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Reverend Ivan Stang: Co-Founder & Author, Church of the SubGenius

October 1, 2014

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 6.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Two)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: October 1, 2014

Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2015

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 3,062

ISSN 2369-6885

 Reverend Ivan Stang

ABSTRACT

Interview with co-founder of and author for the Church of the SubGenius, Reverend Ivan Stang, discussing the following subject-matter: geographic, cultural, and linguistic heritage for family background, and their concomitant influence on his development; youth and coming to this point including grades, young sexual frustration, and general anger toward the world at a young age; design, development, and foundation of the Church of the SubGenius, and key components to the foundation of a religion; pivotal transition to the design, development, and foundation of the Church of the SubGenius; three key things to know about J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs; definitions of ‘Bob’, ‘The Conspiracy’, and ‘Slack’; the way in which The Church of the SubGenius differs from mainstream religions; the way in which the Church of the SubGenius differs from fringe religions; controversial nature related to the Church of the SubGenius; infinite funding for an organization; unpopular reactions to the church; Church of the SubGenius and other groups going in the near, and far, future, and work on a screenplay or radio play; recommendation of The Onion; and fear, worry, or concern for the Church of the SubGenius in the future.

Keywords: Association for Consciousness Exploration, Chas Smith, Christian, Church of the SubGenius, Dallas, Dr. Hal Robins, Dr. Philo Drummond, Federico Fellini, Fleischer, Fort Worth, Frank Zappa, G. Gordon Gordon, Harvard, H.P. Lovecraft, Hunter Thompson, Jay Kinney, Jimi Hendrix, John Birch Society, MAD Magazine, McGraw-Hill, Monty Python, Orson Welles, Paul Mavrides, R. Crumb, Ray Harryhausen, Reverend Ivan Stang, Rip Off Press, Robert Anton Wilson, Robert Shea, Robert Williams, Seculars, Simon & Schuster, South Carolina, Steve Wilcox, The Firesign Theatre, The Merry Pranksters, The Onion, The Three Stooges, Tim McGinnis, Tom Wolfe, Warner Brothers, WASP, Zap Comics.

1. In terms of geography, culture, and language, where does your family background reside? How do you find this influencing your development?

Long story short: we were seculars surrounded by the religious. I am technically a standard WASP, but “mixed race” — half Yankee, half Southerner. My father is from a small town in South Carolina but is a Harvard-educated lawyer and retired Navy captain. My mom was raised in Connecticut by a Bronx Irish mother and an award winning writer/architect father (with the worst stutter I have ever heard, to this day). While my father is an expert on the Bible and even teaches somewhat subversive Bible studies at the local Methodist church, he is nonetheless what ignorant people would call an atheist. I was raised on science and science fiction. “Pappy” tried to get me interested in hunting and horseback riding, but that didn’t take. I’m more a wildlife photographer and amateur zoologist than a hunter. I hike in the woods and hunt in video games.

I grew up in Fort Worth and Dallas — most of my family now lives on a big ranch outside the Metroplex — so culturally I was surrounded by Southern Baptist kids. I had to pretend to be a Christian; I suppose one might say I got just a wee bit tired of that.

I knew I was an outsider during my first weeks of Kindergarten. At age 5 I was interested in sex (although I didn’t know what it was) and I was NOT interested in baseball. I knew every dinosaur’s name — which was easy in 1958 — but I couldn’t tell a hot rod from a Volkswagen.

I was a nerd before it was cool, in other words.

2. How was your youth? How did you come to this point?

I did fine in school until we moved to Dallas and my parents put me in a private school for males only, St. Mark’s School of Texas. We were not rich and once again I didn’t fit in. I went from straight As and foiled interest in girls to struggling for Cs and NO GIRLS AROUND AT ALL. I had to hang with the theater club because that was the only part of school that involved girls, imported from other schools. My love life was adversely affected at this critical age, which helped make me angry at the entire world, and it also led to my foolishly getting married at age 20 to the first young lady who would give me much more than the time of day. Luckily she was a very nice person and the perfect mother.

Did I mention anger? I was a very angry and lonesome young man. At that time my parents were fighting continuously and drugs/alcohol were a problem across the board; of course, for this was the early 1970s, post-hippie, pre-punk, but all drugs.

I had lots of interesting friends at that private school, though, and was voted Weirdest in the Class of 1971. I campaigned hard for that post; I earned it. I had been doing weird art projects, mostly monster/sf oriented but later more consciously surreal, since the age of 10, when I bought my first 8mm movie camera with money earned by cleaning dog kennels.

By age 15 I had won grand prize in the Kodak Teenage Movie Awards for a stop-motion short I’d done in “claymation.” This led to international film festival awards and a big head. By college I thought I was the next Orson Welles, and produced an ambitious 45-minute 16mm underground film called LET’S VISIT THE WORLD OF THE FUTURE. This was heavily influenced by a lucky early exposure to “underground comix” — the work of R. Crumb, Robert Williams, etc. in things like Zap Comics — and by The Firesign Theater, a pre-Monty Python American comedy group that remains way ahead of its time. The weird art that I was discovering helped keep me from suicide — because I felt that maybe this was something I could do right. Weird movies, weird art. But mostly movies, then.

Instead of finishing college I got married and took a documentary film job on the Rosebud Lakota Indian Reservation in South Dakota. For two years I had an often adventurous and educational time in this bizarre “prairie ghetto.” It was there that I learned that when everybody else is seeing a UFO, I CAN’T!

When we returned to Dallas, my sister in law introduced me to an interesting fellow, Steve Wilcox, aka Dr. Philo Drummond. He was the first person I had ever met who was into comic books and Captain Beefheart and everything else weird and kooky. This describes half the people I know now, but then, it was a first! We compared our collections of fringe publications, UFO paperbacks, kook pamphlets, etc., and at one point thought, “Hey, we could make a fake brochure just like this little John Birch Society pamphlet, and leave it in Laundromats to freak people out!” That notion became SubGenius Pamphlet #1, which we printed on Jan. 2, 1980.

3. Before moving into the core discussion on the design, development, and foundation of the Church of the SubGenius, you have discussed the core elements of any religion, what three things does any religion need to have to flourish?

A religion really needs only one thing: to make believers feel like they’re better than everyone else. A perceived oppressor and a perceived savior are helpful, but the main thing is telling people what they most want to hear.

I have observed seemingly educated people falling for the most blatantly ludicrous notions simply because it was what they most wanted to believe. As my Pappy said recently, “I believe what I need to believe.” To me that sadly sums up the human condition. I have seen some extreme and depressing examples of this, resulting in my having to personally deprogram the gullible from my own fake cult! In some notable cases, I failed.

4. What do you consider a pivotal moment in the transition to the design, development, and foundation of the Church of the SubGenius?

The primary thing was my friendship with Philo Drummond. All of the basics of the Church came from our verbal “jam sessions” in 1978 and 1979. There was a third main contributor very early on, “Dr. X,” the late Monte Dhooge, but he died young. Another pivotal event was probably when the late Tim McGinnis, a young book editor in New York, found SubG Pamphlet #1 in the back seat of my sister in law’s car on a picnic in 1982, flipped out, and offered us a book deal — which in turn allowed us to score a literary agent, the late Jane Browne of Chicago.

Prior to Tim’s offer, we had sent Pamphlet #1 as a possible book project outline to every publisher I could find in Writer’s Digest. We got 150 rejection slips, including ones from McGraw-Hill, Rip Off Press, and Simon & Schuster, all of whom later made decent money off our books and comics.

In the trashcans of Rip Off Press and Last Gasp Comics, two artists, Paul Mavrides and Jay Kinney respectively, found that Pamphlet, and they were the ones who helped us put it in the hands of other artists and also reviewers — that was our big leg up in the early 1980s.

Yet another pivotal moment was in 1990, when I was invited to speak at a pagan festival called Starwood, run by some folks in Cleveland, the Association for Consciousness Exploration or A.C.E. That in turn introduced me to a lot of people in Ohio who ended up being huge contributors, not least of all “Princess Wei R. Doe,” my wife. Cleveland, perhaps ironically considering its rep as a rust-belt dump, turned out to be much friendlier ground for me than Dallas had been. I changed into a happy man after that move. I got Slack.

5. As you have stated many times in public forums, and maybe private ones too, for those unaware of J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs, i.e. ‘the unsaved’, what three things do they need to know?

If they don’t instantly see what’s funny about it, they should probably avoid it. 2. If they can’t read between the lines, they should probably stop reading. 3. If they often confuse MAD Magazine, or Saturday Night Live, with the news, they should RUN FOR DEAR LIFE.

Beyond that, the key points are “Bob,” Slack, and The Conspiracy.

6. Regarding ‘Bob’, ‘The Conspiracy’, and ‘Slack’, how do you define each term? Why did these become a foundation within the creation of the Church of the SubGenius?

Slack = the goal, what we all want (although it’s different or each person). The Conspiracy (of the Normals) = what hinders Slack. “Bob” = the magic formula which facilitates Slack. But a major aspect of “Bob” Dobbs is the graphic portrait of “Bob.” That single image, inexplicable as it is, somehow ties all of it together. The moment that Philo showed me his book of clip art and we both simultaneously saw that damn halftone face was when we both knew we had something. We still do not know what.

7. How does the Church of the SubGenius differ from most mainstream religions, e.g. Christianity (Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism), Islam (Shia, Sunni, Sufi, and Kharijite), Hinduism, Chinese Traditional Religions, Buddhism, various Ethnic Religions, African Traditional religions, Sikhism, and so on? 

I suppose the biggest difference is that we admit we are bullshitting you. In that respect it is a remarkably honest religion. Also, we don’t define Slack; it’s different for each person, so there are no absolute values — except maybe for the tricky part about not robbing others of their Slack. Most religions become ever more specific about “right” and “wrong” and are essentially formulas. We do not provide any stable formula; in fact we illustrate that trying to fit human behavior into codified formulas is folly.

Also, we pay taxes.

One of my favorite lines is, “We’re like any other religion. It’s not that we love “Bob” all that much, it’s that we love the idea of everybody else going to Hell.”

I hope it goes without saying that most SubGeniuses don’t even believe in “Bob,” much less Hell.

8. Furthermore, how does it differ from other fringe religions, e.g. Christianity (Restorianism, Chinese Originated Churches, Church of the East, and Unitarian Universalism), Juche, Spiritism, Judaism, Bahá’í, Jainism, Shinto, Cao Dai, Zoroastrianism, Tenrikyo, Neo-Paganism, Rastafarianism, Scientology, Pastafarianism, Mormonism, Arceusology, Discordianism, Paganism, Crowleyites, and so on?

We’re much, much funnier than any of them, even Scientology.

9. What do you consider the most controversial part of your church compared to the mainline religions? In addition, what do you consider the most controversial compared to the other fringe religions? How do you examine the issue?

Some people become sincerely upset that we portray the God of the Bible as a monster from outer space. No punishments are threatened for sins like gluttony, adultery, addiction, etc. I guess the main point of contention is that we are making cruel fun of literally everybody’s most cherished beliefs, often simply because they are cherished. We are the Balloon Poppers, the Antidote to All Placebos.

10. If you had infinite funding, what organization would you found? What question would you research for an answer?

The world doesn’t need another organization, but if I had infinite funding I have a very expensive movie screenplay I’d love to see produced (with my son, an actual Hollywood director, directing), and a video game idea that would cost more to produce than Grand Theft Auto 5. If it was TRULY INFINITE funding, I suppose establishing a Fun Police would be good. We’d force everyone to have his or her idea of fun. That would not be cheap, due to all the special cases. Also we would start the Mind Your Own Business Police.

11. Did you ever have unpopular reactions to your church? Can you provide an example? 

We get more butthurt grief and criticism from stodgy New Agers of various stripes than from, say, Christians. It’s not on the average person’s radar, but attracts attention from people who are already fanatics about something. It’s Kook Flypaper. We get hate mail from pseudo-intellectuals for not being serious enough, and for being grossly ambiguous (one of our specialties that I’m most proud of). I used to get death threats from white supremacist groups because of my unkind reviews of their literature, to the extent that I’ve had to call the FBI a couple of times. On the other hand, we got investigated as a hate group by the Secret Service and the FBI, but they must have found us relatively boring.

The worst thing that ever happened to us on a personal level was a child custody case in which a simpleton New York state family court judge denied custody to a very worthy mother because of her involvement with the Church of the SubGenius. (Google “Bevilacqua SubGenius Child Custody Case.”) She regained custody when the father proved himself to be a complete and utter scoundrel, but for 3 years a sane, hard-working, educated mother was denied access to her child mainly because she had taken part in our “cult,” and Judge Punch didn’t have what most people would call common sense.

12. Who most influenced you? Can you recommend any seminal books/articles by them?

I read a lot and seek out unusual movies, so my list would be practically endless. As far as really deep influences, I’d have to say, in this order: my parents (both had sick senses of humor), the Warner Brothers cartoons, The Three Stooges, Popeye cartoons (the Fleischer ones), monster movies in general but especially those by Ray Harryhausen, underground comics in general, The Firesign Theater, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, H.P. Lovecraft, the writer Colin Wilson, Robert Anton Wilson/ Robert Shea for their novel ILLUMINATUS, Federico Fellini, Hunter Thompson and Tom Wolfe, The Merry Pranksters, and many friends including Philo Drummond, G. Gordon Gordon, Puzzling Evidence, Paul Mavrides, a bunch of guys in Little Rock once called Doktorz 4 “Bob,” the late Chas Smith, Lonesome Cowboy Dave, Dr. Hal Robins, “Nenslo,” Rev. Susie the Floozie, Dr. K’taden Legume — that list could go on and on too.

13. Where do you see the Church of the SubGenius and other groups going in the near, and far, future?  Do you have a precise itinerary?

The world ends at 7 a.m. on July 5, 1998, and that’s honestly all we know regarding the future. I’m slowly fiddling with a screenplay and/or radio play.

14. Besides your own organization, what others can you recommend?

The Onion.

15. What major fear, worry, or concern do you have about the Church of the SubGenius in the future?

My biggest worry is that after Philo and I are dead, some asshole will be able to convince gullible chumps that it was all REAL — that is, supernatural. I have gone to great lengths to insure that hard physical proof exists in many places of exactly how this whole nutty mess developed. It was the work of many wiseacres, just having fun.

Bibliography

  1. [General Public] (2012, April 10). Ivan Stang at Baltimore SubGenius Devival 2007. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BrCN51x0pwg&feature=player_embedded.
  2. [Ivan Stang] (2011, April 26). Let’s Visit the World of the Future. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHx2nLFMAzE&list=UU5cnVpuDQcMCSNHx8_FtQMQ&index=16.
  3. [Ivan Stang] (2006, November 3). SubGenius Commercial. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qt9MP70ODNw&list=UU5cnVpuDQcMCSNHx8_FtQMQ&index=77.
  4. [Ivan Stang] (2011, April 26). The Making of MTV-SubGenius. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cBHaSmH58s&list=UU5cnVpuDQcMCSNHx8_FtQMQ.
  5. [niza310] (2007, December 9). Robert Anton Wilson Discusses Discordianism, “Bob” & Freemasons With Rev. Ivan Stang. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qn1kilKVIw.
  6. [PuzzlingEvidenceTV] (2011, May 17). SubGenius at Burning Man 2000. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQfkmBBSdUA.
  7. [PuzzlingEvidenceTV] (2012, May 30). SubGenius Panel: Future of “Bob” Nov 1981. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNm-YPRjZuo.
  8. [PuzzlingEvidenceTV] (2010, September 10). The Rant of Ivan Stang Nov 9 1985. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e59J6LzTmOM.
  9. [Scott Beale] (2007, December 9). Ivan Stang Explains The Church of the SubGenius. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1Byf9KbWbo.
  10. [The New World Manifesto Project] (2012, August 26). Episode 6: Reverend Ivan Stang & the Church of the Sub Genius. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vq665DIDljA/.
  11. Stang, I. (n.d.). The Office Pulpit of Rev. Ivan Stang. Retrieved from http://revstang.blogspot.ca/.
  12. Twitter (n.d.). Ivan Stang: @IvanStang. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/IvanStang.

****************Footnotes and bibliography in Archives “6.A” PDF*****************

License

In-Sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, In-Sight, and In-Sight Publishing 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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From → Chronology

2 Comments
  1. Very insightful. Using the Conspiracy against itself.

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  1. Interview with Rev. Ivan Stang, leader of the Church of the Subgenius | The Prime Directive

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