Thursday, December 03, 2009

Pray TV

Frances Fitzgerald's 1990 New Yorker article on Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker is a fascinating look at an ugly time. Fitzgerald is pointed in describing the follies of the 1980s televangelists in general and in particular those of the Bakkers, whose theology was thin but whose television appeal was limitless. They convinced viewers to send in money for their ministries, then skimmed off healthy portions of the take for their crazily lavish lifestyle. There's also lots of interesting backstory about the mainstreaming of Pentacostalism, and the Bakkers' not altogether comfortable place in that tradition.

Fitzgerald's tour of the Bakkers' South Carolina theme park, Heritage USA, is hilarious and devastating ("In Billy Graham's reconstructed family house, there was no sign of Billy Graham"). Even better is a passage describing how the Bakkers were so very much a product of their time:
They personified the most characteristic excesses of the 1980s -- the greed, the love of glitz, and the shamelessness -- which in their case was so pure as to almost amount to a kind of innocence. To this list could be added narcissism, the characteristic disease of the age. The Bakkers, like many people on Wall Street and in Washington, celebrated freedom from the punishing old laws and preached faith in miracles.

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