328. ARISE! THE SUBGENIUS MOVIE (1992)

AKA Arise! The Sub Genius VideoArise! SubGenius Recruitment Film #16

“Stand erect for your own abnormality, WISE UP! They’re out to get you. The ‘different’ are being silenced by a global conspiracy. WEIRD-MEN ARISE!”–The Book of the SubGenius : The Sacred Teachings of J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs

RecommendedWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Rev. Cordt Holland, Rev. Ivan Stang

FEATURING: Dr. Howl (Hal Robbins), Rev. Ivan Stang (Douglass Smith), Pope David Meyer II, , Philo Drummond

PLOT: The video begins with five minutes of instructions (e.g., “do not operate a motor vehicle following viewing,” “the demons you may see during the initial hallucination sequence are not real.”) Then, we are introduced to the Church dogma, beginning with an alarmed news anchor who succinctly describes the Church as a cult led by J.R. “Bob” Dobbs, “a comic book character who speaks with aliens and worships money.” Amid mind-melting montages, taped sermons, country/punk “hymns,” and stock footage from old B-movies, the Church doctrine is gradually (if confusedly) revealed, including the concepts of “Slack,” “the Conspiracy,” “the Elder Gods,” and “X-day.”

Still from Arise! the Subgenius Movie (1992)

BACKGROUND:

  • The Church of the SubGenius is a long-running satirical cult, a multimedia performance art circus comprising radio broadcasts, books, associated musical acts (“Doktor bands”), happenings (called “devivals”), pop-surreal art collages, a website, and this movie (with more to come). It is said to have been founded in Dallas TX in 1979 by Rev. Ivan Stang (pseudonym for Douglass Smith), Philo Drummond, and “Dr. X.” Stang quickly became the dominant figure in the movement, and, now in his mid-sixties, is still active in the Church.
  • The Church of the SubGenius is an offshoot of another fake religion, Discordianism, founded in 1963 by Greg Hill and Kerry Wendell Thornley. Discordianism’s most famous proponent is writer Robert Anton Wilson, co-author of the The Illuminatus! Trilogy.
  • Co-director/”editor in the spirit” Cordt Holland is a pop-art collagist whose work can be found here.
  • Much of the narration was taken from radio broadcasts from Stang’s “Hour of Slack” and text from The Book of the SubGenius. The environmentally-conscious Church continually recycles and remixes its material into new, mutated combinations.
  • The appearance of President George W. Bush in this 1992 movie was not a prophecy; the video was updated with new material in 2005. (VHS copies will have less material.)
  • Arise! was originally distributed by Polygram, until the Conspiracy caught on and squashed the plan. Reportedly, 800 rental copies were returned to the Church when Blockbuster video went “clean” and apparently deemed the videos deviant and offensive to Christians.
  • In 2017 a Kickstarter campaign to create a “serious” documentary about the history of the Church was successfully funded. Look for Slacking Towards Bethlehem: J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius to appear sometime in 2018 (we’ll alert you when the time comes).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Obviously, it’s “Bob”‘s generic, white-bread, smug, pipe-sucking face, which is pixilated, melted, multilated, and pasted over other character’s heads throughout the movie.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Pipe-smoking sex god “Bob”; the world ended on July 5, 1998; video evidence of “Bob”‘s martyrdom?

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The world’s only absurdist recruitment video for the world’s largest absurdist cult, Arise! is too potent to play in Conspiracy theaters. It has circulated for over 25 years through that secret samizdat network known only as “the Internet.” Arise! will teach you about the genetic secret that makes you better than the “Normals” and about the long past/soon to come X-Day flying saucer apocalypse, puzzle you with the mysterious riddles posed by Old Testament alien JHVH-1, and give you the key to acquiring slack. All of this propaganda is scored to terribly annoying but hilarious music and illustrated with mind-melting psychedelic collages and subliminal images intended to put you into trance so that J.R. “Bob” Dobbs can insert the deeper, more esoteric meanings behind this lucrative cult directly into your forebrain and teach you to embrace your inner weirdness. Plus, live nude girls scattered throughout!


Excerpt from Arise! The SubGenius Movie

COMMENTS: I was lucky enough to discover the Church of the SubGenius near the very beginning. I’ve had Slack ever since. In 1986 I moved to Dallas, TX, and, thanks to a hip local friend, was soon turned on to Rev. Ivan Stang’s bottom-of-the-dial weekly radio broadcast “the Hour of Slack.” It was like high-grade acid streaming through low-grade radio speakers: a “media barrage” of B-movie soundbites, odd sound effects, audio oddities. weird songs, and overlapping stream-of-consciousness improvised comedy, interspersed with Stang’s rambling but hilarious sermons about a huckster messiah named “Bob,” his fight against the Conspiracy, his promise of Slack, and his endless demands for money (and threats of damnation for cheapskates). I never talked to Rev. Stang, but I did call in once for a contest and speak to acolyte Will O’Dobbs. Nice guy, deceptively normal-sounding. Pink-on-the-outside, in SG terms. I asked him if they could play proto-SubGenius Lord Buckley‘s rendition of the Gettysburg address again—no dice, “Bob” doesn’t take requests. Together with my broke college friends we scraped together $1 for the pamphlet “The World Ends Tomorrow and YOU MAY DIE!,” which described the theology of the Church in verses better suited to “Weekly World News” (“ARE ALIEN SPACE MONSTERS BRINGING A STARTLING NEW WORLD?”) and was illustrated with kitschy 50s-style clip art of flying saucers, helpful diagrams, and jokes, jokes, jokes. I was hooked. I bought the Fireside edition of the “Book of the SubGenius” in 1987, which explained everything, despite constantly contradicting itself. The Church is an anti-conformity Frankenstein religion stitched together from the funniest parts of the prosperity Gospel, Scientology, UFO cults, Gnosticism, Discordianism, New Age woo, space operas, conspiracy theories, nuclear anxiety, and mystery religions, all written in the spirit of Volatire by way of R. Crumb channeling Estus Pirkle. I had already drifted out of the cult’s orbit by the time Arise! debuted in 1992. But I knew of it, of course, and when I started the 366 project, I suspected Arise! would be the kind of thing that would find a comfortable home alongside the works of , , and I was right, as usual, praise “Bob”!

The DVD will give you a quick primer on the major beliefs of the Church, but in the most confusing way possible. To recap: J.R. “Bob” Dobbs (“Bob”) was contacted by aliens as a child, gifted with mystical sales powers, made his first million by age six, and then was contacted by space god JHVH-1, who implanted the esoteric knowledge of the SubGenius directly into his brain. You see, some of “us” (you know who you are) carry the secret SubGenius gene (perhaps more accurately described as a gland), which grants us high abnormality and hidden mystical powers and distinguishes us from the sheeplike “Normals” (synonyms: “Pinks,” “mediocretins,” “Kens and Barbies”) who swallow the Conspiracy line. The Conspiracy comprises pretty much every power structure—all governments, corporations, and other religions, along with the Illuminati, Nazi hell beasts from the hollow Earth, and secret societies to be named later—and exists for the sole purpose of enforcing Normality and denying SubGeniuses slack. Slack is the natural birthright of the SubGenius: something for nothing, all the money, sex, and power you could ever wish for, but without having to work for it—you just stumble into blessings every time you screw up. “Bob” has also negotiated a contract with the alien X-ists to spare the SubGeniuses when their interstellar wrecking crew arrives on July 5, 1998[1] to demolish and refurbish the Earth in order to turn it into a kind of “Stuckeys in space.” To buy yourself a ticket off the planet when X-day comes and avoid this hellish future, you need to purchase as much SubGenius merchandise as possible—a bigger credit in “Bob”‘s ledger means a better view of the burning Earth as we sail off on those spaceships to the pleasure planets that are our birthright. “Bob” is eventually assassinated onstage by one of his own disciples—or was it all a setup? There’s also a bunch of stuff about Yetis, pills, Connie Dobbs the anti-virgin, Doktormusik, ‘frop, Dobbstown, the Elder Gods, bleeding heads, and Bobbies (obnoxious “cool kids” jumping on “Bob”‘s bandwagon once he becomes temporarily “hip”). But all of that may be too much for you to process at this time.

“Too much to process at this time” is the basic methodology of the Church, which likes to fire its dogma into your brain in micro-particles that pass by too fast for the conscious mind to process, but, after penetrating the forebrain, sink to the “lower brain” to influence your behavior subconsciously. Arise! follows this procedure by limiting each image in its nonstop barrage to less than a single second. As Dr. Howl’s mellifluous voice reassuringly explains each insane doctrine, you watch a stream bizarre imagery: vintage magazine ads featuring “Bob” and his pipe, public domain cartoons, animations of UFOs attacking Illuminati buildings, footage of atom bombs, 50s-era bondage erotica, goofy-assed Evangelicals saying dumb things, and lots and lots of psychedelically manipulated “Dobbsheads,” spinning, melting, and wavering. B-movie clips (most public domain) are recurring favorites: I spotted Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Prince of Space, “The Red Spectre,” Metropolis, White Zombie, Robot Monster, The Brain from Planet Auros, Lifeforce, This Island Earth, Häxan, and even a live Night of the Hunter right hand/left hand spoof. There are certainly dozens more “classicks” I missed. With all of this hyperactivity, there are welcome moments when the film slows down to show footage from SubGenius tele-sermons and devivals (including the fateful night where “Bob” is felled by an assassin’s bullet). There is also alarmist footage of news reporters and teachers concerned about the rise of “Bob”-worship in America’s high schools, newsreels which could very well be real but are obviously fake.

So what does brilliantly mutating series of nutso doctrines add up to? What is “Bob”‘s hidden message for we weirdos? First off, reassure yourself of one thing: it’s a joke. And like the best extended jokes, it’s multilayered. At the simplest surface level, it’s a parody of real religion, of religion’s peerless stupidity, it’s shameless pandering to man’s higher desires, and the hypocrisy of preaching the virtue of poverty while brazenly requesting tithes. The satire extends to the manipulations of all influence-seeking institutions, from political parties to conspiracy theorists—anyone who wants to tell you what to think, to score ideological power points by getting your signature on their pet petition. The Church’s central thesis is that the world is a madhouse, the inmates are in charge, and there’s nothing the rest of us can do but sit back and laugh as civilization spirals downward into its inevitable idiocracy. The Church recognizes that the true purpose of satire isn’t to shame the venal bastards who claw their way to positions of power into behaving more responsibly, but to console the rest of us for having to live out our lives under their smelly heels. Laughter heals us; mockery empowers us. The Church is a call to embrace your own abnormality and weirdness, to, as advised, “keep an essential margin of nonconformity alive.” But mainly, the Church is there to make you laugh. If you’re a SubGenius, that is. If you’re pink, it’s there to annoy the crap out of you.

If you aren’t ordained by the Church, your very soul is in terrible peril!  You’d better send in your $$$ and get your ass saved now.[2] If you are an ordained Reverend or Doktor of the Church, your very soul is in even greater peril! Burn that card and go apostate before “Bob” tracks  you down and turns you into one of those lobotomized, ‘frop-addicted, zombielike slaves that sweat and toil in his plantations in Dobbstown, turning out juvenile jokes and crude “bulldada” art for his endless assembly-line of low-margin, high-volume SubGenius pamphlets, t-shirts, stickers, and shoddy branded merchandise aimed at Bobbies and other Conspiracy dupes. There’s an anti-Zen paradox embedded in Church doctrine: by slavishly binding ourselves to dogmas that are utterly absurd on their face, we free ourselves from the bonds of dogma. But to do so we must take seriously all Church pronouncements by scorning them and blaspheming against them, except—and especially—the sacred command to “kill ‘Bob’.” (This divine duty does not apply, of course, Bobcorp stockholders or others who are actively making a profit off the word of “Bob.”) The true philosophy of the Church is buried deep in the apocrypha: “Bob isn’t the answer… and neither is anything else.” Don’t be a Bobbie. Give me Slack, or kill “Bob.”

Pope Penguin Pete Trbovich adds: You may not know of the Church of the SubGenius, but you know the output of its followers. You’ve heard of Mark Mothersbaugh, , David Byrne, Negativland, underground comix artists Paul Mavrides and Robert Crumb, and, most especially, the last living Discordian prophet himself, Robert Anton Wilson. SubGeniuses, all. The Church of the SubGenius and its central figure, J.R. “Bob”  Dobbs is, like the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a parody religion with a sharp point hiding within its fluffy silliness. It is the last refuge for atheists, agnostics, and people who just plain don’t care about religion in a world dominated by theocracies. It is one of the largest culture-jamming exercises ever realized. It may sound like the Internet meme that wouldn’t die—before the Internet was invented—yet it carries a philosophical weight almost too great to bear: the responsibility to show mankind what a flawed monkey it is, such that it cannot make it through life without explaining lightning except by imagining other angry invisible monkeys that live in the sky. Laugh all you want to, but sear the following wisdom upon the membrane of your soul: your religion looks precisely this silly to everybody else.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“One of the 10 most essential underground videos.”–Film Threat

“The most psychedelic multimedia project I have ever seen.”–Robert Anton Wilson

“An insane barrage and montage… quite entertaining for about 15 minutes but then becomes extremely boring in its AHD MTV-style rapid-editing of silly images, brainless goofiness and ‘cool’ anarchy.”–Zev Toledano, The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre

OFFICIAL SITE:

SubSite – Start – Get lost in church doctrine, comix, bizzaro graphics, sound barrages, dead links to web weirdness, and as you rise in esoteric knowledge you may eventually find your way to the hidden Arise! order page

IMDB LINK: Arise! The Subgenius Video (1992)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Ivan Stang: YouTube – More excerpted chapters from the film and other short oddities can be found on Ivan Stang’s official YouTube channel

“Arise! The SubGenius Movie”: The return of Night Flight’s “Love That “Bob”” episodes! – NightFlight’s streaming service has a long article on the movie with a clip, stills, and background from Rev. Ivan Stang himself

The Church of the SubGenius | A Documentary – Kickstarter page for the upcoming SubGenius documentary

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

The Book of the SubGenius : The Sacred Teachings of J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs – much of the narration of the movie is directly taken or paraphrased from these sacred scriptures. The pictures within do not normally move.

HOME VIDEO INFO: As mentioned in the background section, Arise! was originally released on VHS—until the Conspiracy found out and pulled it from the shelves. You can still buy these valuable (?) collector’s relics from our link (buy).

If you want to buy a better quality copy of the video (which is still pretty low fidelity, given the original tape masters), while sending all the money to the actual creators of the material and thereby saving your soul, you can purchase the updated 2005 DVD (and lots of other stuff) directly from the source. If you do, you’ll get all the 2005 bonus material, which includes new computer graphics scattered throughout the presentation, a new advertisement tacked onto the end, and a Conspiracy-sponsored message from a “deprogrammed” SubGenius. There is also a menu of eight features of extra madness: fourteen minutes of deleted scenes (in raw form); a TV ad; the music videos “X-Day’s A-Comin,” “Planet X or Bust,” and the instrumental “Cobblestone’s Mapped-Out 2”; strange vacation movies from Dobbstown (apparently shot during Oktoberfest); footage from an X-Day bacchanalia (they weren’t kidding when they said clothing optional), and the graphic (we’re not kidding) Rev. Stang short “Bug Porn.” You’ll also receive a handful of flyers: a double-sided page with even more instructions for watching the video, a “copy page” of clip-out propaganda, and solicitations to buy even more merchandise. Unlike “Bob,” we can’t threaten you with eternal damnation if you go straight to the source and deny us our cut. Or can we?

  1. This date has actually not yet arrived, due to Conspiracy manipulation of the standard Earth calendar []
  2. Remember, “Bob” offers an “eternal salvation, or triple your money back!” guarantee. []

3 thoughts on “328. ARISE! THE SUBGENIUS MOVIE (1992)”

  1. I must be a member in particularly good standing, as I’ve been aware of (and inadvertently following many of the tenets of) the Church of the Subgenius without expending any effort to find out about this. If that’s not slack, I don’t know what is.

    And to those Facebook goons that co-opted the term for their work-place network, may you face the Wrath of Bob.

    (Praise Bob.)

  2. Equally weird, but hopelessly obscure is Stang/Smith’s earlier college film Let’s Visit The World of the Future. It’s of similar philosophical bent, but minus Bob. It’s like Old Testament Church of Subgenius, or Gnostic Bobism. I highly recommend it, in every sense that that phrase implies.

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