Performance Religion Dept.
THE GREATEST PERFORMANCE ARTISTS IN THE WORLD
by Rev. Ivan Stang, A.O., Philosopher Ecstaticus
Performance art is rarely seen on TV, except for the two forms of it which are the MOST frequently seen by the public, yet are, ironically, the least discussed by art wimps. These are evangelical preaching, and professional wrestling.
They parallel each other in telling ways, and diverge from mainstream "performance art" in all the right places. For all their pompousness, they could never EVER be as pompous as what calls itself "performance art."
This may be why TV preachers and wrestlers have audiences numbering in the tens, HELL, sometimes the hundreds of millions, while most "legit " art ranters are lucky to draw more than a couple of dozen nerds with glasses.
Wrestlers and evangelists share largely the same audience -- the down home for real people, the Ignorant Louts, the common folk, the good ol' boys, i.e., POEBUCKERS.* And these audiences attend for similar reasons. Many go to a wrestling match on Saturday night, where they get drunk and wallow in cathartic, vicarious violence, then the next morning head for church to more narrowly focus those energies of righteousness and the Full Hate Gospel.
The doctrines of wrestling and preaching have even less to do with real life than do those of "regular" performance art, and thus boast fans that are that much more dedicated to their elaborate fantasy worlds as a way of life.
The art patron merely "suspends disbelief." The wrestling fan and the holy roller truly believe. So do the best wrestlers and/or preachers (in some religions, like SubGenius, you get a combination of the two.) When they talk about seeing visions, they're serious. This explains why art nerds are often suicidal, while pro ranters/rasslers are murderously confident.
In wrestling and evangelism one sees not vague, arty tapestries of subtlety, but exaggerrated, cartoonlike upwellings from the most primal worries in the collective unconscious of the human species. It's back to the
* "POEBUCKERS": a corruption of the Southern slave term "Poor Buckras," meaning "white trash." "Buckra" was an African word for "BOOGIE MAN" or "MONSTER," which came to mean Caucasian with the advent of slavery. Most Poebuckers are actually SubGeniuses who don't know about "Bob" yet.
High Perf Preach 2
basics. Witness a match between Seargeant Slaughter, who makes the audience say the Pledge of Allegiance, versus the "Iranian" Iron Sheik, who spits on the Flag -- or Rev. Jimmy Swaggart versus "these pill-poppin', cigaret-suckin', wife-swappin', purple-haired ROCK STARS that are held up as an example for our youth!" The line between Good Guys and Bad Guys is clearly drawn in both cases, starkly etched in black and white. None of this "antihero" crap. It's cut and dried. The Devil gives you red lights in traffic, but if you get three green lights in a row, that's the Lord working for you. Pretty much all serious health or financial problems can be chalked up to demons, or at least humanists, or at the very least, Rowdy Roddy Piper.
On the other hand, no battling against external foes ever gets half as violent as the intra-conference infighting or the Baiting of Other Denominations -- i.e., rival cults in the same ballpark but slightly different. Baptists, for example, don't give any weird Luciferian cults nearly as much "hell" as they give the Catholics and even the Presbyterians.
Both have achieved enough show business clout that they can get away with murder. Still, the best ones are those you never see on the tube... the true zealots that chant and spin around and handle rattlesnakes and cut themselves up with knives on stage. Those vastly superior sorts of religious performers rarely have the money be on the air; and the TV networks discourage wrestlers from going "all out" -- no onscreen bleeding in televised bouts. When there are no cameras around, professional wrestling is a much bloodier sport than the at-home viewer would ever dream.
And this brings up the subject of commitment. No other performance genre approaches the commitment level of wrestling or preaching. These people work six nights a week, constantly traveling from town to town; their wounds never heal. Wrestlers' foreheads are masses of scrape-scars and deep cuts... a few slams into the turnbuckle, and out pours the blood again, every night. Yet there are still assholes who will try to tell you that wrestling is fake!!
"WHEN SOME GUY WILL BLEED EVERY NIGHT FOR HIS ART, THAT'S COMMITMENT. LET'S SEE CHRISTO BLEED FOR HIS ART."
-- Dan Bynum, director of World Class Championship Wrestling from Dallas, Texas
"His blood can make the foulest clean..."
Preachers, who also must travel and work nonstop, have their own form of suffering. They must put up with the endless needs of their pathetic congregations and the strain of looking like they know what they're talking about.
Of course, not ALL or even MOST are any good. Many indeed are the "dead preachers preaching dead sermons to dead congregations," as Swaggart calls them. But when watching one of the really talented ones, the most cynical atheist may start out shedding tears of laughter -- but ends up PINNED TO THE MAT by the preacher, and crying because he's been SAVED.
Good preaching smoothes out the front part of the preachee's brain as if it had been shaped by hot leather-working tools, etching the lobes with whatever pattern the preacher wishes. Thus, audience involvement can be programmed to reach a fever pitch.
Some of the very best performance artists in the game are the amateurs who come up from the audience to be healed, or to join in the wrestling fray. Every night is "amateur night." Audience members have a chance to thrash around like crazy people, sometimes on live TV!
Healings can be every bit as savage as wrestling. The preacher usually starts by making people discard canes and walkers, and works his way up to the point that the paralyzed are leaping from wheelchairs (this occasionally backfires and the "healed" person ends up taking a pratfall, even if he wasn't really crippled to begin with). On radio broadcasts (where it's a little easier to get away with the special effects) I have heard one preacher rip off a man's bionic leg, and another miraculously replace someone's artificial knee with the original, fleshly knee he was born with. I saw one family whose faith was strong enough that they dared bring to services their baby, who was attached to an oxygen tank by way of a trachiotomy -- even though they knew they didn't have enough oxygen to make it home from the church. Sure enough, that preacher laid hands on the kid, yanked the tube out of its throat, and it began to breathe normally!
Perhaps some of this faith healing is a bit suspect. But then, faith healing can actually work sometimes, just as 'faith injury' can be almost as effective in wrestling as the real thing. Who cares how outrageous the props and buildup have to be, as long as the job gets done?
The real pros don't need all that rigamarole, but carry the show on sheer charisma alone. In this respect Rev. Jimmy Swaggart is the "Mick Jagger" of preachers (and is coincidentally the cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis). Swaggart, the top-selling gospel singer of all time and currently seen in over 100,000,000 homes worldwide, uses intense facial expressions and body moves to hit dynamic stances not unlike a character in Marvel Comics. He's the master of calm but terrifying jeremiads that build up to pregnant pauses... followed by devastating accusations of the audience and all other sinners at large. Pacing back and forth rhythymically to create a hypnotic effect like a human pendulum swung before the eyes of the Saved, he also never forgets the home TV audience. A couple of times in each show he turns suddenly to Camera 2 close-up, locking the audience in his deadly gaze, and letting FULL WRATH GOSPEL take over: "And you there by television, sucking on that joint! You think it's FUNNY, don't you? You think you wanna go to hell... 'cause all your BUDDIES're gonna be there...well, go ahead and laugh! Now maybe Jimmy Swaggarts making some of you a little nervous..."
Professional wrestlers, likewise, will address their foes and all enemy supporters in a similar way, screaming directly into the lens and threatening to reach out through the TV screen to deliver an Atomic Knee Drop to anyone who doubts his or her mayhemic abilities.
Here the similarities end, however. Whereas wrestlers are essentially straightforward, their religious cousins utilize a plethora of psychological tricks designed to hook the viewer deeper than he already is. The main reason for this difference is that wrestlers ask only the price of a ticket, while the sky is the limit when it comes to evangelists' pleas for donations. Perhaps it is because God holds a permanent ringside seat at revivals but has to wait in line like everybody else for seating at a match.
Many preachers use the age-old fortune-teller's scam of suddenly getting a "telepathic message" from some unfortunate individual, and then addressing them over the airwaves. "Wait... I see a boy out there... he's bound by hard drugs... he wants to find a way out... and there's a little old lady, bound by arthritis... she knows I'm talking about her... lady, lean over and put your hands on the TV screen! That's right! Right up against mine!! Now pray with me... Demon, I claim authority over you, foul spirit..." etc.... By describing symptoms that can be assumed to afflict a good 5 to 10% of his viewers, he can be sure to see an offering in the mail in return for this "special attention." Wrestlers rarely resort to this.
Preachers often preface their more "hard-hitting" material with lines like, "I'm sorry to have to speak so harshly... but some of you won't like what I'm about to say..." This whets the flock's appetite for guilt and abuse. Likewise, before bragging about their own successes, they'll somewhat insincerely "humble themselves" by apologizing for their inadequacies -- something unheard of in wrestling. Swaggart, for instance, always takes care to refer to his poverty-stricken poebucker roots so that the audience knows he's "just folks" despite his nice suit. "We was pore whenever I was a kid..." This builds up to the real tear-jerker part where he prays in public for God to make sure he doesn't abuse his incredible skill, all the while "apologizing" for being such a hick. It enrages his audience to see their hero "made to feel embarrassed" and establishes in them the proper degree of anti-mainstream indignation.
To be fair to Swaggart, he very likely does mean everything he says. When he says the nuclear freeze movement is Satanic, he's not kidding.He isn't a faker. A lot of the others are, though. If they weren't preachers, they'd probably be selling used cars. They're doing it for money, and for the unbeatable thrill of having thousands of gullible wretches think they're directly employed by the Lord. This type is easy to spot by their melodramatic pronunciation of key words: "Jesus" becomes "CHEEee-zus!" and "God" becomes, "uh-GAWD-uh." The 700 Club and the Moral Majority are the most widely known for this sort of basically amoral, blasphemous pandering to the lowest instincts of the human species, the instincts for grovelling, envying and the nursing of grudges. In other words, the "Holier Than Thou" syndrome.
Wrestlers are much more dignified in their general approach to life. They really are holier than you.
Take the music for example. Wrestling is now inextricably tied to rock n' roll. Many champions have their own rock bands. A few, beginning with Michael Hayes and the Freebirds' "Bad Street USA," (1983, directed by Dan Bynum), have even entered the music video scene. But except for black old-time gospel churches, most evangelical music is utterly insipid (if music is allowed at all). If their shallow, grinning warbling is an expression of the depths of their joy, it must not be very deep joy. If you ask me, it's the Devil's music. Listen to the phrase, "Jesus Loves You," backwards, and you'll hear that they're really singing, "We Smell Sausage."
But what's lamest of all is when they try to be funny. Preacher humor is 99% unintentional. Wrestlers know when they're being ludicrous -- indeed, they pursue ludicrosity to its furthest possible extremes.
Jerry Falwell, despite his popularity among the mentally underprivileged, typifies the bland, talentless bloodsucker style of religious stand-up bullshitter. Putting little movement or expression into his routine besides the occasional shaking of jowls, he relies almost entirely on either the mindless hate content of his sermons or else smug, self-satisfied back-patting occasionally colored by smarmy attempts at humor. Last Sunday he was asking for money to erect a statue of his mom (!!) at Liberty Baptist College... showing his "honor thy mother" side just before launching into a witch-hunt tirade against pro-choice feminists and commies. It is when these guys talk about people they don't like that the essential nature of their scam shows through -- an attitude of studied "forgiveness" masking sheer, bitter hate. Falwell is the kind of guy who goes out of his way to have blacks on now and then to show he thinks "coloreds" are "okay," then probably tells "nigger jokes" with his cronies.
It is perhaps final proof that The 700 Club and its ilk are in league with the Devil that the token blacks on their shows act just like the most namby-pamby white men. These shows actually "de-soul" a person. Compare this to someone like The Ugandan Giant in wrestling, or even Mr. T -- who has successfully proved that you can be a Christian and a bad-ass motherfucker at the same time.
A new up-and-coming preacher group is women evangelists. These tend to be among the most fanatical as a group, because, being Christian Women, they are not expected to build or plant bombs at abortion clinics (for, as born-agains will tell you, women aren't equipped for that sort of technical work) and can therefore exhort others to do so to their hearts content without fear of themselves being accused. This situation doesn't exist in wrestling, where the women have balls too and get in just as much trouble as the guys.
I might as well admit it... I'm a little prejudiced in favor of the wrestlers. They're more honest than the preachers, when you get right down to it. Besides, it pisses me off that these so-called "Christian" good old boys can shmooze the public for so much money while noble SubGenius preachers like myself still have to work day jobs. There's no fucking justice.
Thanks to those jokers, religion nowadays doesn't feel as good as sex, or drugs such as alcohol and rock n' roll. Being animals, humans will do whaetever fetches them the biggest reward -- and these "preacher boys" have taken all the fun out of religion, which should be much more like pro wrestling. Most religions now specialize in making only certain select groups feel good, and only in the most twisted ways. The Church of the SubGenius is no different, except that it appeals to a much more choosy clientelle. We accept only the funniest shit. The other churches have such bad jokes that they have to give their stuff away for free on street corners. It's like their preachers have forgotten what religion is for. They peddle the most deadening, pompous routines and ignore the comic potential of "naturals" like sin, Hell, guilt, The Bomb, etc.... they discourage any yuks at all while ranting on these subjects, thus keeping them UNTHINKABLE yet FATED, so that the audience is PARALYZED WITH HOPELESSNESS as far as changing things goes, yet RESIGNED and SECURE in the knowledge that the destruction of the planet will be God's Judgement, and in the groupie-like, groveling MINDLESS WORSHIP NOT OF GOD, BUT OF THE SCARY YET CHARISMATIC "HOLY MAN" UP THERE AT THE PULPIT.
The scumbags. Someday our slain savior J.R. "Bob" Dobbs will RISE AGAIN to throw them out of the ring with the flying body block of HIS DIVINE, ALL-SCOURING WRATH AND LOVE.
It is too late to pray for their souls.
Written in the spirit with some key lines cribbed from Hellpope Huey, Rev. Cleve Dunkan, MediaStud Dan Bynum, and The Masked Yeti Assassin (Dobbstown Wrestling Federation).