The Cacophony Society

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Pranksters, The History of Pranks

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The Society is a loosely structured network of individuals, banded together in “the pursuit of experiences beyond the mainstream.” Particularly noteworthy among said experiences are Cacophony’s costumed rampages in the guise of clowns, Santas, dogs, biohazard teams, and post-apocalyptic shoppers, as well pranks and hoaxes including flyers announcing public pigeon roasts, UFO landings, and book-burnings.

Cacophonists have also tinkered with public spaces and property in a number of ways including gluing toasters to walls, modifying billboards, offering plaster casts to random passers-by, chalking imaginary crime scenes on sidewalks, and stocking retail shelves with altered consumer goods (e.g, cement-filled teddy bears, dildo-shaped dog chews, etc.)

Operating under the slogan, “You may already be a member,” The Society has reported activities by members in over 50 cities in several countries, but perhaps its greatest surge of activity occurred during the 1990s in West Coast cities including San Francisco (where the Society was founded by former members of the similarly aligned Suicide Club), Los Angeles (one of the most active and controversial lodges), and Portland (where novelist Chuck Paluhniuk acknowledges drawing inspiration from the Society for Project Mayhem in his novel Fight Club).

The name “Cacophony” embodies the group’s shared love of cultural noise: belief systems, aesthetics, and ways of living, striking a note of discord against prevailing harmonies. Along with the creation of pranks, hoaxes, and public spectacles, Society members celebrate the outsider ideal via the unsanctioned exploration of storm drains, abandoned buildings, “field trips” to funeral homes, cult headquarters, and other tabooed locales, as well as games of croquet, bingo, picnics, and treasure hunts in junkyards, cemeteries, and filthy back alleys.

The contradictory nature of an organized group dedicated to anarchic individualism as well as the relentlessly inventive nature of certain members has turned the Society into a natural springboard for other creative endeavors. Best known among these may be Nevada’s annual Burning Man Festival, founded in part by Suicide Club alumnus John Law and proto-Cacophonist Michael Michel.

Cacophony’s annual Santa Rampage (AKA SantaCon, Santarchy), founded in SF in 1994 has likewise transmogrified into a more-or-less freestanding entity. Cacophonists, both in an out of Cacophony hats, have also been essential participants in the Church of the SubGenius, SF’s public art and performance events such as Defenestration and the Saint Stupid’s Day Parade, apocalyptic machine art cabals such as Survival Research Labs, Seemen, The Madagascar Institute, and Woodpussy, the urban explorations of Dark Passage and Ars Subterranea, the absurdist spectacles of Circus Redickulous and The Art of Bleeding, and in the less rigidly organized worlds of Art Cars and the forbidden yet always enticing world of clown (AKA “Klown”) sexuality.

© Rev. Al