February 25th, 2006

J.R. "Bob" Dobbs

Maybe Freaking the Mundanes Is Only Fun when the Mundanes Don't Really Freak?

I remember when I was a very young science fiction fan, and well into the years when I was a young adult SCAdian and Discordian, one of the great pleasures of my life was doing harmless but surreal and unpredictable things in public, for the sheer entertainment value of knowing that the Normal People around me were completely baffled by what they were seeing. We called this "freaking the mundanes," and there's an old and much-loved SCA filksong by the title to the tune of "Waltzing Matilda." But somewhere along the way, I lost my taste for gratuitously freaking the mundanes. Maybe I just got old. Or maybe I sensed something.

Hardly anybody in America has done more to Freak the Mundanes than Rachel "Reverend Magdalen" Bevilacqua. In 1998, with the cult parody The Church of the Genius scheduled to shut down after their intentionally bogus prophesy of the end of the world on July 5th, 1998 (and with the only remaining church founder Doug "Ivan Stang" Smith completely burned out on the joke), she and her then-new boyfriend (and current husband) moved to Dallas to work for Stang for free until he got his energy back. They literally made a career out of doing performance art for donations for a couple of years, most notably staging annual re-enactments of the X-Day "end of the world" festival up at Brushwood Folklore Center in western New York every July 5th since 1998. Basically, their own shtick has been that her husband claims to be one of the "Thousand False Jesii" from the Subgenius version of the prophesy of the End Times, and she his pornographic false Mary Magdalen.

She just had her kid taken away from her.

She's set up a blog to document the case on BlogSpot, and there's a more detailed account posted (in eye-searing white on black) on the Church's web site, and Stang is covering it on his blog as well, but it goes something like this. Before she met Jesus, she was married to some guy near Albany, and had a kid with him; when they divorced back in 1997, the judge in Albany gave them joint custody, and the kid has shuttled back and forth between Albany and wherever she's been living since then as the inevitable shuttlecock in the current traditional American game of child-of-divorce badminton. Her ex has been trying hard to get sole custody. His two main pieces of ammunition are two things that she did that really, really ticked off the judge. The first, which she's trying to gloss over, is that she tried to transfer responsibility for overseeing the child custody arrangements, without his permission, from him to a court in Austin. She thought she could get away with this because the kid's legal residence had been in Austin for nine years at that point. However, with the joint parent still living in Albany, this was probably a pretty dumb move, because what Shakespeare was wrong about is that no, what Hell really hath no fury like is a judge who thinks you're in contempt of his authority. And it is in this context, with the added (also glossed over) complication that the judge had already issued an order that the kid was to have absolutely no exposure to the Church of the Subgenius (a common court order in cases where one of the two divorcing parents is of a minority religion; alas, there's substantial insufficiently challenged precedent), that her ex brought out the big guns: video and photographs of one of her and her husbands' performances at an X-Day.

The judge has gone completely ballistic over this, and has unsurprisingly concluded that a woman who engages in public pornographic blasphemous performance art and who is openly contemptuous of the presiding judge's authority is by his standards by definition a bad parent, and unlikely to obey any further orders from the judge. He's awarded sole custody to the kid's dad, and filed a restraining order forbidding her from having any contact with her son because he agrees with the ex that she's a parental kidnapping and flight risk. (She doesn't say, by the way, that she disobeyed the judge's nearly-impossible earlier order that the kid not have been exposed to the Church of the Subgenius. But in this context, and given the length she has written about the case, I find it interesting that she has not said yet that she obeyed it.)

But, well, okay, fine. There are no perfect child custody cases, I learned that the hard way back when I was doing Pagan Rights volunteer work. One of the reasons why so many contrary precedents have piled up against Wiccans and Neopagans is that the general Neopagan and Wiccan community refuse to get involved in any custody case unless the Pagan or Wiccan parent in the dispute is a living candidate for sainthood. So let's take her word for it, briefly, that she's right that this isn't about contempt of court, this is about the judge ruling that a minority "religion" that he considers blasphemous and appearing in public in sexually-themed performance art is sufficient in and of itself to prove that you're an unfit parent. Isn't this what she wanted? Isn't this what we all wanted? She spent years of her life, of her professional life, trying to offend Christians. Is she entitled to feel betrayed that at least one of them, so far, has actually been offended? Maybe this is why I lost my taste for freaking the mundanes; I realized in time just what a bad idea having freaked mundanes around me might some day be.

(P.S. I stuffed this column onto the spike Thursday evening. At the time you're seeing this, thanks to the scheduled queuing feature in Semagic, I'm presumably Away From Keyboard, at my own erotically-themed semi-public event -- one that's intentionally as mundane-free as we can make it.)

(P.P.S. Regardless of whether she screwed this up or not, if you want to support her roughly $3k/day in legal fees trying to get the court orders overturned on church and state grounds, you can PayPal a non-tax-deductible donation to magdalen@paypal.com.)