by Ivan Stang, A. ø 1%
Church of the SubGenius(TM)
(Based on extrapolations and direct revelations from the incomplete DOBBS INFERNO manuscript, translated from the Original Tongue of the Dead, dictated by the tormented, earthbound 'lower half' of the spirit of J.R. "BOB" DOBBS, through Trance Medium "X" .)
The bad news is: there is a Hell. An actual Hell! Literally underground, there exists a borderless dimension of never-ending punishment reserved for those deceased failures who bit off more than they could chew... who thought they were going to be some kind of BIG SHOT.
But you -- you consider Hell a metaphor, a joke. "Oh, I want to go to Hell! All my friends are down there!" It's a POPULAR joke. A joke that won't be quite so funny, come one of these eternities.
You'll find out! There's a special section of Hell for each earthly profession in which one might fail... including yours. For instance: if, on this plane, you always wanted to be a "star," in the Afterlife you'll once again find yourself up on stages, talking and yelling, playing music, wearing nutty outfits and trying to make an impression on the audience. The only difference is that this time, it isn't some kind of 'art statement' that will be over when the curtain comes down, but eternal torment. And the audience isn't paying customers, but paid demons.
In some ways it's hardly any different from life here on Earth.* Even in Hell, you STILL have to work a horrible day job. Only after laboring on something uncreative for a week that lasts 1,000 weeks do you 'earn' the 'right' to 'perform.'
And then, of course, the real Eternity starts. For your act is ALWAYS THE SAME, and ALWAYS BAD -- ever reminding you that you are a rank amateur. Only the circumstances change. You spend eternity going from predicament to predicament, each time thinking things might improve, yet each time having your hopes dashed more heartlessly. The audience-demons and the promoter-demons are infinitely inventive when it comes to inducing prolonged, inescapable, snowballing panic.
The most insidiously clever aspect of these Hells, you see, is that before each performance, you FORGET you are IN HELL. Only at the peak moment of psychic pain do you suddenly remember where you really are, and that it's FOREVER. It is from the ultimate horror induced by this CLIMACTIC REALIZATION that Hell is fueled. The fear of fear itself, self-amplifying, is recycled through your head over and over, feeding on itself like a breeder reactor.
Let's look at a few examples of just what you may have to look forward to. Remember, each of these will seem to last so much longer than the rest of your 'life' that the span of time is utterly incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't been there -- and impossible to communicate for one who has. +
One of the more common situations -- one in which you'll find yourself, with slight variations, billions upon billions of times -- is the old "Wrong Place, Wrong Time" routine. You're in, say, the Bible Belt of Hell, and you're a gay black mime who does a show heavy on liberal social relevance. Your regular hippie audience didn't come, because the wrong date was printed on the posters, and the place is filling up with drunk redneck "False Christian" type devils who were turned away from the fancy restaurant next door. (The fact that the audiences in Hell are almost always drunk is both a blessing and a curse; their inebriation improves their appreciation of your show, but also inspires them to throw whole beer bottles rather than just chips of ice and plastic cups.) You had intended to party and dance after your show, so you stupidly took psychedelic drugs, timing them so they'd 'hit' after you're offstage. BUT THE SCHEDULE IS CHANGED. By the time you finally go on, you're mumbling incoherent profanity, but thinking you're being brilliant. (You learn the truth later, when they make you watch the videotape AGAIN and AGAIN for ten thousand years.) The club-manager-devil himself hands out rotten tomatoes to the now hostile crowd; in the barrage of ice and vegetables, the $5,000 synthesizers you borrowed from friends are destroyed. Your old high school rival is there, the person who used to beat you up, who got all the dates, who now makes far more money than you do. In a moment of optimism, you had told this person that you were now a big star and invited him to the show, thinking you'd finally get some sort of psychic revenge. While you are onstage, you see him leave with your wife. Then you realize that your parents, your in-laws, and the guy you just applied for a job with, have also been in the audience THE ENTIRE TIME.
The helpless, impotent knowledge of the full depth of your stupidity is frozen in your mind, amplified, and protracted out over millenia.
And the same thing can work just as well in reverse! This time, the place of torture is an art museum and the demons in the audience are wimpy academic Yuppie artboy students, radical feminists, and unbearably condescending failed-critic-type professors. Thinking they're 'hip,' you go out on a limb and do your most outrageous routines about being a black gay mime doing a show for rednecks. But it all falls flat and they take it completely wrong; these humorless do-gooders think you're a dumb redneck making fun of gay black mimes. The demons are walking out, hissing and booing, writing scathing reviews. You stammer vainly as the flames of disapproval and misunderstanding lick at your hide.
A little deeper into the Inferno, you'll find the opposite situation. This time you have a GREAT booking -- you're opening for a major Hell rock act in a huge stadium. It's being televised. You are right on the verge of becoming a 'name act;' this is your BIG CHANCE to ESCAPE from Hell and start getting gigs in Heaven. You've worked for YEARS to be ready for this show.
But the whole thing has been overhyped; there's no way you can possibly live up to the promotion. The critic devils are all out there, waiting to see if you're as 'hot' as you're cracked up to be. You're being paid so much that you'll probably lose half your friends from the sheer envy your excellent luck has produced. You have a terrible fight backstage with your main co-performers just before you go on, upsetting everyone and ruining the 'vibes.' Then you learn that the video projector has blown a bulb; the elaborate interactive video backdrop on which your show depends WON'T BE THERE. It's just going to be YOU ALONE; you have to completely rearrange your act in the 5 minutes before you're on.
You finally make yourself walk out on stage in front of those thousands and thousands of STARING EYES, and THE SPOTLIGHTS ARE FAR, FAR BRIGHTER THAN YOU EVER IMAGINED. You can't see a damned thing, nor can you hear anything over the impatient mutterings of the vast throng. You realize that with so many people out there, and with you effectively blinded and deafened, THERE CAN BE NO DIRECT RAPPORT with the audience as you know it. You can't 'zero in;' there's no focus. You're WAY OUT OF YOUR LEAGUE. And, for the first time in years, TRUE stage fright sets in -- you wreck your opening lines, forget the first punchline, and finally go COMPLETELY BLANK. You are standing out there in front of all these people who can TELL you're about to wet your pants with fear, and they don't even laugh; it's embarrassing even for the demons to watch you blow your career like this. Several people in the front row keep screaming something at you -- you try to ignore them, even insult them, when finally you realize they're telling you YOUR FLY IS DOWN. You are totally unzipped! Because you had seen this once happen to Janor Hypercleats, you try to remember his snappy come-back: "It's SUPPOSED to be that way. It SAVES TIME"... but IT SLIPS YOUR MIND. (You remember LATER, in the unforgiving, endless throes of hindsight.)
OR: You've finally made the Letterman or Carson show, or whatever, but you're so nervous that just before you go on, you get drunk. The superstar guest ahead of you is superb, the very picture of self-assurance, an impossible act to follow. Then YOU walk out there, but KNOWING THEY CAN TELL YOU'RE INEBRIATED makes you tongue-tied and inane. You can only sit it out, knowing WITH EVERY PASSING SECOND how you must look to 40 million viewers... the emotion of REGRET is amplified a thousandfold in the unmerciful knowledge that you are IRREVOCABLY BLOWING IT...
Another common scenario (from which you never learn, thanks to Hell's curious amnesiac qualities) is the Produce-It-Yourself-And-Lose-Your-Life-Savings show predicament. You're performer, promoter, agent, roadie, stage manager, scenery painter, program book designer, projector operator, prop master and groupie , all rolled into one. Despite careful planning, you get overworked and end up going without sleep for 3 nights prior to the show. Plus, you have a bad cold and diarrhea. You had to sink all your spouse's money into leasing the stage, mailing out p.r., renting all the equipment, etc.; you need to sell 700 tickets to break even.
A hundred people come to the show, and half of them are 'comps'. Your fellow performers are so disgusted they get drunk and leave.
And you have to get out there and be funny.
Occasionally your show will go BEAUTIFULLY -- but then you meet the fans, all of them the kind of people you most loathe. That these people like you is the surest sign that your are, yourself, a presumptuous fool. They love you so much, in fact, that they steal your irreplaceable props as momentoes.
And then there are the DEMON CLUB OWNERS. They speak a sort of impenetrable finance-oriented showbiz jargon that always misleads you into thinking they were going to pay your plane fare. There inevitably comes that unspeakably seedy moment (or eternity, rather) in which you huddle with them in the club office, separating money into little piles on the sticky, beer-splattered office floor, with the management taking chunk after chunk off your pile (which you must split with your co-performers, who trusted you) while explaining these little robberies in terms you can't possibly understand. Once again, the sure knowledge of how unutterably stupid you really are is seared into what's left of your soul.
Some Hell gigs are worse than others, and down in the very deepest levels of Show Biz Hell one gets the swankest high-design New Wave nitespots. These are attended by rich, jaded, fashion-enslaved punk-poseur devils who spend $50 a week on elaborate haircuts or ritual scars that are supposed to show that they 'don't care.' These demons are far more interested in being seen at the right places, in the right 'outlaw' garb, than in the show itself. NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, these creatures will not drop their inpenetrable masks of studied boredom; NOTHING can make them react. You decide to get their attention by staging a FAKE SHOOTING as part of your act -- but there is an accident, and someone is REALLY KILLED! Yet, even as you are hauled off, screaming, for negligent homicide, and beaten in jail for being weird, they still will not recognize your existence; they sit and talk about who's playing next week.
But how do you GET to Hell? What crime, what unforgiveable sin, could damn you to this Vale of Unending Misery?
You are sentenced there for NOT BEING 'GOOD' ENOUGH IN THIS LIFE.
It doesn't matter whether you made money or not; it doesn't matter if you were critically acclaimed. So who defines 'good?' YOU DO. It's actually a simple mathematical formula: the ratio of what you expected to what you did. Your big mistake, ultimately, isn't in your performances themselves; it's in what you WANTED them to be, compared to how short they fell of that goal -- a goal that YOU SET. That's right, folks -- you can, and probably will, be ETERNALLY DAMNED just for TRYING TO DO TOO MUCH.
For not knowing any better.
"Pull the Lever; down you go." -- Dr. Gene Scott
The good news is: although you will have to spend one eternity in Hell, all the following Eternities are composed of Infinite Slack and Love. There is, thus, a reason for Hell; without first undergoing infinite pain and humiliation, forever, none of the succeeding Pleasure Dimensions would seem, by comparison, much different from Earth on a good day. You wouldn't be able to appreciate all that ecstacy without the breaking-in period of unceasing torment.
Knowing this won't do you much good once you get to Hell; you won't be able to remember this article. But, for now, we can at least console ourselves with the thought that no matter how miserable they may make us, our Earthly performances still serve as valuable practice for the Land Beyond the Veil.
*Earth is, after all, only the Top Floor of Hell; you are in Hell, now, but it's the part of Hell where you're made to think you're in "real life." When the demons try to tell you the truth, you think they're kidding -- you think they're making some kind of art statement!
+ Dante's Inferno is a hopelessly outdated work; Hell is constantly being upgraded in Pain Configurations to compensate for the ever-degenerating quality of life here on Earth.