Popular Reality: A Vital Organ for the ShiMo Underground

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Rev. Crowbar’s fanzine Popular Reality started publication in 1984 and soon earned itself a reputation as a hub for the “marginals milieu.” An avant-garde of hip militancy, the marginals emerged at the fore of the subterranean network of fanzine exchange that burgeoned through the 1980s and into the late 1990s. Transgressing the boundaries that divided subcultural niches, Crowbar’s fanzine featured a heterogeneous roster of contributors. The table of contents in any given issue reads like a roll-call for the era’s most inspired, if not emphatic underground intellectuals. With each new publication readers were treated with, for example, freshly-printed communiqués from Hakim Bey’s AOA, polemical tracts by John Zerzan’s Anti-Authoritarians Annonymous, the surgically incisiveness (and often hilarious) posters Bob Black issued as The Last International, and the rabelaisian narratives of the unsung literary genius, Blaster “Al” Ackerman. Working alongside dozens of other fellow-travelers on the “lunatic fringe,” these figures instilled Popular Reality with an intellectual liveliness, that is to say a volatile élan, unmatched among the fanzine culture showcased in Mike Gunderloy’s Factsheet Five.

The zine scene was a hotbed of controversy insofar as the underground cognoscenti of the marginals milieu established their revolutionary program through polemical exchanges, constant feuding,and the occasional violent confrontation with interlocutors in adjacent subcultures. Across the recurrent storms of internecine disputation, Rev. Crowbar’s zine was often the nerve-center for dissenting opinion. Though there are countless examples that could be cited, Popular Reality played a particularly important role in differentiating between the marginals milieu ideology of social nihilism and the pacifist ideology of the “antiauthoritarian” Left. From the first issue onward, it is clear that Popular Reality stood in direct opposition to the nonviolent program and culture of political correctness, which together defined the Leftist opposition in America during the 1980s.

Popular Reality  No. 11 featuring a cover image of the Righteous Dervish, renegade SubGenius reverend and mastermind behind the PARTY WITH GOD campaign.

Popular Reality No. 11 featuring a cover image of the Righteous Dervish, renegade SubGenius reverend and mastermind behind the PARTY WITH GOD campaign.

On occasion, Issues of Popular Reality featured the tagline, “the journal of social nihilism.” Though this ideology was self-evidently post-Left, its precise meaning merits elaboration. The marginals’ ideology was nihilist insofar as it rejected the prevailing social order, its customary alienation, and its logic of domination. However, this school of thought went beyond mere negation. Social nihilism was social in that its partisans believed that negation, taken to its absolute limit, was the solid foundation upon which utopian forms of sociality could be built. In less abstract terms, social nihilism construed modern society as a distorted cognitive space, as an illusory “spectacle,” which conditioned humanity to accepted its immerseratation as normal. The marginals contrasted this pernicious illusion with the limitless creative potential of the imagination, which they conceptualized as “anarchy,” and alternatively, “chaos.” While their ideology served as a potent antidote to the self-abnegating demands of the Left, social nihilism failed to ignite mass movement unto itself. However, it remains to be said that building a movement was never the marginals’ intention anyways.

Here, I believe that note on the scans themselves is in order. Even the casual reader will immediately notice that the original pages of the fanzine have been rendered into black and white. The newsprint on the original documents has faded significantly; therefore, the black and white format is preferable on account of the way in which the sharp color contrast makes the text more legible. To my great disappointment, there are still some instances when even this post-production adjustment has not rendered the text readable. For these cases, new master documents must be located and scanned (so please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you in fact have access to original copies of the zine). Additionally, there is significant room for improvement with respect to the quality of the scans. Here, I can only ask forgiveness; this archive is a labor of love, and as such, there was simply no budget for using anything but the most basic scanning technology. Despite all of this, it is my sincere hope that scholars, admirers, and causal readers alike will find the enrichment they seek in the pages of this marvelous publication.

In the pages of this Popular Reality, readers of today are able to catch glimpses of a lost world of revolutionary agitation. As the letters printed in the zine’s classifieds section demonstrate, the militant front that coalesced in Rev. Crowbar’s zine spanned all of North America. The fact that this fanzine branded itself as the “vital organ” of the mysterious ShiMo Underground did not dissuade the allied factions of militant psychedelicism (such as the Discordians, SubGeniuses, and the Noble Moors of the Moorish Orthodox Church of America) from adopting the publication as their own. The cross-pollination of such colorful strains of militancy made Popular Reality an invaluable repository of modern-day revolutionary theorizing. Perhaps more important, contemporary readers will also see that such collaboration made the fanzine a hell of a lot of fun to read. Here, I would personally like to thank Susan Poe/Rev. Crowbar for her support and encouragement in the digitization process, as well as Jason Rodgers, whose inexhaustible passion for this material was a constant source of inspiration.

Popular Reality No.1

Popular Reality No.2

Popular Reality No.3

Popular Reality No.4

Popular Reality No.5

Popular Reality No.6

Popular Reality No.7

Popular Reality No.8

Popular Reality No.9

Popular Reality No.10

Popular Reality No.11