu on my biggest one. In Europe, the masks are traditionally carved from wood. I did sculpt my teeth from wood, but I’m just not a woodcarver. I tried to emulate that chiseled look in what I made, though.

The fur suits are a combination of real fur from old thrift store coats, as well as sewn wefts of bulk synthetic hair sold for braided extensions, along with faux-fur yardage. There’s a lot of raggedness and wisps of long fur on traditional suits, so even if you buy a werewolf, gorilla, or Yeti suit, you need to doll it up a bit. We’re hoping to do some workshops next year, after we generate some interest and get the public acquainted with the look this year.

Whatsblem the Pro:
It does sound like a lot of work. So why are you doing it? Why Krampus? Is this a sort of next step beyond Santacon/Santarchy? An antidote for the creeping sanitization of Santa crawls?











Al Ridenour:
There’s no way to get around the comparison, especially since it was some of us from the old Cacophony Society that started that ball rolling. Honestly, I haven’t been part of that for going on twenty years, so I wouldn’t know anything about sanitized, but I do know it can be fun if it’s new to you.

I was there for the Santa gathering of the tribes in Portland in 1996, when Santa Palahniuk was along taking notes and we ended up facing off with riot police in full riot gear, so after that they started seeming a little anti-climactic, I guess. I organized one, I think, the year later, where the Santas attended the gun show they used to have out at the Pomona Fairplex. That made for lots of nice photo opportunities, but the joke just sort of got old.

The real problem with things like this is, as the numbers grow, the challenge and adrenaline rush diminishes. When it’s just a few of you out there, you don’t feel as safe; there’s more individual risk. As the safety-in-numbers factor sets in, the rush diminishes. Because we’re not just talking about a $35 Santa suit you can buy the day before you get here, we have some built-in safeguards against this thing becoming the same kind of mob scene.

Whatsblem the Pro:
But isn’t the Krampus run you’re doing sanctioned by virtue of being part of the Art Walk?

Al Ridenour:
Yes, and that’s a very good point. It does make it less challenging, but we’ll still be encountering people who have never heard of this tradition, and who won’t like what looks like a bunch of Satanists armed with bundles of wooden sticks. There is always the danger of some radical misunderstanding.

Krampus isn’t just a funny visual spectacle, like a mob of drunken Santas. He directly confronts and interacts; he swats at people, for heaven’s sake. The performers need to be on their toes to make wise judgments about who seems to comprehend what’s happening and might want to be playfully chased, and who to stay away from. It’ll be a balancing act. . . and beyond that one event, we’ll also be doing a secret guerilla-style appearance on December 6th, just to honor the traditional date and the rambunctiousness of the tradition as it’s practiced closer to its source, in the smaller villages where the Krampus runs wild and isn’t presented as a parade.

Mike Biggie strikes a menacing pose - PHOTO: Jon Alloway

Mike Biggie strikes a menacing pose – PHOTO: Jon Alloway

Whatsblem the Pro:
But again, why Krampus, and why now?

Al Ridenour:
This really just seemed like the last possible moment to make this our own, before someone else took over the tradition, reshaped it, and sold it back to us. Krampus was a figure I always felt close to. My B.A. was in German Culture and Literature, and I had grandparents who spoke German at home, so I felt a little possessive once I discovered him. Then, way back in college, when I first read those passages in The Golden Bough that you and I were talking about, it just set my little heart a-pattering and I began digging for more info. I’ve been watching this thing catch fire with the compilations of Krampus postcards appearing in books and circulating online, and the next thing I know, I’m hearing about Krampus cameos on The Colbert Report, The Office, American Dad, and The Venture Brothers. This year I discover that even Walmart is selling a shitty Krampus mask, via their website at least. I guess I felt like I was losing my intimate connection with my buddy Krampus. The only way left to get closer to Krampus was to become Krampus.

Whatsblem the Pro:
And convince a bunch of other people to become Krampus, too?

Al Ridenour:
No convincing was needed; that’s just my story. The others in the group had already grown their own attachments, I’m sure.

What happened, actually, was that in 2012 I finally made it to Austria and Germany to attend some Krampus events, and in the evening after I came home from my first event, I opened an e-mail in my hotel room to find that my friend Al Guerrero from Cacophony was announcing the creation of an L.A. Krampuslauf — a Krampus run — so I was just all over that.

Maybe there was also some aspect among us of wanting to give SantaCon a second try. I remember doing lots of reading on the history of Christmas, and trying to tell reporters that what we were doing was really, in a sense, the ‘real’ way to celebrate the holiday, in that drunken costumed street theatrics have an older historical association with Christmas than the red suit we were all wearing. In Europe they had wassailing. In early America, they called wassail groups Callithumpians. These wassailers would blacken their faces, or cross-dress, or turn their clothes inside-out, and bang on pots and pans and light fireworks while singing drunken songs. When I read about it, it felt a lot more like what we were doing.

I don’t think we could have stated it quite like this at the time. . . but in a way, I think you could fairly say that with SantaCon, we were breaking down that wholesome Coca-Cola character. We were besmirching his reputation by drunken assholery, and thus destroying him so that he could re-emerge in his original form.

Whatsblem the Pro:
There’s The Golden Bough again: Kill the ceremonial king, so he can be born anew. So Spring will come! But Coca-Cola Santa came from Madison Avenue.

Al Guerrero wears the traditional chains - PHOTO: Jon Alloway

Al Guerrero wears the traditional chains – PHOTO: Jon Alloway

Al Ridenour:
Yes. That version of Santa Claus was created to get people off the streets, to turn the holiday into a quiet family-centered idyll.

The popularization of Clement Clark Moore’s poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” was really part of a concerted effort by New York bluebloods to create something closer to the Santa we know. It’s true he may have been somewhat standardized by those Coke ads, but the basic idea goes back to that poem. . . and what’s funny is that the illustrations that went with it were drawn by a German immigrant, Thomas Nast, and both what he drew, and the poem itself, are still close to the German Belsnickel — or “Pelt Nicholas” — who is more of a sly trickster character than our old familiar Santa. He didn’t leave gifts in your home; he threw treats out into the street to bait kids. They would go for the treats, and he’d crack the whip he carried, to send them scattering. It was much closer to a game, and with his face blackened by soot and the ragged animal pelts he wore, he’s really only a hop, skip, and a jump from Krampus.

The real kicker was the cowbells. Krampus, in a few remote regions, cracks a whip. . . but everywhere he wears cowbells. This noise-making tradition associated with the holidays goes back to the pagan idea of driving away bad spirits at turning points in the year whenever they are likely to menace us mortals. We still have this notion preserved in the idea of New Year’s fireworks and tolling church bells, but it was also part of these costumed Christmas riots with their pot-and-pan banging.

When I heard the cowbells on the belts of the first Krampuses I encountered in Europe, it really hit me that this was my kind of cacophony! I just hope we can make a good run of it.

Whatsblem the Pro:
I hope you can, too. Wassail, Al!

For information on upcoming Krampus L.A. events, visit the troupe’s event calendar at http://krampuslosangeles.com/calendar/


Ashley ‘Actually’ Huizenga lays down an informative Krampus carol

25 Ways to Attend Burning Man Without Attending Burning Man

by Whatsblem the Pro

DOES NOT PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS

DOES NOT PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS

So, Burning Man is on your bucket list, or you’ve already been at least once, but you’re having a hard time getting it together to get that sweet ass of yours to the Black Rock desert?

Image: regionals.burningman.com

Image: regionals.burningman.com

There are options. The most obvious must be Regional Burning Man events and other, similar festivals (although you won’t find much that’s all that similar without getting on an airplane, if you live in the States). The Burning Man Regional Network is your friend, friend, and making contact with the burners in your area will inevitably hip you up to all kinds of things happening near you that appeal to a roughly burner demographic. Or, if you’re in the middle of nowhere, it’ll at least hook you up with people you can join together with to make something happen.

One slip-up and it really will make you go blind

One slip-up and it really will make you go blind

If you’ve got a brain full of bees and you don’t mind leaving your house and your comfort zone occasionally for shenanigans, then you may already be a member of the Cacophony Society, with chapters in Michigan, Arizona, Texas, Maryland, Louisiana, Alabama, Massachusetts, New York, Illinois, Ohio, Connecticut, Colorado, Nevada, California, Kansas, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Minnesota, Florida, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, Washington (State), Washington (D.C.), and Missouri, with international lodges in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, the Netherlands, the North Pole, South Africa, the South Pole, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela. If there’s no lodge near you, do some reading at the Society’s website and start one yourself. . . you’re all the authority you need.

I can't find the "catch fire" button on my computer

I can’t find the “catch fire” button on my computer

If you’re some kind of cyborg and can’t be detached from your computer without specialized tools and the risk of death, there’s BURN2, a virtualized burn that takes place annually in the strange online mindfuck known as Second Life, a Matrixy, immersive, build-it-yourself world with its own economy and mores. Second Life provides a whole universe of time-wasting opportunities beyond the virtualized burn.

If you want something done right, DIY.

If you want something done right, DIY.

Finally, there’s home DIY Burning Man, for the rugged individualist who can’t be bothered to go anywhere OR sit glued to a computer for days on end.

Back in August of 2002, some unsung genius on the now-defunct Midwest Burn List fired off a humorous enumeration of things you can do “to enjoy the Burning Man experience from the comfort of your own home.” The list has since circulated among burners on the Internet like crabs at a Rainbow Gathering. Our efforts to identify the author have come to an impasse; if you know who did write it originally, please let us know in the comments.

22 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO ENJOY THE BURNING MAN

EXPERIENCE FROM THE COMFORT OF YOUR OWN HOME

by Anonymous Enigma-McUnknown, Jr.

1. Read Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany. Read The City, Not Long After by Pat Murphy. Cut off the bindings, throw all the pages up in the air, and shuffle them back together. Reread The City After Dhalgren by Samuel Murphy. Burn it. Read the ashes.

2. Pay an escort of your affectional preference subset to not bathe for five days, cover themselves in glitter, dust, and sunscreen, wear a skanky neon wig, dance close naked, then say they have a lover back home at the end of the night.

3. Tear down your house. Put it in a truck. Drive ten hours in any direction. Put the house back together. Invite everyone you meet to come over and party. When everyone leaves, follow them back to their homes, drink all their booze, and break things.

4. Buy a new set of expensive camping gear. Break it.

5. Stack all your fans in one corner of your living room. Put on your most fabulous outfit. Turn the fans on full-blast. Dump a vacuum cleaner bag in front of them.

6. Pitch your tent next to the wall of speakers in a crowded, noisy club. Go to sleep.

7. Lean back in a chair until that point where you’re just about to fall over, but you catch yourself at the last moment. Hold that position for nine hours.

8. Only use the toilet in a house that is at least three blocks away. Drain all the water from the toilet. Only flush it every four days. Hide all the toilet paper.

9. Visit a restaurant and pay them to let you alternate lying in the walk-in freezer and sitting in the oven.

10. Don’t sleep for five days. Take a wide variety of hallucinogenic/emotion-altering drugs. Pick a fight with your boyfriend/girlfriend.

11. Cut, burn, electrocute, bruise, and sunburn various parts of your body. Forget how you did it. Don’t go to a doctor.

12. Buy a new pair of favorite shoes. Throw one shoe away.

13. Spend a whole year rummaging through thrift stores for the perfect, most outrageous costume. Forget to pack it.

14. Listen to music you hate for 168 hours straight, or until you think you are going to scream. Scream. Realize you’ll love the music for the rest of your life.

15. Bust your ass for a ‘community.’ See all the attention get focused on the drama queen crybaby.

16. Get so drunk you can’t recognize your own house. Walk slowly around the block for five hours.

17. Sprinkle dirty sand in all your food.

18. Mail $200 to the Reno casino of your choice.

19. Go to a museum. Find one of Salvador Dali’s more disturbing but beautiful paintings. Climb inside it.

20. Spend thousands of dollars on a deeply personal art work. Hide it in a funhouse on the edge of the city. Blow it up.

21. Set up a DJ system downwind of a three-alarm fire. Play a short loop of drum ‘n’ bass until the embers are cold.

22. Have a 3:00 AM soul-baring conversation with a drag nun in platforms, a crocodile, and Bugs Bunny. Be unable to tell if you’re hallucinating. Lust after Bugs Bunny.

Burning ‘Bob’: Cacophony, Burning Man, and the Church of the SubGenius

by Whatsblem the Pro

The Holy Seal of the Church of the SubGenius -- Image: CotSG

The Holy Seal of the Church of the SubGenius — Image: CotSG

As our regular readers will recall, Whatsblem the Pro attended the shenanigans at the Castro Theater in San Francisco last weekend, where Chicken John Rinaldi’s Institute of Possibility staged an unauthorized guerrilla book signing to celebrate the release of TALES OF THE SAN FRANCISCO CACOPHONY SOCIETY.

After being trapped in the theater and subjected to some sort of experiment at the hands of amateur scienticians, Whatsblem awoke, his memory mostly a blank, but his phone filled with unusual pictures, videos, and audio recordings.

I haven’t slept since I woke up in that alley in Reno after the Cacophony Society “book signing.” My hands shake as I pick up my mug to gulp down yet another sour mouthful of black coffee, but I dare not sleep until the work is done. My phone is full of weird and mostly inexplicable artifacts documenting the time I spent drugged and under some kind of alien control at the Castro Theater, and I know that I must warn the people of this planet of the horrors that threaten them from every side (but mostly from the in-side). The lingering after-effects of the drug are terrifying all by themselves: existential warts, intense olfactory hallucinations, fleeting involuntary glimpses into the raw minds of passing strangers. I look down, and see that my body is covered in sores and boners.

Among the relics of my induced fugue state I discover an audio recording in which I can hear my own voice – though weirdly altered – and another voice I recognize immediately: Ivan Stang, nominal head of the obscure religious cult known as the Church of the SubGenius. A careful listening reveals the identity of the other speaker as Philo Drummond, co-founder of the Church. Dr. Hal Robins, reputedly the true brains behind not just the Church of the SubGenius, but the Freemasons, the Trilateral Commission, the Rosicrucians, the Raptor Conspiracy, Opus Dei, and even the dreaded Fearrington Homeowner’s Association, was apparently lurking nearby.

Read on, if you dare.

Image: CotSG, via Jack T. Chick

Image: CotSG, via Jack T. Chick

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: Philo, how do you draw the Venn diagram between the Church of the SubGenius, the Cacophony Society, and Burning Man?

PHILO DRUMMOND: I would say they all represent a certain counterculture perspective that is an eccentric perspective, and then there’s a lot of pranksterism and creativity involved. That’s probably a good overlap, if you were to draw the diagram of intersecting circles.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: So it comes down to pranks.

PHILO DRUMMOND: Yes.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: I think that’s a very major, possibly even main artery of burner culture, but it’s under constant assault by people who think Burning Man is a hippie festival, who go out there thinking it’s all about peace ‘n’ love. Do you struggle with that at all within the Church? I mean, not necessarily peace ‘n’ love types, but people coming in with assumptions about what you’re doing that aren’t necessarily valid or accurate?

PHILO DRUMMOND: Oh, we already knew in advance there would be those kinds of people. Any organization attracts those kinds of people. We tried it minimize it from the beginning by positioning ourselves as an organization of non-joiners, people who don’t want to be part of another organization. That helped limit it; it kept those people out of it.

The joiners that join – versus the non-joiners that join – they stand out like a sore thumb. We call them ‘Bobbies.’ Their money is green, and we like that about them, but they’re still, y’know. . .

Philo Drummond -- Photo: SubGenius.com

Philo Drummond — Photo: SubGenius.com

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: Pink-souled?

PHILO DRUMMOND: Pink-souled. Yes.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: So they become a resource, really, and don’t do you any harm.

PHILO DRUMMOND: They don’t really do us any harm, no, except as part of the Conspiracy. . . but that’s what they are by default. They’d be part of the Conspiracy whether they joined us or not.

So yes, I think we have some of the same challenges as Burning Man, just not from a physical perspective; whatever it was, it isn’t the same thing now. . . but Burning Man has that continuity: it’s in the same place. People going out there and thinking that they have freedom.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: All the trappings of an Autonomous Zone, without the messy autonomy.

PHILO DRUMMOND: Right. It’s not autonomy out there. . . but it’s fun to think that it is. We like to fool ourselves into different types of allegorical scenarios, it’s fun to do that. We think we’re in this free society. It’s fun to think like that, like you can just go out there and do whatever you want, and everything’s going to be great.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: We have a lot of people who really guzzle the kool-aid and start thinking that the ten principles were handed down from God to Moses to Larry Harvey. They turn into burnier-than-thou “burner lawyers” on the Internet, chiding people about how they live because it doesn’t fit with their interpretation of this list of rules they’ve decided is sacred. Do you see that kind of thing happening in the Church as well? Is there actual Church dogma that. . . well, does anyone take any of it too seriously?

PHILO DRUMMOND: Oh yeah, there are wikis out there that try to take the Church apart. There are even college courses that try to dissect the Church and figure out what its true philosophical implications are, what its contribution is, from a cultural expansion perspective.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: Given that art is sort of something that occurs in between the artist and the audience, what do you think of that?

PHILO DRUMMOND: SubGeniuses always like to blur that; they like to think of the audience and the artist as co-participants in a performance. The best SubGenius events are the ones where the audience is a full participant, or even transforms into the performance while the performers become the audience.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: Very much a punk rock aesthetic as well. . . erasing the barriers between the stage and the crowd.

PHILO DRUMMOND: We actually had a band of about seven or eight individuals, and we’d invite members of the audience up to take over the instruments until we’d replaced every member of the band with members of the audience. . . without stopping the song! And so now the band is in the audience, the audience is on stage, and the song is evolving into something completely different and new from what it was.

Ivan Stang -- Photo: Scott Beale

Ivan Stang — Photo: Scott Beale

IVAN STANG: I remember once sitting back with you, and we were feeling so proud because we’d finally done that successfully. We had left the stage, and everyone else was taking over.

PHILO DRUMMOND: That was a great experiment. We didn’t know those people on the stage personally, but we were like “that’s OUR band up there. We MADE that band!”

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: So what has it been now, thirty-one, thirty-two years of the Church of the SubGenius?

IVAN STANG: Thirty-three years since Pamphlet #1 was published. I actually picked it up from the printers on January 2nd of 1980, so it’s really easy to date that stuff. . . although Philo first told me about ‘Bob’ a couple of years before that. It just took a while to figure out the right approach for public outreach.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: Is there a bit of Philo T. Farnsworth in the mix? “An experimental television of his own design,” etc.?

IVAN STANG/PHILO DRUMMOND: No, no, no.

PHILO DRUMMOND: But television did figure largely in the whole Emaculation of the ‘Bob’ thing.

IVAN STANG: The number two man in the Illuminati, after Adam Weishaupt, was this guy named Philo Knigge.

PHILO DRUMMOND: Sort of. They had secret names. . . Adam Weishaupt’s secret Illuminati name was ‘Spartacus,’ and this guy Baron von Knigge had the secret name ‘Philo,’ after Philo Judaeus.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: That’s very telling, actually. I mean, aren’t we all Spartacus?

IVAN STANG: No, I’m Spartacus!

PHILO DRUMMOND: I’m Spartacus!

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: I’m Spartacus!

PHILO DRUMMOND: He’s– no wait, I’M Spartacus!

IVAN STANG: We’re Spartacus!

[FIFTEEN MINUTES OF A ROOM FULL OF PEOPLE SHOUTING “I’M SPARTACUS” ENSUE]

Photo: CotSG

Photo: CotSG

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: So tell me straight. . . is it still fun?

IVAN STANG: Oh yeah, yeah! Although, I’ll tell you, I have as much fun being part of the Church of the SubGenius now as, as. . . actually, I spend about half my time now debunking the Church of the SubGenius. Or rather–

PHILO DRUMMOND: Trying to get the lies out of Wikipedia.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: So, “re-bunking?”

IVAN STANG: The Wikipedia article is fine, except that they keep taking your name out, and I keep not putting it back in.

PHILO DRUMMOND: Not MY name; my Conspiracy name. They keep taking my Conspiracy name out.

IVAN STANG: Yeah, he wanted his Conspiracy name in there for some reason, and every time he puts it in, somebody comes along and takes it out. I fixed it once, but they keep taking it out and I keep forgetting to take care of that. I’m not a very good Sacred Scribe after all.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: There’s Truth with a capital ‘T’ and there’s truth with a small ‘t,’ and I think you’ve told the Truth with a capital ‘T’ here in these books, and they’re trying to tell the small-‘t’ version in the media.

IVAN STANG [sarcastically]: Yeah, and look how it’s selling! I brought four copies of THE BOOK OF THE SUBGENIUS and there’s still four copies sitting here!

PHILO DRUMMOND: Truthish. They’re sort of truthish.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: They have a certain truthiness.

IVAN STANG: They’re truthier than they used to be because they now finally have the Cleveland address in them.

PHILO DRUMMOND [holding up samples of sacred Church art]: These were designed to be xeroxed onto sticker paper so you could cut ’em out and lick ‘n’ stick.

IVAN STANG: Sticker paper costs too much. They’re still in the membership pack, but you have to bring your own Scotch tape. Sad.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: What else do you guys do? Have you got other projects going on?

PHILO DRUMMOND: Other projects. . .?

IVAN STANG: Actually, I’ve got a SubGenius movie script and a SubGenius video game concept, and we did do another whole book in 2006, the Bobliographon.

PHILO DRUMMOND: It’s just too easy to do anything you want to do, and then hang the SubGenius banner on it.

IVAN STANG: I actually spend a third of my year now hiking in national parks and then mailing this crap out from hotel rooms at night.

Buttons for 'Bob'

Buttons for ‘Bob’

PHILO DRUMMOND: Putting stickers on stuff.

IVAN STANG: Honest to God, my wife is retired and gets a pension, and as long as I keep mailing this crap, which I can do from the Internet as we travel around, well. . . I’m kind of partying my ass off, basically, after wasting my youth really working myself into illness on this stuff. Now I’m resting on my laurels and getting all the slack I deserve. . . but! There are all kinds of projects in the works; it’s just that we’re slow. We were always very, very slow. It’s ten years between those two books, and then the next book. . .

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: I was kind of thinking of stuff like HIGH WEIRDNESS BY MAIL. I mean, I’m a member of the Flat Earth Society and have been for decades because of that book.

IVAN STANG: Well, the Internet kind of made that a redundant thing.

PHILO DRUMMOND: It wasn’t as overt, as far as being a SubGenius thing, you’re right about that.

IVAN STANG: You know what, though? It was really hard to be that sarcastic, it really was. When I was finished with that, I did not want to badmouth anybody’s religion again. In fact, that’s when I started badmouthing ours much more seriously.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: There’s precedent for that too. . . “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.

Pro Tip: Nuke Buddha from orbit -- Photo: CotSG

Pro Tip: Nuke Buddha from orbit — Photo: CotSG

PHILO DRUMMOND: That’s right.

IVAN STANG: Yeah, that was one of the first lines we ripped off. That was Philo’s thing, “if you meet Bob on the highway, kill him.”

PHILO DRUMMOND: We’ve killed ‘Bob’ so many times now, it’s amazing. It just seemed natural.

IVAN STANG: We do X-Day every year, and I do a new radio show every week, and he does a new radio show every week, so it’s not like we’re not doing anything. . . and a weekly radio show is a son-of-a-bitch!

Dr. Hal does TWO weekly shows.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: What a marvelous brain you must have. The three of you, I mean, together. Like, in a jar somewhere or something.

IVAN STANG: Yeah, if only Dr. Hal didn’t keep all the good parts for himself. He’s got most of ’em. . . but I’ve got the dick, and one of the balls.

[shouting] BUG PORN, ONE DOLLAR!

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: Do you think there might be another revelation in the works? Something that might change the whole game?

IVAN STANG: There will be an announcement this summer at X-Day that will rock the Church.

PHILO DRUMMOND: It will rock the Church, that’s right.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: Are you having X-Day in New York again?

IVAN STANG: No, we’ve moved it to Wisteria Campgrounds, in southern Ohio. It was in very rural New York. . . X-Day is always in a place that is very hard to get to–

PHILO DRUMMOND: And hard to endure.

IVAN STANG: It’s not like a sci-fi convention.

All aboard! -- Image: CotSG

All aboard! — Image: CotSG

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: Is it growing every year?

IVAN STANG: No, it’s shrinking– or yes, it’s growing by one person every year. In 1998, like four hundred people showed up. . . and right after that, our business dropped by half, which made me think that maybe half of the people believed it, and were so disappointed afterward that they want away. So it’s like, that’s good, that we got rid of those assholes. Now, the real diehards come and wait for the saucers every July 5th.

It’s the only time of the year that I have to get up early. That one day of the year, July 5th, I have to get up at like six in the morning and go to work from like seven to seven-thirty. Then we go back to bed.

PHILO DRUMMOND: Until July 6th.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: Do you feel some kinship with the Reverend Dr. Harold Camping over all this?

IVAN STANG: Well, really, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have a longer track record of failed ends of the world than anybody, and they haven’t quit, so. . . one of our slogans is “we’re not going to let the Jehovah’s Witnesses out-kook us.”

PHILO DRUMMOND: Plus, we don’t necessarily think of failure as something to be sad about. It’s a learning experience. Failure is just success’s way of telling you that you’ve made a mistake.

IVAN STANG: We like to think of it as involuntary slack. If you lose your job, the worst thing that’s going to happen is you’ll get another job.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: There’s a bright side, too: you might not. . . and you don’t have to go to work the next day in any case.

PHILO DRUMMOND: Yeah, that is the bright side!

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: So maybe, sometimes, if you succeed while you were aiming at something you only think you wanted, your success means that you’ve failed.

PHILO DRUMMOND: Yes. Ordinary paradigms of success are highly over-rated. Turn those high hurdles into low hurdles!

IVAN STANG: We tell ourselves that a lot, anyway. . . actually, I wouldn’t mind having millions of bucks. Then again, I’m already living the same way I would if I did have millions of bucks, aside from some of the little things. I’d still wash my own car. I assemble these membership packs myself; I’d still do that. There are thirty pieces that go into one of these things; you would think I’d have some Chinese kids doing it for me, but I actually do it myself, and – honest to God – it’s the only time that I get to listen to music.

PHILO DRUMMOND: You two will have to have more Chinese kids.

IVAN STANG: I was saying to my wife one day “Christ, I don’t want to be doing this when I’m sixty years old,” – which is this August, by the way – and she said “why not?”

And it sunk in. I really shouldn’t complain; once a month I have to assemble a hundred of these, and I spend about an hour a day filling orders, and I have to do the radio show. . . but that’s it! I can sit around in my house in my underwear; I’d be listening to music if I wasn’t deaf.

[At this point the recording becomes unintelligible as Philo begins recommending various footwear options – mainly clown shoes – for working in a home office setting]

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Ivan Stang delivers a rant on the subject of ‘Bobbies’ diluting and corroding the Church of the SubGenius, circa 1985:

SubGenius commercial from MTV, circa 1991: