Monday, November 15, 2010

The argument for Jim and Tammy Faye...

The Following blog was inspired by a recent (re)viewing of the brilliant Documentary "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" via the ondemand feature on my cable box.

You don't have to be dowdy to be a Christian.

Tammy Faye Bakker

Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker had a televangelism empire (entitled PTL or "Praise the Lord") from 1974-1988. A show and a theme park (well it took four years to get the theme park started), and each supported the other in a marketing coup like no other.

Heritage USA, their theme park, was the third largest in the country after the Disney ones (yes that's right, Six Flags can eat it). Their Broadcast network PTL was running 24 hours a day.

All of this was religious, so it was tax-exempt. Heritage USA, the theme park, became the main reason to raise funds, but also a convenient way to hide massive amounts of money (or were they really that massive now that we have all our corporate scandals where people took so much more and got away with it, actually through those eyes 3 million dollars is so sadly, paltry...)

Now you may notice by my rationalizing away Jim and Tammy's big old steal (and that's what it was) that this entry may be slanted a bit positively towards the Bakkers...and well, we'll get to that, but first a bit of background for those who forgot. Jim and Tammy Faye had the show, which they had broadcast via satellite....they in the words of Tammy Faye kept "adding station after station" to their line up. They then hired Roe Messner (who also got to keep his earnings as contractor for the whole entire theme park tax free, because he was building a religious facility) to start this theme park. Well that's when the requests to give, give, give became more frequent.

And the funds came pouring in. And with it, they built and built. The theme park was popular, a Christian place to vacation. Thus with a real tangible product to sell, well they could bum more than just 5 dollars off some lonely old lady to their "ministry" they could now promise an "lifetime partnership/1100 club" for 1100 smackers that offered 3 nights stay in a luxury hotel per year for a lifetim. Well, for people who loved this theme park, it made sense. The contributions built the hotel. But then they were taking more contributions than necessary than it took to build the hotel (which was never fully completed)....Here it stands today.

Now some of this excess money went to pay Jessica Hahn $265,000 to keep quiet about her sexual affair with Jim and his friends (an interesting fact, Jim didn't have the cash money sitting around, he had to borrow it from Roe Messner, which lets us know the stockpiling of money from members didn't happen until right before the end). She probably would have taken that money, but Charles Shepard, a reporter with the _Charlotte Observer_, wouldn't quit trying to dig up the truth. His newspaper won a Pulitzer and he was given Harvard's Nieman Fellowship for journalists in the midst of their career. Thankfully, Jessica Hahn had Hugh Hefner, a long time supporter of women in need of that extra little scholarship (in exchange for some photo and video essays), to pay her money for valiantly speaking up for justice.

(Yale, Harvard, the Sundance Filmmakers lab...well none of them are as kind and supportive to their alumnus as Hefner, he just gives and's Ms. Hahn's second essay after a new nose and dental work and probably some other work too)

Well, all this came together as a perfect storm that threatened to blow over even the kings castle water slide

And Jerry Falwell became the rain cloud...

Jerry Falwell came to Jim Bakker, told him that Jessica Hahn was about to get leaked to the press, and agreed to help him. Jim just had to step away from his empire and Jerry would take it over and then give it back to him (now this is the Bakker's rendition of events, FYI). Well Jerry got there, worked with Jim and then proceeded to lambast him on air to raise money (most notably promising Bakker a generous stipend of salary and expenses and asked him to write . Well, people didn't really like all the negativity and shame and stopped visiting the park.

Here's where Jerry and PTL explain it all (and gets screamed at from the audience around the 7 minute mark).

Jerry begged viewers for way more money at one time than Bakker ever did to keep the park open- and got it (apparently legitimate park expenses, not just scandals, require money). However, Jim Bakker was in jail and fundi TV fun was out of fashion. The whole PTL world soon came crashing down. Heritage USA now sits abandoned. Ms. Hahn fared better, she had two children with co-creator of _Married.... with Children_ and probably lives in Sherman Oaks.

Jim and Tammy Faye were the laughing stock of the country. But in the end, was their demise such a good thing? Jim and Tammy Faye took advantage of an emerging market, people looking for a product which is religious guidance and chaos to fill empty time. Jim and Tammy provided it, their show had inspirational crap, long-winded off the cuff monologues about personal triumph and difficulty, and music. Of course, Tammy sang, sang, sang but so did other musicians, most notably Bebe and Cece Winans, who were on PTL for five years.

When Jim and Tammy Faye left in shame, sham televangelists were never quite what they were again. Thus instead of just preaching and singing and filling up space with empty positive Jesus talk, we now have serious religious conservatives doing more of what Jerry Falwell and his cronies were already doing, which was getting Christians politically galvanized. All they had to do was turn on the TV or the radio. And that 1100 dollars that Jim asked for to pay for miniature golf and roller skating facilities (and pay off Jessica Hahn and hide in secret accounts)..well, now no one is asking you for your money, because well, they've already taken it from you. Because, according to this Ny Times column from Kristof
1% percent of the population now owns this country. Now you can't afford to leave the house, much less be scammed at Heritage USA. Yes that's right, new legitimate people helped keep Americans away from idling giving money away for half-sham/half-legit theme parks run by materialistic sham artists. Instead these same Americans are now "informed" of what is happening in this country by people who are not looking to get rich (though many of them got coincidentally richer than Tammy and Jim ever did, because they are on programs with paid advertising) and then they go and use that "information" to be politically galvanized. For after all, Jerry Falwell, who was always political (starting the Moral Majority in 1979) made sure that every person who enjoyed Jim and Tammy's more accepting style was made aware how terrible they were. And if their real sins were not enough, Falwell decided to accuse Jim of being a homosexual, which also allowed Falwell to spread homophobia (one of his favorite past times). Which of course, is always used for political purposes. Not long after the demise of PTL, the 13.5 million people who once watched Tammy and Jim were now given more people who were as angry and political as Falwell to watch.
In 1993, the GOP took over the House of Representatives for the first time since 1949. And then our conservatives spent millions of our tax dollars investigating every which way and how our sex lovin' president did it with some tramp princess from Beverly Hills. Then they went to work deregulating and law changin' until well, just read Kristof's column. Now obviously Jim and Tammy weren't giving a forum to those explaining why Reaganomics didn't work. But they did have an open stage that said Jesus loved gay men and black recovering drug addicts as much as he loved white conservatives. And that, I truly believe, is what Falwell hated.

Now I have been stammering on a bit inarticulately about this topic, which has only recently re-engaged my interest. But, the Christian documentarian outraged by years of televangelism had this to say about Jim Bakker (quote taken from the following

Antony Thomas, the director of a revelatory documentary, Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done (1988). Thomas' movie is a portrait of the right-wing fundamentalist movement from the perspective of a horrified Christian—a man appalled by the use of his cherished gospels to advance what seemed an antithetical message of intolerance and materialism and greed. In the film, Thomas cast a sardonic eye on the high-pressure sell tactics of the Bakkers' PTL network and their Heritage, U.S.A., theme park, but his assessment of the couple was ultimately more sympathetic. He told me in 1988:

Bakker's personality means something to me in a way that Falwell's doesn't. Falwell is an up and down brute, with no nuance except an ability to appear like everyone's favorite uncle when the cameras are rolling and a sort of SS Oberfuhrerwhen they're not. Have you ever seen him candid? A very frightening man—a bully, a thug. Bakker's message to his people was the opposite. It was, "I hate religiosity. Prostitutes, sinners, those were the people that Christ lived with and we must learn from them." It was a soft, accommodating message, quite different from the tub-thumping fundamentalists'. That fascinated me, as well as the warmth that flowed through this blue-collar audience for these people. Tammy made a speech: "I said to God, 'People accuse me of being a Jezebel with makeup,' and God said to me, 'Tammy, I want you to be pretty.' " They could touch buttons that nobody else could. How much of it was instinctive and how much of it was calculated I don't know.

Well singlehandedly the loss of Jim and Tammy on the airwaves did not end up in causing the change in this country, but what I lament is that they served directly the Christian Right and instead of serving up hate, in the midst of the constant selling, they served up a little love.

Now after looking at Jim and Tammy's extravagances and their thieving, honestly I was not that offended or horrified. Basically, Jim and Tammy got caught up in the power of their ministry and they liked stuff. Especially Tammy, Tammy loved stuff. And they had lots of what is in reality cheap tacky stuff. When it came to dollars in the end out of 159-180 million, they stole 3.4 million, now most 100 million dollar corporate buyouts and packages would allow payouts that big for around 30 crooked televangelists. They had a big house somewhere in the Charlotte area that they added onto six times with ridiculous features like a huge closet for Tammy and then moved into an upscale home in Palm Springs once their world started to come tumbling down, some argue there were other homes as well, and I don't doubt it. But again, I argue their materialism pales next to what is the norm today. So clearly taking down Jim and Tammy did very little to stop people's love of materialism. One of the ubiquitous images was the news media photographing them next to a black 1960s Rolls Royce with Tammy in a Pink Mumu. Today, thanks largely to the GOP, mortgage brokers and stock market players took people's whole life savings and unlike Jim and Tammy, GOT AWAY with it and KEPT way more money. In fact, the uber-materialism of today would make Jim and Tammy's big home in modest Charlotte look like nothing. Now everyone's appetite for materialism has far outphased their ability to keep up, most couture outfits on "Sex and the City" would pay for 10 of Tammy Faye's extravagant Nipon/Halston knockoffs. Tammy and Jim were greedy, but they weren't all that sophisticated. It's hard to get in the leagues of spending real money if you're a national joke to a person with almost any modicum of culture and education.

Thus the lifestyle that Nancy Reagan, Betsy Bloomingdale and Ivana Trump were living, with art and international travel and apartments/homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Beverly Hills and everywhere else a condo costs more than a mansion in Charlotte, well Jim and Tammy weren't in those circles. Now they were a mess, so busy selling and stealing that apparently their daughter Tammy Sue went galavanting around Heritage USA using drugs and flirting/screwing the cutest men of the 2500 people Heritage USA employed, but she when speeding around Heritage USA she apparently was in a Mazda RX7. One can buy many RX7s with just one Mercedes convertible or many more with a Bentley, like Sean Combs son drives.

Also, there was one part of Jim and Tammy's "budget" that was never used, their travel budget.
Why, because they on TV ALL THE TIME. I argue that Tammy and Jim just didn't have that much time to develop a materialistic lifestyle because they were too busy standing up in front of working class people begging them to help build this theme park, which was being badly managed.

At a Unitarian teenage conference in North Carolina, I once met a girl who claimed her dad was the reporter who brought down PTL and he "had a nervous breakdown and delivers mail now." I don't remember who this girl was or who her father was, but considering the stress of digging that hidden info up, I have always wondered who her dad was. Charles Shepard went on to work at the Washington Post for a time and teach a bit as well.

I was about 8 when the story broke. I was a liberal Unitarian in east Tennessee, in the midst of the world where Jim and Tammy were so popular. In fact, this girl who was friends with my sister, who's mother remarried an 80s local construction mogul even had dinner with Jim and Tammy Faye, when I asked what they were like she replied "totally fake."

I remember every liberal being in pure glee over Jim and Tammy's uncovering. I think people hoped in vain that this would make the 13.5 million people see that someone coming at you non-stop with messages that had no foundation were not worth listening to...but alas that lesson was never learned. Instead, the message just changed. Religion on TV did take a back seat. Jerry Falwell wanted his political propaganda on full time and well, Rupert Murdoch got on board too. There was also Rush Limbaugh. These men didn't lie about whether there was a hotel room in a theme park available for you, they just lie to you about the world around you to change your voting habits.

Considering the hate, and the political lies and the damage those listening to lies has caused, I wish we could go back and do the following. Take Jim and Tammy into a room, first tell Jim to just let the Jessica Hahn scandal play itself out. Second, tell them to clean up their books. Third, have an auditor fix the theme park and the finances. (if those 1100 club people wanted a hotel to stay in, well they could have built it and then everyone would have been happy). For God's sakes, Heritage USA was there and huge and people liked it. And fourth, put Tammy and Jim and their bad folksy inspirational stuff right back on stage where they wanted to be. Jim and Tammy didn't want to be wildly rich. They just wanted to be rich, allowed their tacky luxuries, while overseeing a tacky kingdom of Jesus's love and go-carts.

When Jim and Tammy Faye were turned into the whipping boys of the Christian Right...well those left in the media weren't stealing money. But they also weren't doing things like's Tammy Faye in 1985.

And here's a bit more.

And here's who we have left now that we've taken down Jim and Tammy.

And here's the man who made it his mission to take Jim and Tammy down.

Kinda makes you want to get out that 1,100 dollars and call that 704 area code number today, but it's been disconnected.

Tammy Faye died after a second battle with colon cancer on July 20th 2007

Jim Bakker is alive and can be found here:

Jim and Tammy's son can be found here:

1 comment:

  1. Dear Christopher,

    I have just printed a hardcopy of this commentary. Please forgive my flippant comment earlier. I realize now that this is a serious piece of journalism. I am therefore, rereading and reconsidering your argument.