Adam Parfrey's Feral House Was the Forerunner to Reddit and 4chan
Parfrey is dead at 61.
Image: (Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Adam Parfrey, the writer, publisher, and journalist who founded Amok Books and Feral House publishers is dead at the age of 61. Feral House announced his death on Facebook, saying that he died on May 10, but the details are unknown.
Since the mid 1980s—when he founded Amok Books—Parfrey had published books aimed at pointing out hypocrisies and inconsistencies in Western Civilization. He published the stories of subcultures considered so vile by the mainstream no other journalist dared touched them. From cannibalism, to Satanism, to a secret project to clone Jesus, there was no topic Parfrey and his writers wouldn’t tackle. He pushed free speech to its limits and never apologized.
Feral House and Amok Books were dispensers of forbidden knowledge that presaged 4chan and Reddit. Back then, learning about a strange, offensive, grotesque, or hateful subculture, in its own words, wasn’t as easy as turning on the computer and finding its niche presence online.
They weren’t all good ideas, in fact, many of them were bad. Some of them were dangerous—one of the first pieces Amok Books published was Nazi Josef Goebbels’s fictionalized autobiography Michael—but Parfrey and company published it anyway and let their readers decide whether it was worth reading. If you wanted to know what a white supremacist actually thought, not just what the news said they thought, you had to turn to places like Feral House and writers like Parfrey.
It was a different time and sunlight was often the best disinfectant for bad ideas. Apocalypse Culture II had a lengthy essay written by the Aryan Nations that analyzed the lyrics of Don Mclean's American Pie through a Nazi lens. It exposed white supremacists for what they are, then and now—ridiculous, intellectually bankrupt, racists.
Without Parfrey and Feral House, we don’t get Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, the X-Files, or the upcoming television series about the sex magickian who helped send America to space. Chris Carter farmed the pages of Feral House books for the adventures of Mulder and Scully. Ed Wood is based on a book Parfrey Published.
At the age of 16, I wandered into a Barnes and Nobles and found a copy of Apocalypse Culture II in the store’s social science section. I had heard of the book, seen references to it in other strange tomes, but had never seen a copy. It was from that book I first learned about Real Dolls—almost a decade before Ryan Gosling dated one—met Charles Manson’s drug dealer, read an interview with a real-life necrophile, and read a parable written by unabomber Ted Kaczynski.
For a goofy suburban kid, Apocalypse Culture II and its predecessor were a revelation. This was the first book I had ever seen that was actually censored—paintings by Stu Mead and Blalla W. Hallmann were obscured—the first time I read Star Trek slash fiction, and the first time I learned about Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey. It was the first time the world seemed bigger than the tall security fences and paved asphalt of the strip-mall culture I was raised in.
For better and worse, Parfrey’s spirit lives on in place on 4chan and Reddit—at least the sections where the far right hasn’t taken over—where people still trade in strange ideas and free thinking isn’t synonymous with historical revision and Nazi sympathies.