I’d like to talk about the concept of the Joke Religion—something created by you, somebody you know, or somebody you know once-removed—that is utilized to ridicule traditional religion, some pop-culture thing thought to be banal, or both.
Half our online culture seems to be proudly a Joke Religion. A tongue-in-cheek sacredness and meaning is invested in the the cheap and tawdry. What author Philip K. Dick might have referred to as “the trash.”
The whole Pepe the Frog thing, and its connection (however revisionist and retroactively) to the “chaos god” Kek has been gone over quite a bit—as well as Discordianism and the Flying Spaghetti Monster—so I thought I’d touch base right now on a couple of newer ones.
For example, the shrine of 15,000 Jerry Maguire VHS tapes created by Everything Is Terrible. By investing a sort of fetishistic energy into both the Jerry Maguire movie and the “dead” (well…yeah, kinda dead) VHS format, a type of “religion” is created.
We may say: “Well, it’s a joke religion, to demonstrate the spiritual bankruptcy of the 1996 movie Jerry Maguire. And bonus: we get to once again show how having a religion *at all* is pathetic.”
This is not how the realm of the subconscious—the realm of Dream and all sorts of other shit—works. The subconscious takes shit literally. The subconscious can take movies literally. The subconscious, in theory, can take “joke religions” seriously.
And so if we look further in the future to Everything Is Terrible’s goal to produce an actual fucking pyramid of Jerry Maguire tapes in the Nevada desert (home of the nuke tests and possibly the actual fucking Babalon Working)…it’s just a joke, right? As EIT describes on their site:
Experiencing thousands of Jerrys finally reunited will forever destroy the viewers’ previous perception of culture, waste, and existence as a whole. The Jerrys are a beautiful thing and should be enjoyed by all.
Because, hey…it’s not like we can visualize a fucking feedback loop between L. Ron Hubbard, allegedly one of the participants of that Babalon Working in the desert, Scientology, and Tom-fucking-Cruise from Jerry Maguire, right?
I’m absolutely not trying to say that Everything Is Terrible has any other intention in mind than to make fun of Jerry Maguire (and, well…to sell merchandise). But when you create these “joke religions” don’t be surprised if shit gets kinda weird. That’s all I’m saying.
Author/philosopher Robert Anton Wilson dedicated a whole book on this subject. In Cosmic Trigger I, he writes about how he helped create a joke religion called Discordianism…and how it started becoming “real” on him:
The Discordian revelations seem to have pressed a magick button. New exposes of the Illuminati began to appear everywhere, in journals ranging from the extreme Right or the ultra-Left. Some of this was definitely not coming from us Discordians.
Another recentish “joke cult” I’ve come across is that of Lasagna Cat—a series of videos mocking the comic strip Garfield. The first wave of these videos hit YouTube in 2008, and consisted of live-action reenactments of the strips + extra material afterwards riffing off of it. The second wave arrived nine years later this February, the highlight being “philosophical” video over an hour long narrated by a George Plimpton-looking guy.
This video, called 07/27/1978 (the date of the comic strip in question) is probably one of the best pieces of original content on YouTube I have ever seen. It is not only fucking brilliant, but brilliantly acted in seemingly a one-take monologue by John Blyth Barrymore.
But essentially, as many commenters pointed out—it was just an elaborate “shitpost,” probably the best shitpost of all time. It’s ultimate aim was not that dissimilar to that of Everything Is Terrible—to make fun of a piece of pop-culture found to be banal and commercial.
I would say that 07/27/1978 is so good you could almost transcend all that and enjoy it as a piece of literary criticism or a metaphysical study—but let’s face it, the intention of the video was also to make fun of both of these types of intellectual pursuits. In fact, there are parts of 07/27/1978 that have a distinctly Philip K. Dick vibe.
But the comments on the video—which were overwhelmingly positive—are very revealing:
This is how Buddha reached enlightenment
This is the best cult I’ve joined so far.
This is how cults are created.
This man is a prophet.
I can ‘t tell if this is the ultimate redpill or the ultimate shitpost
Is it weird that this made more sense to me than the entirety of both the New and Old Testaments combined?
and, the best comment of all:
I’ve been through so many layers of irony in my life that I can no longer tell if this is real or not.
And so Lasagna Cat, in its way, is sort of a religion…or a cult. It is a way of life. It brings people to a liminal space between the known and the unknown. It puts the initiate into an altered state where the nature of reality is questioned.
And it is a shitpost.
My point is…there is a gravity to it. Just because you create the Joke Religion…don’t be surprised if it, in the words of Wilson, presses “a magick button.”
Now, there is a whole separate issue, brought up in this post about the Jerry Maguire pyramid in Guernica, about being “hipper than thou” and ironically “worshipping” what you deem to be trash.
The point is: you really need to have the free time and relative freedom in your life to be able to sit back and chuckle at things you think you are too good for and shitpost on it. If you are building an actual pyramid in the desert of Jerry Maguire tapes, you might actually have hit the “Lotto” of Life—you have so much goddamn free time on your hands, that this seems like a worthwhile thing to do.
But outside of that, we should keep in mind Dick’s commentary on finding the “treasure” in the “trash”:
There was a beauty in the trash of the alleys which I had never noticed before; my vision seemed sharpened, rather than impaired. As I walked along it seemed to me that the flattened beer cans and papers and weeds and junk mail had been arranged by the wind into patterns; these patterns, when I scrutinized them, lay distributed so as to comprise a visual language.
But as we’ve seen in the 07/27/1978 video: that way lies not only madness, but a reason to ridicule.
Unless—in a strategic, time-restricted manner—you decide to take it all literally as a means of personal revelation and empowerment.
My thesis is: this is currently being done all the time. By experts.