J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius is a deep dive into how easy it is to get people to give up their autonomy from a chance at something greater. In this case it is a cult or maybe an anti-cult, of weirdos called SubGeniuses, originating in Texas circa 1980. In this documentary by Sandy K. Boone, she explores the wacky world created by two burn out friends, Reverend Ian Stang and Dr. Philo Drummond and their wild idea to start a movement based around the idea of doing whatever you want, and bucking the norms of society.
The two met in the late 70s, bonding over their love of comic books and Captain Beefheart records. Dissatisfied with the conventional adult life, Stang and Drummond, wanted to make a place for the misfits that they felt were their tribe. In 1980 the two made a pamphlet which served as a manifesto for the eventual J.R. “Bob” Dobbs Church of The SubGenius. Though it began as a longshot to maybe get some notoriety and a few bucks, the pamphlet received dissolution which snowballed into a movement of oddballs that is still alive today. Drawing on all areas of cultish and religious fundamentalism, the church is a satirical response to the institutions that generally pushed the different away. They would grow into a large disorganization, consisting of thousands of members and splinter groups which were encouraged as a form of rebelling against the rebellion.
Under Stang’s charismatic leadership, and Drummonds more reserved wisdom, the cult managed to pull off several large events, draw the attention of many a celebrity weirdo, such as Devo, David Byrne, and even actor/comedian Nick Offerman, who expressed how the group drew him in as a young person seeking some escape from the midwestern normalcy his grew up with. The cameos in the documentary give it a legitimacy that is humorous because even while the leaders and those interviewed express the truth about it all being one big joke, there is a section of the cult that has yet to get it. Every year there is a day called X Day, originally July 5th 1998, where the world would end and space craft would take the cult members up into the air, culminating in eternal orgies. Obviously, this end never came in 1998, so the joke remains that every year they gather, and at 7am July 5th, they await the truth that the world in goes on. With a sarcasm in his tone, the reverend Stang, delivers a message of disappointment and they move on.
The movie is funny, but also very telling as they get into some dark areas that surrounded the cult. Events like the Columbine shooting and some members responses that drew criticism from major media and government officials. There is also a sobering look at how a cult following can go horribly wrong and we end up with a president that is the ultimate evil SubGenius. Overall this is an entertaining look at a weird subculture of people that seem to take life a little less seriously than the rest of us. There is a hope in it for the outcast but also a stern warning about how once a ball starts rolling it is hard to control the way it goes or the speed it travels. In the end, cults (or even anti-cults, as it were) are all a slippery slope, even if they are no more than a clever joke played on themselves.