(YOU ARE HERE)
|Learn ALL ABOUT the Kooks Museum, why it exists and how to begin your career in innovative, interdisciplinary fields such as crackpotology and kookology or in archaic, obsolete fields such as phrenology, electro-alchemy and psychoosmology.|
|Schizophrenic Wing||Stand terrified at the feet of the "Worldwide Computer God Frankenstein Controls" revealed by Francis E. Dec, Esquire, FOR YOUR ONLY HOPE FOR A FUTURE!|
|Conspiracy Corridor||Situated next door to the Hall of Hate, only enter Conspiracy Corridor with the utmost caution, for you may never return.|
|Hall of Hate||Whom do you hate: Jews? Communists? White Males? Satan? Bill Gates? Here is your own special place.|
|Library of Questionable Scholarship||Defy gravity! Feel perpetual motion! See UFOs emerge from within the Hollow Earth! Visit MIT's Archive of Useless Research!|
|Gallery of the Gods||Visit all the important deities, each displayed in a lifelike diorama setting.|
|Solution to the World Problem Exhibit||Every problem on earth SOLVED by utilizing one simple idea, which has been tragically overlooked by all world leaders, UNTIL NOW.|
The word "kook" was coined by the beatniks, as a pared-down version of "cuckoo," as in "going cuckoo." A kook is a person stigmatized by virtue of outlandish, extreme or socially unacceptable beliefs that underpin their entire existence. Kooks usually don't keep their beliefs to themselves; they either air them constantly or create lasting monuments to them.Note on the origin of the word "kook": a visitor to this museum (a surfer of the non-web variety) maintains that "kook" is of Hawaiian origin, and that the beatniks got it from the surfing culture:
Though I have great affection for kooks, the term is usually used by others on a pejorative basis; the word is often invoked but rarely aimed at oneself. Granted, there are people, self-styled or corporate-styled bohemians, who by virtue of their desire to belong to a particular in-crowd, call themselves kooks as easily as saying, "I'm weird" or "I'm crazy." I am not concerned here with a trendy or self-conscious usage of the term.
Being assigned kook status is inherently a matter of perspective, relative to history and culture. A kook of the 19th century might become a scientific hero in the 20th. Take the example of geologist Alfred Wegener (1880-1930), who hypothesized continental drift. In his day, Wegener's theory was dismissed as a "fairy tale." More recently he is honored for originating the theory of plate tectonics. More frequently, a person presumed to be a genius in a previous century is regarded a kook in today's. In the 19th century, phrenologists were as respectable as psychiatrists are today.
Similarly, the beliefs and mores of one culture are mocked as kooky or even sinister by another. On a large scale, the projection of these attitudes can mobilize millions into warfare or cause governments to deploy military assaults against "cults."
What distinguishes "kook" from other dismissive and stigmatizing terms? The various words denoting insanity -- "crazy," "psychotic," "schizophrenic," etc. -- are not, for my purposes, interchangeable with "kook." An obsessed murderer may be considered psychopathic or crazy, but more often than not these words categorize action, not belief. The obsessed serial killer is not necessarily a kook.
We must also distinguish kooks from quacks, frauds and hoaxers, for kooks are invariably sincere. Their main intent is not to deceive or defraud; to the contrary, they are trying to impart an essential truth. A kook's thoughts rarely turn to profit; some squander personal fortunes to investigate or spread The Word. A New Age personality who channels a wise entity from the Pleiades is not a kook if his channeled voice is designed to attract funds.
Finally, it is important to differentiate a kook from an eccentric. An eccentric is defined as someone with an unorthodox lifestyle, which may or may not include unorthodox beliefs. Is a hermit a kook? Can we call a scatological fetishist a kook? Not necessarily, especially if they haven't codified their own preferences as an eternal truth.
It's fairly well-known in the older segment of the surfing community that "kook" is Hawaiian in origin (orig. spelling "kukai" (?)). It means "shit" (n.); hence the derogatory connotations. California surfers brought the term back from the Islands in the 30's and 40's. Example: At San Onofre (along with Malibu, one of the original surf spots in So. Cal.), there was a small canyon above the surfing beach that was named "Kukai Canyon." It was where everyone went to defecate in those pre-outhouse days. The surfers used the term "kook" to refer to newbie surfers lacking any surfing skill whatsoever. Since there was some cultural interaction between the Beats and the surfers in the 50's (e.g. the film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World for a fictional portrayal), this would explain the transition of the term to your working definition.However, it's possible that "kook as crackpot" and "kook as inexperienced surfer" are two entirely separate and independent uses of the word. I'd be interested to find out if the two are indeed related.
The point of all this excess is neither to debunk nor to proselytize. Rather, my intent is to document and study the vast cornucopia of forgotten, discredited and extreme ideas, with all due consideration to social and cultural context.
Nor do I think all ideas are equally valid. Rather, I try to be both open-minded to and skeptical of them. This precarious balancing act is a lot easier if you've read hundreds of bizarre documents over the course of more than ten years, like I have.
All material © 1999, Donna Kossy