The Stark Fist of Removal
The Stark Fist Of Removal solidified the Church of the SubGenius' reputation among the cultural fringe of the U.S. in the 1980s. Published in 1980 as an A5-sized zine, the first issue was labeled No.37/Vol. 17 so as to suggest the publication, and Church, were far older than they were. The rapid and substantial changes in the newsletter over the course of the following five years provide an excellent means of tracing the exponential growth of the Church. Indeed, by the second issue, No.38/Vol.17, it literally quadrupled in size. Published in 1981, this issue was printed in the tabloid format, which allowed Rev. Ivan Stang to devote a great deal more space to the reports, announcements, and declarations issued by the Church’s decentralized membership. As the central forum for the religion, The Stark Fist would continue to offer even more space for SubGenii to trade contact addresses, inflammatory insults, and iconoclastic screeds.
The major appeal of the Church in its early years was that it attracted some of the most extraordinary figures from a number of otherwise disparate underground milieus. Under the auspices of the Church, rebel avant-gardes (like Neoism and Fluxus) cross-pollinated with punks and SF fans, who included in their ranks eccentric anarchists, futurological acid-heads, and Crowleyites. It would be folly to draw too fine a distinction between these subcultural groupings, as the participants in these outsider milieus were rarely exclusive in regards to a particular subcultural affiliation. For example, punk rockers like John Shirley and Lewis Shiner were both SubGenii as well as accomplished SF writers; likewise, Al “Blaster” Ackerman was a SF fan-writer, Neoist, SubGenius, and luminary in the mail art scene. Within any given issue of The Stark Fist, readers could find work by these figures as well as luminaries from a range of other anti-establishment subcultural milieus. The zine also functioned as showcase for lesser known, but no less talented figures such as Bob Black (SubGenius alias: ‘Mahatma Propagandhi’), and Gerry Reith (‘Tribunal Overdrive’). Much like Kerry Thornley, who was also a frequent contributed to the Church, the respective contributions of Black and Reith to The Stark Fist would eventually secure them independent acclaim within the zine scene that blossomed around the Church.
The publication served in a dual capacity as both the Foundation’s official pulpit and the primary forum for the decentralized SubGenius movement. In its capacity as the former, each issue of The Stark Fist offered new teachings from “Bob,” the addresses of newly formed Clenches, and regional listings of lone SubGenii. Additionally, it offered readers a calendar of upcoming Church events, a selection of underground comix, a page of reviews for underground publications, and the ever-growing ‘stuff to buy’ section. Over and above these perfunctory details, though, the newsletter provided SubGenii with a discursive space to co-create their religion. While the Foundation provided the necessary organizational over-sight for the Church, it was the autonomous interactions between members that transformed what was ostensibly a mail-order religion into a movement of semi-autonomous antinomians. This was all too clear to the Foundation. As early as the second issue of The Stark Fist, Stang remarked:
The [SubGenius] Foundation in Dallas […] is but the central information filter for what has become a huge and frightening network. The Church is NOT just a few maniacs. The dogma now spewing forth, in this magazine and elsewhere, is PERMEATED with the sacred Spoutings of members in EVERY NATION: results of their own PERSONAL encounters with that which is “Bob”. The Church exists WITH YOU.
Rev. Stang was underplaying the role of the Foundation by referring to it as an ‘information filter’. It was the official clearing house of this decentralized movement, and in this capacity collected all of the memberships fees, issued the ordination packets, and most importantly, held editorial power over the way in which the SubGenius movement was constituted in the pages of The Stark Fist. Considering the extent to which SubGenius ideology promoted spiritual autonomy, it seems inevitably that the Foundation’s rhetoric would out-pace the actual workings of the Church. This is not to say that the Church’s decentralized ideology was a front, or that the Foundation was disingenuous in its call for even greater movement autonomy. In fact, one of the chief characteristics of the SubGenius movement at this time was that it was able to strike a balance, however unsteady at times, between centralization and total decentralized autonomy. This balance was based on the fact that no matter how much power the Foundation accrued, the movement never failed to produce new modes of expression in which it could recreate itself.