“If Jim Jones could convince nine hundred people to kill themselves, we could convince nine hundred people to send us a dollar.” This line alone describes the Church of the SubGenius to a T.
This parodic church is not a simple joke. It is a direct simulation of a religion, a copy of a religion that is indistinguishable from religion itself, a massive inside joke, wherein leaders perform leadership and followers perform religion and no one ever breaks character. Beginning in the 70s with its services, literature, religious practices and fervent followers, this church was a response to the numerous new-age cults, neoconservative televangelists and other ridiculous religious movements, and it has survived to this very day. And now, it finally receives the documentary treatment in Sandy K Boone’s J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius, a documentary that digs into the ridiculous subject matter and comes out with gold.
This documentary takes a deep dive into the history of the church of the SubGenius; starting with the conception of the religion – through a chance meeting of two individuals who created a philosophy for outsiders – through to its rise in popularity, its celebration by outsider heroes, and its absolutely confusing status for the “normies”. This further leads to that common phenomenon where people claiming to be something end up attracting the people who are that something, or being accused of being connected to something else. This is the most incredible part of this religion that’s portrayed quite masterfully in this documentary – it deals in the postmodern irony of modern comedy, but it has been doing it for decades.
The documentary itself has a standard format, consisting mainly of stock footage and talking head interviews, and yet it works so well. The stock footage is incredible, often juxtaposing the SubGenius content with real religious content just to show how indistinguishable they are from one another. It also contains that wonderful grainy quality that you only get with 80s and 90s video. A lot of this will be brand new for any non-followers and some of it is just unbelievable. Meanwhile, as someone who abhors the overreliance of talking heads in documentaries, their usage here is not as offensive as it could be, owing mostly to the fact that so many of the most important people in this movement are such characters, making it a joy to watch them speak.
If you are a fan of weird documentaries, this one is a must-see!
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Shahbaz Khayambashi: @Shakhayam