Image courtesy of Lydia Eccles
We have a simple rule around here when it comes to Kickstarter campaigns: We only support them if they involve Jerry Springer, so-called suicide cults, and underground Hub history that ought not be forgotten.
In this particular case, director Steve Onderick won our attention for the first time with his debut documentary, Who Is Vermin Supreme? An Outsider Odyssey. In the year since, his profile of Vermin, New England’s favorite perennial POTUS hopeful, led to a follow-up pursuit about something called the Church of Euthanasia, which we thought warranted some questions with the director …
DB: It appears that you stumbled onto the idea for this project while on your last. Can you explain how that happened? And is your plan to essentially profile every phase in the life of the great Vermin Supreme?
SO: Early on, in the beginning of the process of making Who Is Vermin Supreme? An Outsider Odyssey, I mentioned the project to a crazy punk rocker friend of mine, Joe Giwoyna. He got really excited and exclaimed, “Vermin Supreme?! From the Church of Euthanasia?!” I asked him what the hell he was talking about because I only knew about Vermin as a presidential candidate who promises a free pony to every American and engages in absurdist comedy in the context of intense encounters between protesters and police during political demonstrations. I looked it up online, and sure enough, there was Vermin in an odd corner of the internet, wearing a black veil and holding a penis shaped squirt gun, haranguing anti-abortion protesters as if he were some kind of satanic cult figure.
At the Rainbow Gathering in Tennessee I mentioned it to Vermin. He initially dodged the question, but eventually spilled the beans about the “suicide cult” he was involved in in Boston back in the 90s. Later on in the process of making the film, a friend of Vermin’s, Lydia Eccles, provided me with hours of footage of Vermin engaging in ludicrous, dark humor antics that, at the time at least, I didn’t fully understand: introducing passersby to a two-storey tall penis puppet outside of a sperm bank and sacrificing sperm in front of the building; telling pro-life Christian protesters that he was the Church of Euthanasia’s cigarette smoking clown; and holding up a white and black sign that said “Turn Off Your TV” on the Jerry Springer show.
DB: Tell us about this Church of Euthanasia, and why it’s worth a major documentary visit.
SO: According to its founder, computer programmer Chris Korda (formerly Provincetown cross-dresser Christine Korda), the Church of Euthanasia was a nonprofit educational foundation devoted to restoring balance between humans and the remaining non-human species on Earth through voluntary population reduction. It had one commandment: “Thou shalt not procreate,” and four pillars: suicide, abortion, cannibalism, and sodomy. It was inspired by a dream Christine Korda had in 1992 in which a being from another dimension told her that the earth’s ecosystem was failing and that the planet’s leaders denied this, and asked why so many humans believe these lies.
From another point of view, the Church of Euthanasia was an elaborate artistic experiment inspired by the Dada and Situationist traditions of overturning everyday habitual experience designed to provoke cognitive dissonance and critical thinking.
From still another point of view it was actually a dangerous suicide cult. And there actually is some evidence to support that claim. My job is to sort out all these conflicting perspectives.
One thing that can’t be denied is that the Church of Euthanasia was a landmark in Boston performance art and weird activism history. Unfortunately, aside from some pretty prominent media coverage at the time, much of which never made it onto the Internet in its original form, the story of the CoE is one that’s largely gone untold for almost two decades. That said, people remember it. They remember Christine Korda’s weird electronic music that feature lyrics like “cow, chicken, pig, human, what’s the difference?” They remember “Save the Planet, Kill Yourself” Bumper Stickers; some of them remember billboards that were modified to say “Save the Planet, Kill Yourself.” It’s worth noting that just as I’m starting to make this film, the Wikipedia page for the group is finally in jeopardy of being deleted. I’m trying to get a chronicle of this fascinating phenomenon together before it’s erased from established history altogether; if the movie doesn’t happen, a lot of slightly older folks in Boston may find themselves wondering whether they imagined the whole thing in the first place.
DB: What are some Boston landmarks, whether physical or historical in some other way, that appear to play a major role in this story?
SO: Several of the CoE’s most entertaining moments centered around counter-demonstrating against pro-life Christians who were protesting abortion in front of women’s health clinics. Some of the more rowdy pro-lifers would harass women on their way into the clinics, and a few of them who took things way too far engaged in terrorist attacks. In 94’, John Salvi shot and killed a receptionist at a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Brookline (and carried out a shooting at a second clinic in Brookline as well). Two years later the CoE was challenging right wing anti-abortion groups in front of the same clinic with signs that read “Eat A Queer Fetus for Jesus.” By 1997, the CoE was on the Jerry Springer Show opposite Neil Horsley, who had authored a webpage called The Nuremberg Files, which listed the names and address of abortion doctors and crossed their names out with a red line when they were assassinated. Mike Bray, who had been convicted on conspiracy charges in relation to the bombing of ten women’s health clinics and liberal advocacy offices was supposed to be on stage, too, but mysteriously ended up in the audience. You can see him in the old VHS recording of the show (which has never been re-released), sitting behind Jerry.
In October, 1997 the CoE attempted to stage a “fetus barbecue” at one of the largest pro-life events in the nation, the annual Walk for Life on Boston Common. Cardinal Law, who later retired because he was implicated in covering up sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, was in attendance, and the CoE showed up with signs that read “Pedophile Priests for Life.” A reporter on the scene who was photographing the CoE was strangled with his camera strap by an incensed Park Commissioner. The CoE was really testing the limits of free speech
They also created an elaborate fake protest of fetal trafficking (which wasn’t taking place) at a Boston sperm bank … in 1997. They went undercover and created a fake pro-life organization in order to draw in real pro-life Christians, put up posters around town saying that Courtney Love was going to be inseminated at the sperm bank on the day of the protest, showed up to find nuns praying with rosary beads as a bunch of teens waited around for Courtney Love, and then unveiled a two-storey tall penis puppet, which promptly ran through traffic and ejaculated pseudo-sperm (concocted by some guys from MIT) in front of the building.
DB: How far along are you, and how do you plan on getting this film made?
SO: So far, producer Maddy Weaver and I have completed preliminary interviews with the core members of the CoE. The interview we conducted with Church founder Chris Korda lasted over 12 hours and had to be spread out over three days. We’ll be running a Kickstarter campaign through the month of October while we’re on tour with Who Is Vermin Supreme? in order to raise $10,000 to really get this thing started. God willing, we’ll eventually raise the money we need to check in with various people who were involved who’ve by now been scattered across the globe, and to interview various climate scientists and cultural figures who can provide context for the political angle behind all the convoluted demonstration the CoE got up to.
DB: Any chance of you slipping into some kind of cult-like activity, satirical or otherwise, during the production of this project? How much of this story lives on today? And in what ways?
SO: We’d all like to believe that we’re independent individuals who are totally beyond the idea of being inducted into a cult, but really we’re influenced by the cultural milieus and scenes we inhabit all the time; it’s mostly a question of how far down any particular rabbit hole you allow yourself to go. That said, I’ve been known to temporarily find myself living with my documentary subjects in the past, and it hasn’t always gone well. I’m hoping to avoid that this time around.
The story lives on in those who participated in the CoE’s demonstrations, and in the minds of those who were shocked, annoyed, weirded-out, amused, and made to think by the CoE’s crazy antics. As convoluted and morally ambiguous as its methods were, the Church of Euthanasia was a voice in the wilderness talking about overpopulation and human impact on the ecosystem back in the 90s, phenomena that we’re only beginning to acknowledge and deal with as a society and a species today, and they’re an example of a group that managed to contribute to popularizing some very unpopular opinions about sexual norms, reproductive rights, and animal rights through creativity and bizarre manipulation of the media. There’s a lot that performance artists and activist can learn from their failures and triumphs.