PAUL KRASSNER published The Realist (1958-present), which became notorious in the sixties as ‘the most satirical and irreverent journal to appear in America since the days of H.L. Mencken.’ (Oui magazine) Since then he has appeared hundreds of times on television, radio, college campuses and comedy clubs across America, published a score of books, and raised a daughter. Paul Krassner now luxuriates in the Southern California desert. Interview by V.Vale.
V: Paul, you’ve been on the planet for a spell now. Wouldn’t you agree that our media universe has grown exponentially since you were a child? The religion of this country is advertising–everything, all of the news, all the commercial media and slick magazines and newspapers, it’s all solidly advertising– if not for a product, then for an attitude or a way of life and lifestyle.
PK: Yeah, like when you see somebody who’s a guest on a talk show, you get surprised when they’re just there and they don’t have a new TV series, or are not trying to sell a book or movie, because you get so used to the promotional conveyer belt: ‘Okay, next! Here’s what I’ve done for a little bit of notoriety.’
We’re the product, the consumers are the real product that are sold to the advertisers by the networks. There’s going to be a time when babies are born and will have the drops put in their eyes, they’ll be slapped on the ass, and will have a barcode put on the back of their neck, so when they sell us to the advertisers–this can happen at any supermarket–they just scan our barcode.
V: Then they can charge your credit card and you don’t even have to carry one anymore. They’ll verify who you are by an iris scan or fingerprint and go, ‘Your credit checks out, you got it!’
PK: I’m glad I’ve lived to see the changes that the culture has gone through, because kids now are going to think, ‘You mean people didn’t always have to take off their shoes when they went to the airport?’ Things like that, they’re going to take for granted because it’s just the world they’ve been born into. We’ve seen the ugly head of fascism snarling around, but with icing on it to cover the bitterness underneath. Just like the ‘Patriot Act’–that sounds pretty good, but it’s the icing on a fascist-state-in-the-making. The ultimate prank.
V: Cover everything fascist with colorful surface icing, while broadcasting soothing soundbites–
PK: And at the same time they keep prattling on endlessly about ‘freedom,’ especially in other countries. Meanwhile, what’s going on in this country is genuinely frightening: a man who wrote a book about Bush (that Bush didn’t like) suddenly found himself on the ‘No Fly’ list, and it’s extremely difficult to get off that list!
Just recently Osama bin Laden plugged a book by Bill Blum, Rogue State, and suddenly its sales shot way up. Bill Blum is an old lefty, really a truth seeker and sharer, and kind of an uncompromising radical, so instead of his usual small audience–a circle of friends who knew his work and respected him for it–his book is suddenly selling thousands of copies, and the publisher wasn’t prepared for this.
Bill has been invited on a lot of TV shows, and he’s exhausted, but he knows he’s reaching millions of people that would otherwise never have been reached, just because of this freak plug that Osama gave him. So I’m not sending my next book to Oprah Winfrey, I’m sending it to Osama Bin Laden–it gets much better results, and he doesn’t put anyone on his video excursions just to insult you and call you a liar!
Now the one thing Bill Blum said was, ‘I only hope that they don’t put me on the ŒNo Fly’ list.’ He said this with seriousness, because, as I said, it’s already been done to another writer. So for the Bush team to keep yapping about freedom is one of the most insidious pranks of all!
V: I couldn’t agree more. So the Bush team’s pranks have to be combated by humor and surreal imagery. You yourself have given images to the world that are purely surreal, but the power comes from them being accepted as reality–I’m referring to the ‘LBJ fucking JFK’s neck wound’ story (in the Realist) which allegedly took place on Air Force One right after the Kennedy assassination.
PK: That image came from Marvin Garson, who was the editor of Good Times in San Francisco. After I published that in the Realist I gave him credit for it, and he said I shouldn’t have done that because he was scared.
Something like that happened to me another time. In the Realist I published a manuscript from the rock critic R. Meltzer on ‘I was Charles Manson’s bunk mate at summer camp.’ Manson got a copy and was in court holding up that issue of the Realist and muttering to his lawyer, ‘I was only at Boys’ Town for two weeks, and I never met this guy.’ It turned out the story had been totally made up–it was satire, and Meltzer had deliberately not put his name on it, but I thought he had just forgotten to, so I put it in. Then Meltzer called me: ‘Why did you put my byline on it?! The Manson people are going to get me now!’ So anyway there’s no longer a chilling effect, there’s a frozen-food effect!
V: A deep freeze. The Realist printed a number of shocking images, such as a photo of the plaster-caster models of Jimi Hendrix’s penis next to his bandmates’ organs. Images like that are kind of surreal. . .
PK: Do you remember the Disneyland Memorial Orgy? After Walt Disney died in December 1966, I realized that these animated characters were in a suspended state of animation and were mourning. I just pictured at the funeral that Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and all of the gang would be there–and it’s not true, by the way, that Walt Disney was frozen when he died–
V: No? I always thought it was true.
PK: No, cryogenics for Disney was an urban myth. You can check it at snopes.com, and I researched it. Anyway, I envisioned that the Seven Dwarves would be pallbearers and that Goofy would deliver the eulogy. Then I realized that these Disney characters were innocent, delightful creatures whose sexuality had been repressed since the 1930s . . .
It seemed like a good idea to release these inhibitions which had been repressed for all those decades. So I assigned Wally Wood, an artist for Mad magazine, to do a center-spread for the Realist that would show all of Disney’s characters suddenly becoming un-repressed. Time magazine had just appeared with a cover story, ‘God Is Dead,’ and Disney was their God and creator. So Wally gave me a magnificent montage of Goofy fucking Minnie Mouse on a cash register, Dumbo the elephant flying and shitting on Donald Duck, who was infuriated, and Tinkerbell doing a striptease for Jiminy Cricket while Pinocchio’s nose gets longer. I think he did a total of sixty-four characters, and his drawing was so popular that we made it into a poster.
The Disney people certainly considered suing me, but they didn’t–they never told me to Cease and Desist. Since then, the statute of limitations has lifted. I recently published a new edition of that drawing which is digitally colored. It can be seen on my website: www.paulkrassner.com. But it was a prank because people had one expectation of Disney characters, and then suddenly they were confronted with something else–like a curtain had been pulled.
In a way, Disney did a prank by having his creatures walk around without pants! He was their Intelligent Designer. I think the concept of ‘intelligent design’ that’s going around is another incredible prank. Because when people try to visualize that–I think that’s why Jesus is so popular, because people can visualize him. The concept of God is inconceivable, but here at least is ‘that friendly guy with a beard and a halo!’
V: Yes, and a white robe.
PK: And he’s always on a cross–that’s his job, but they let him off for lunch! But then every day he goes back to the job: ‘Okay fellas, I’m ready. And what’s for lunch today?’ Because they have a caterer, like on a movie set. But we do have Mel Gibson to be grateful to . . . for finally making Jesus more popular than the Beatles!
V: Is there really some revival of interest in religion and Jesus and all that?
PK: Well, people are scared. Christian churches are getting ‘hip’–first they started doing gospel and jazz, and now they have hip-hop in churches. It’s all a prank, ‘Let them think religion’s a lot of fun. Then we’ll tell them how they’ll burn in Hell if they don’t . . .’ It’s all a big magician’s trick of diversion: you divert their attention. That’s what the national purpose is: diverting our attention…