Book: Cult Rapture
Author: Adam Parfrey
Type of Book: Non-fiction, conspiracy theory, history, sociology, pop culture
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Well, the cover was pretty much a dead giveaway, what, with the David Koresh angel of justice drawing. But then you factor in that Adam Parfrey, owner of Feral House and an all-around-odd-content kind of guy, wrote most of the articles in the book and you’ve got an odd book on your hands.
Availability: Published by Feral House in 1995, it’s out of print, but you can still get a copy relatively cheaply online:
Comments: Lord a’mercy, I love books like this. I love these sort of collections of whacked culture, weird theories and weird people. If you’ve read Apocalypse Culture or Apocalypse Culture II, you have a good handle on what to expect from this book, though I sensed a healthy amount of snark from time to time. Or maybe I was just projecting my own snark. But even if there was not any snark, it was still a fun, entertaining book.
Over 15-years-old at this writing, much of the book could seem dated to a person who needs to be up-to-date on their high weirdness and occult-goings-on. Luckily, I need no freshness when it comes to topics odd. But even taking into account the relatively dated elements of some of these articles, this collection was informative, interesting, saddening, silly, funny and in some respects quite disgusting.
So, to make it easy on myself, I’m just gonna discuss the articles in the order they occur, but I will group the ones that left me with literally nothing to discuss at the end. I think my verbosity where certain articles are concerned may be a very good look at my id at the moment. Clearly harmless crazies, Nazis, gross people and certain areas of feminist thought incite my love of typing.
The first article, The Gods Must Be Crazy: The Latter Days of Unarius, discusses the delightful apocalyptic cult led by Ruth Norman, aka The Archangel Uriel. Ruth always reminded me of Mrs. Slocombe from Are You Being Served? with an irritating, mystic edge to her. Despite the fact that Ruth died in 1993, the cult still limps along today. If you know about this cult and you aren’t a complete loon like me, it’s likely because the group was a popular topic during the talk show explosion in the early 90s. The Unarians channel aliens and think they have a line on a new way of looking at science, with all the usual attendant failed prophecies but since both of the founders, Ruth Norman and her husband, are dead, it doesn’t creep me out as a mass suicide waiting to happen. But this article discusses the cult during the time when the fickle sun of the media was shining on them but before the Internet made it easy to know every detail about every wacky cult out there. They were still pretty exotic at the time of Parfrey’s writing.
I entered this article thinking I had nothing new to learn and I was proven wrong, but then again, I had never really ventured past the outer layer of Unarius’ weirdness because these channeling cults bore me (because the Lemurians, ancient spirits, Atlanteans, Ramtha and all the others seem to say the same things, so why bother?). All I knew really was that the Unarians were a bunch of channelers who talked to the dead and gave their beliefs a patina of respectability via pseudoscience. So while I did not know that Ruth liked to engage in past life psychodramas, the whole of the insanity of it should not have surprised me. Yet I was surprised and a little amused but mostly appalled in that way you are appalled when your right wing lunatic relatives talk about race relations over Thanksgiving dinner. I searched the Internet for a sample of her psychodramas, specifically the one called The Ballad of Annabelle Lee, because Parfrey describes it as being “the kind of project that would make John Waters green with envy.” Alas, I could only find it on sites for weird film, available for trade, and I don’t have enough time left in my life to deal with video traders, so let me share what Parfrey described, because hoo boy, is this some horrible, wonderful crap.
Let me set the scene: A man in black face and in pillow-stuffed drag to make him look like a black Mammy caricature called Nell is caring for his/her young charge, Annabelle. Two other women in black face are flitting about as well. Annabelle is played by a 75-year-old Ruth Norman.
“Today’s the big day,” announced Nell. “Miss Annabelle Lee is goin’ a courtin’ on the riverboat!”
“Oh, Miss Annabelle,” coos the mammy, “you always my beautiful girl. You got mo’ beaus up and down the Mississippi than anyone cans hake a stick at.
“What’s all that commotion, Nell?” cries Annabelle, the most ancient ingenue to fill out bloomers and hoop skirt. “I’m sleepy!”
“Miss Annabelle must be tired, tryin’ on all dose dresses and wigs all day long!”
A banjo twangs a Stephen Foster tune which inspires Miss Annabelle to go all misty-eyed as she heart-to-hearts with her faithful servant. “It is said, Nell, they don’t treat you black people on the riverboat like I do — and you might have to take lodging down below, way down below.”
“Miss Annabelle, you treats us black folks, so good, so good!”
“God loves all God’s chilluns!” replies Annabelle profoundly, a beatific smile on her face.
And it just gets worse from there. Annabelle’s Nell is forced to swab the deck by a Simon Legree type, Annabelle somehow drowns and Nell is hanged for a crime she didn’t commit. Later, in comments after the film, Ruth babbles in complete defiance to the facts laid out in the film, indicating that Nell had murdered her. But beneficent Annabelle doesn’t blame Nell for the senseless murder:
“Nell loved me so,” reasons Uriel. “She would never have deliberately hurt me. I was born the same time as one of Nell’s daughters, but she gave more attention to me than her own little pickaninny.”
Yeah, this psychodrama was filmed in the early 1980s but even then this had to have sounded racist and completely insane. And this scene pretty much explains why you should never obtain religious beliefs from anyone who claims they spoke to otherwordly beings the rest of us can’t see because chances are they are going to be more than a little crazy and if you ever regain any self-awareness, you will be horribly embarrassed by the shit you engaged in. All in all, an amusing article about a largely harmless but clearly batshit cult.
From Russia, With Love: The Business of Mail-Order Brides also suffers a bit from the passage of time but when it was written, I don’t know if the idea of mail-order brides had been explored so much by media, and if they were, much of the focus was on South America or the Far East. Recent cases of murdered Russian “internet order” brides have brought full-force to the media this bizarre tradition of eschewing us American bitch harpies for more compliant women from the former Soviet nations. The stories were grotesque, sickening and salacious. I ultimately don’t resent how any person obtains happiness in this life, but as an American woman who is pretty certain that Russian women aren’t really that different than me aside from the economic climate in which they live, I knew Parfrey and I were going to be on the same page before I ever even read the article. From the intro:
My interviews with the American boors in the market for a Russian sex slave revealed themselves as victims of an inferiority complex. The interviewees embodied the Reichian “Little Man” — prone to psychological overcompensation by securing women they can easily dominate.
The men in Parfrey’s article had to pore over photos printed on paper rather than viewing pictures online, but they more or less followed the same procedure those who want to obtain a foreign bride use today: use an agency that tries to pair off single American men with women in Russia made desperate by economic privation. Some of these agencies have the best interests of both parties involved but even the best operate with the profit motive as the main objective, and woman are a cattle-like commodity to be selected by the more feminine human equivalents of checking their teeth and hooves.
Okay, my vague disgust isn’t so vague but Parfrey’s article doesn’t have to work hard to show the repellent natures and shady motives of the men who were seeking these women. On Russian women with children:
Does the fact that she has a child phase [sic] you?
“Yeah. I mean, that doesn’t bother me. As a matter of fact, that would probably be a safer bet than having a single gal come over here that has no kids, you know.
Safer? In what way?
“With no kids, she might be inclined to wander.”
These are the words of an American pilot with a spare tire around his middle and a couple of American girlfriends who are baffled by him.
Here’s a charmer who is explaining his desire to import a bride:
“See, we spoil them in this country. They all are looking for their superman, so to speak. They see tv, they see Kevin Costner, they see the heroes there. They’re quite demanding, and there’s so many people it’s easy come, easy go. If you’re one of the few who have very wonderful endowments, you’re okay. It’s difficult in a sense that I’m past my prime. It gets harder and harder to compete and you have to put up with so much stuff. The thing about this country, even if they’re Gravel Gerties they’ll make demands.”
Yeah, I had to look up “Gravel Gertie.” This is a middle-aged man whom Parfrey describes as being bird-like in appearance. He had initially sought a wife via a Scandinavian agency but found the women not to his liking because evidently only tall, leggy blondes get his motor running. But given that Scandinavia as a whole beats the hell out of the USA in terms of quality of life, those who wanted an American husband didn’t suit his tastes as they were not the “quality” he had been led to expect from Sweden. I guess only the Gravel Gerties in Scandinavia wanted out.
I don’t know if I ever have read an article wherein the author didn’t even have to do anything other than let the interviewees hang themselves with their own words. Actually, Parfrey is a master of this, of letting people’s words stand for themselves, though often he cannot resist adding some of his own snark from time to time. And given some of the people he interviews, who can blame him.
The Devil and Andrea Dworkin was one I looked forward to reading as I knew it had been featured in the infamous “Rape” issue of ANSWER Me!. Though Parfrey apologizes in his intro for equating mainstream feminism with Dworkin’s extremist stances, and I appreciate it, the fact is that so many people, mostly men, who want to denigrate elements of feminism look to Dworkin as their go-to-girl, as if her polemics about men are in any way a good view of the female struggle for equitable and, in some cases, merciful treatment in the modern world. But the fact is that the older I get, the less of a shit I give about any philosophy because the binary nature of American politics has ensured any thought is an either/or proposition and that all conversation, especially online, becomes a nasty clusterfuck of shouting everyone down.
But this article, if you bear in mind that Parfrey has already copped to his “lazy, misogynist assumption” equating feminism to Dworkin, is pretty interesting. It’s hard to approach Dworkin with an open mind because her essential premise is so extreme only a handful of people can find much merit in her arguments. In my traditional manner, I have a lot of sympathy for the devil and I have a soft spot for Dworkin, even as her arguments repel me. I adore the scariness of her mind the way I adore Peter Sotos because mental extremity forces reaction. And make no mistake – Dworkin was scary. Anyone who looks at all acts of heterosexual sex as rape are frightening, because no one comes to a conclusion that upsetting unless some heavy shit has come down in his or her life. To see the very act that perpetuates the species as a violation, a sex crime, implies that the mind who thinks this way has suffered deeply.
But Dworkin needs no apologists nor would she want them were she still alive, and this article cuts her zero slack, engaging in the sort of language that would be most insulting to a woman like Dworkin, as well as many others who never once considered sex as rape (cooze, caterwauling, tube steaks, cunt) but my eyes and ears are not that delicate. Also, I’ve always thought a man with good intentions in life can only react in rage to the sorts of ideas Dworkin put forth. I appreciated Parfrey’s disgust at Dworkin’s explanation of a sexual act that contains none of the thrusting she found so soul-shattering. The presumption Dworkin needed to prescribe an acceptable sex act reeked of Popish-approved sexual positions and a zealotry that is, and I invoke this word again, scary. But zealotry has a short shelf-life and Dworkin was a relic even when she died. I can’t imagine she comes up much in the feminist discourse of women 20 years my junior and that’s a good thing. Ideas burst forth, they get examined and when as bad as Dworkin’s ideas, they get buried. I once wanted to write a book about pagan feminism (and still sort of do but that’s neither here nor there) and maybe it’s good I didn’t. All these ideas of utopia and we still can’t even get equal pay for equal work. Who needs another fucking treatise, eh?
Back on track, there are many reasons to read this article, among them the acerbic and perverse reactions Parfrey slams on the table:
Those who most treasure Dworkin’s hysteria aren’t mainstream feminists but prohibitionist paper-pushers and the fundamentalist right. I’ve envisioned a scene fit for a Jodorowsky movie in which Richard Viguerie and Jesse Helms go down on Dworkin and MacKinnon on a bed of severed penises.
Harsh and full of names that might trip up the average 25-year-old but all the more reason to read it, I say.
Oh god, I just died a million times inside when I read The Girlfriend Who Last Saw Elvis Alive Fan Club. I wrote a well-received story many years ago that I only last year realized was fan fiction. It was a weird feeling, knowing I had written fan fiction, though fan fiction has come a long way since Parfrey wrote this article, and while he says he feels “shame over the article’s laconic sadism” he also goes on to say:
Why begrudge, even make fun of, the only escape route open to the genetically deprived?
In Parfrey’s defense, the fan fiction in this article defies sane fandom and the poor woman depicted in this article is a near-perfect example of the stereotype of the pitiful, obese, weirdo living in their parent’s house, scrawling out page after page of questionable fiction that inserts them into their favorite book or the life of their favorite star. Debby Wimer was a member of the Ginger Alden Fan Club. She was emotionally fragile, dense, and sort of gross and she evoked nothing short of utter disgust in Parfrey. But given the details he shares in the story, even if he was exaggerating a bit, the then 35-year-old Wimer was pretty grotesque.
Who was Ginger Allen, by the way? She was Elvis Presley’s girlfriend at one point, the woman who found him collapsed in his bathroom, and the women who formed her fan club loved her “the best of all the women Elvis was involved with.” Her fans think she was not only the prettiest of his women, but also that she was just more virtuous:
“Priscilla and Linda Thompson seemed to be out for the money. Ginger isn’t. I never liked that kind of person.”
So in defiance of all that seems like it is worth doing, a fan club grew up around this golden-hearted woman who was there when the King breathed his last, and some incredibly bad, Mary Sue-laden fan fiction came into being. It’s worth a read if only because it’s an interesting look at fandom and how it seems utterly trivial to those of us not bitten by the bug. These days half the people I know write fan fiction of some description, but I do hope they don’t live a life of quiet, repellent despair. My desire to respect human dignity, such as it is, and my innate tendency towards snark were at war with each other when reading this article. Don’t miss Debby Wimer’s story, “Spanish Eyes.” It follows the article and it inspired such second hand embarrassment that I actually had to stop and look away from the pages when I read it.
I have remarkably little to say about Will Somebody Please Find a Mate for This Nice, Well-Mannered, Aryan Psycho Killer? Yet I bet I will still throw a few words at the article anyway because that’s just who I am. The article is interesting enough in and of itself but it’s really just another look at a sexually-demented, white pride lunatic who killed, went to prison and became a footnote in history, relegated to books like this. Maybe it’s because I spent way too much time exploring the white pride movement in the United States and pretty much already know that a statistically significant and startling number of the men are violent and utterly twisted sexually. Kevin Strom, though he never killed anyone, comes to mind. At any rate, although interesting and well-written, it’s just another look at a man who is a terrible physical representation of the Aryan culture he touts so highly, bitching about how he couldn’t find a pretty Aryan woman to polish his knob because they all dated Jews, Mexicans and African-Americans, and this made him nuts. Of course, the fact that he is a fucking white supremacist who looks like he barely made it off skid row and has a sexual ethos that was vaguely alarming even to an old jaded broad like me is a hint as to why no woman, Aryan or otherwise, wanted anything to do with him, but the obvious answer to Jonathan Haynes’ problems was to kill a plastic surgeon who created fake Aryan beauty. But if you are an Aryan beauty who feels that “National Socialism encouraged a pragmatic sort of sexual freedom…” you are in luck. In 2002 or thereabouts, the governor of Illinois pardoned Haynes and he is no longer on death row. Act quickly and maybe you can land a be-prisoned pseudo-intellectual who combines weird sexual ideas with race hate to compensate for being a complete loser at life. You know someone reading this will jump at the chance to get to know this dude – I think there are reality shows about this topic of ordinarily sane women dating the worst sort of scum behind bars. It could happen (and probably will). Be sure to read “The Sex Economy of Nazi Germany,” which is Haynes’ weirdo treatise, helpfully included by Parfrey. I could summarize it but I just don’t want to.
The Endangered Freak was an article with an interesting premise and one that covers a lot of ground. He discusses how the biologically atypical have been granted a sort of purity of spirit and mind as modern culture has romanticized the disabled and imbued them with a saint-like image that ultimately is demeaning. I recall, back in the days before Jerry Springer became a show wherein half sisters slept with each other and flashed their breasts to the audience, former carnival freaks who were frequent Springer guests, bemoaning the death of the freak show. A woman who was a former human torso had been retrained as an office worker when her carnival shut down and as a result made far less money. She infinitely preferred the day when people were open about their shock rather than condescending to her as she struggled to file receipts in an office with her mouth. Parfrey compares the saccharine storyline of Forrest Gump, wherein the “biological deficient are compensated with a purity of heart and nobility of soul unattained by those of sound body and mind” with the hard reality of Tod Browning’s Freaks.
The age of Tod Browning’s Freaks did not stoop to portray monstrous specimens as moral Pollyannas but as a kind of Mafia that found solace and power in acts of brotherhood and retribution. Ruling this hierarchy were the true biological anomalies rather than the “gaffed” or faked freak; the value of the congenital freak was most clearly demonstrated in the size of the weekly paycheck.
This article discusses this issue in depth – the acceptance of physical abnormality for what it is and refusal to make it a condition that implies a higher spiritual plane or a closer link to God in contrast to those who want to imbue simple biological differences, however mild or catastrophic, with holiness.
And yeah, it was totally on the nose that Parfrey followed that article with Please, May I Touch Your Scar? Queasy Hours Among I CAN: A Cult of Sex-Obsessed Cripples. Oh man… David and Violet Brandenburger are a physically interesting couple. She’s small in stature and so riddled with profoundly horrific rheumatoid arthritis and other issues that she is a quadriplegic. I can’t recall what is wrong with David. He’s just big, fat and gross, forever going shirtless, wearing shorts so tight and ill-fitting his balls fall out. Violet discovered that she could control pain via pleasure and began a non-profit “human potential” organization based on paganism, new age nonsense and questionable science, all relating back to sex.
Okay, disabled people have sex. This is not a new idea and hedonists and religious whack jobs come in all varieties. It’s just… Sigh… As I read this article, I remembered when Dave Attell visited a sex club (filled with the last people any sane person would want to have sex with) for his sadly canceled show, Insomniac . He saw an old fashioned room deodorant that attached to the wall and said, “Air freshener. The unsung hero of the sex club.” This article evokes a funk. Not a sexual funk, which would be bad enough. Rather, it evokes the funk of unwashed feet, sweaty armpits and, I can barely bring myself to type this, dick cheese. Ugh. Since the folks of I CAN are, for the most part, repellent people (posters of wrestlers adorn the walls, the rest of the house decor is trailer home in Florida circa 1974, David removing his false teeth so he can suck on feet, and a cast of regulars that would have fit in well cast in Gummo) it feels okay to pretty much say I am glad they all found one another because ain’t too many people lining up for a foot gumming. It would be pretty condescending not to call them all gross just because I was keeping their myriad disabilities in mind, though I think the blind guy had it the easiest. I respect human dignity but I don’t get the feeling the members of the I CAN house often had human dignity in mind. Also, if you look too long at the picture of all the house denizens dressed in costumes, most of them as clowns, you will have to go to the hospital. Just looking out for you.
But even as distasteful as this article began, it got worse, discussing a girl who had to live in the I CAN house because her fucking whackaloon of a mother decided it was, you know, a really good idea to expose her kid to a home of unbridled and bizarre sexuality. The thirteen-year-old girl was never forced to have sex with the people in the house, but she was forced to masturbate daily and discuss it in detail. David was the worst, the girl said, and Violet and David ran up her mother’s credit cards. It was all utterly nasty and skeevy and manipulative and about as un-Forrest Gump as you can get. I swear to all that is holy, the picture of David deepthroating Violet’s foot will probably be the last thought in my head before I die. :twitch:
Moving on to a topic that is creepy in a wholly different manner, we have Citizen Keane: The Sordid Saga of the Weepy Waifs. You know those repellent paintings of kids with enormous, crying eyes? Maybe not — a lot of you reading here are pretty young, and they were passe when I was a kid. They were mainly popular from 1950-1970, but have made a comeback in certain ironic, hipster art circles. This article deals with the struggle between Walter Keane and his wife over who was the mastermind behind these wretched paintings. I had read a similar article at some point in my indiscriminate reading past, discussing these iconic but repellent paintings and the problems the Keanes’ divorce caused, but if this is new to you, this was a reasonably interesting take on pop culture, the concept of art ownership and how ego infects even the most humble and silly of art.
G.G. Goes to Heaven is Parfrey’s interview with GG Allin a few days before he overdosed epically on heroin. Oh, I found GG Allin as repellent yet hilariously interesting as everyone else, but as Parfrey says, he “was simply too much of a fuck-up to achieve mythic status.” But I disagree with Parfrey’s assessment that Allin was “nothing less than an Andy Kaufman-type stand up act.” I just never felt there was that much intelligence burning behind Allin’s burnout (though he was clearly not the semi-retarded hick many thought him to be, but there was no advanced theater behind his shtick).
The interview has questions and answers along these lines:
When are you finally going to kill yourself?
The biggest question that everyone keeps asking me is about the suicide thing. For me right now to say I’m going to commit suicide is just way too premature because there’s too many battles and it seems like there’s too many people who want me to do it now, so as long as I’ve got to battle and to fight, and as long as I got some enemies, I gotta keep going to fuck these people up. To end it now is what the government would want and what society would want, and as long as I can be that dagger in their back and as long as I can be the enemy of the people then I’ve go to stay alive.
So you weren’t anybody’s punk in jail?
Sigh… I can believe the latter but that first answer was just so pitiful. Of course, Allin, unknown by 98% of the American public at the height of his career, and that’s a generous estimate, was no threat to the government or the fabric of the country. His enemy list was mostly the people he’d puked on or flung shit at or stole drugs from but I sense Allin genuinely believed he was a threat, which means he lacked the self-awareness to be as subversive as an Andy Kaufman. But opinions vary, clearly. The interview also contains an affidavit from a woman Allin tortured and assaulted. It’s pretty sordid. Very much worth a read for a look at a redneck punkpuke phase in American music.
Riding the Downardian Nightmare was both excellent and a topic that I cannot go into here because there is no way for me to discuss James Shelby Downard with anything approaching brevity and this article is already way too long. I also feel like I have read this article, or at least most of it, as the intro to the book The Carnivals of Life and Death, but I am way too lazy to go get my copy down because I’m barely five feet tall and it’s on a case that requires a ladder and I sense my memory is pretty sound. But any article on Downard, the possibly non-existent purveyor of ideas of mystical topography, religious symbology and overwrought Masonic fears, is worth it. Totally worth it.
I am too exhausted to discuss Project Monarch: How the U.S. Creates Slaves of Satan by Fritz Springmeier. That’s not Springmeier’s fault. It’s because I am currently fielding e-mails from a woman who insists that she was made into a sex slave by men at Cornell University and forced to sexually service lots of famous names from Bush the Elder’s administration. Her story sounds not entirely unlike that of Cathy O’Brien, who is mentioned in this article, and I have no idea if she is having me on or if the Monarch Project really did make her a sex slave and there are startling commonalities between stories. I have a tiresome inability to tell people whom I fear may be damaged in some manner to go fuck off, and I’ve reached my tolerance level for this sort of thing at the moment. At any rate, if you know your conspiracy theory, there is likely to be little new in this article, though I will admit I was fascinated by the idea that the business of country music is linked closely to the Monarch Project.
I also lack the will to discuss How to Frame a Patriot by Barry Krusch, Linda Thompson’s War and Finding Our Way Out Of Oklahoma. But I am grouping them together because I think they are a very illuminating look at how the “militia” movement and its coverage in the press have changed in the last fifteen years. The anti-Communist, Libertarian, fringe movement’s focus has changed in some respects but at the same time, it still has a similar message and it’s worth a look at these articles to examine how the Patriots of two decades ago compare to the Tea Party of the now.
God, Christ, Satan or Con? Westerners Worship a Hindu Godman, Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment, Guns, Gold, Groceries, Guts ‘n’ Gritz, and SWAT in Theme Park Land are the only articles in this book that mean too little for me to discuss even briefly. It happens. In a book that covers this much ground, it’s surprising there were so few I had so little reaction to.
So, the upshot is that while some of the content is very dated by now, this is still a very entertaining, interesting, whacked, absorbing, disturbing, gross and at times deeply funny book. I say buy it and see which articles make you want to search the Internet for more information.