Monday, July 23, 2007

Mascara in the sky

So Tammy Faye Messner (better known as Tammy Faye Bakker) has died from cancer at age 65. Surprisingly, I actually feel sorry for her. And I think it’s a pity for televangelism and fundamentalism generally because the only truly human and humane one among them is gone.

You may remember how I felt no sadness at all when arch-homophobe and all-around bigot Jerry Falwell died. His death was no loss to society. Tammy Faye, however, was different.

I watched PTL Club sometimes during its heyday in the 1980s and noticed immediately how different it was from the other TV preacher shows on then: Falwell, Robertson, Swaggart (and many lesser-known salesmen) all peddled their hate-filled brand of extremist christianist dogma and political ideology. It was inevitably homophobic, sexist, often xenophobic and/or racist and quite frequently just plain nutty.

PTL Club, however, wasn’t like that. Tammy Faye embraced gay men with AIDS at a time when her peers were saying their suffering was their god’s judgement for having committed some “sin”. While the others used AIDS as a weapon and a tool to raise money, Tammy Faye sowed compassion instead (while raising money, of course—it was a TV preacher show, after all). Actually, I can’t remember ever hearing any anti-gay rhetoric on their show, but if I did, it would have been tame compared to the competition.

The show had great entertainment value, in a “I can’t believe they’re doing that” kind of way. From the cheesy songs and banter to waiting to see how long into the show it would be before Tammy Faye’s mascara started to run, there was always something pretty light. Among such shows, it was benign. As a non-follower, I of course found it easy to just turn the channel when their fundraising pitches were on, which, unfortunately, too many people were unable to do.

Tammy Faye certainly wasn’t perfect. Like Joe.My.God., I’m not convinced she was ignorant about her husband Jim Bakker’s stealing millions of dollars from PTL Club donors. Some people think she was an “attention whore”, and she probably was. So what? People like Paris Hilton are, and with far less substance to back it up.

To me, imperfect, overly made-up Tammy Faye was an entertaining departure from the grim lemon-sucking christianist TV preachers of that era. It’s just too bad that her humanity didn’t rub off as easily on her peers as her mascara did on TV.


Matt Faulkner said...

I feel sorry for Tammy Faye too, they have a nice son.

lost in france said...

Let me cry some crocodile tears.

Reed said...

My wife and I saw a documentary a couple of years back called "The Eyes of Tammy Faye". It's a fascinating watch and you can't help but like her after seeing it.

Sure enough they have a web site---


Check out the longer trailer.

d said...

Didn't know much about her until she died. While I'm not a fan of televanglists, I like that she ministered to those with AIDS even in the beginning when it was misunderstood. I like that she didn't use her relationship with God and her beliefs to judge others. And I dig that she wants people to be happy and find joy. While she inferred "Jesus" into that statement, she didn't outright say it, and I like that.

Rest in peace.

Arthur Schenck said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I can't say I'm actually sad, but I do feel sorry for her, mostly for the reasons I put in the post. I guess what it comes down to for me is that she was so different from other televangelists, and so much more human--faults and all. For me, that makes her story somehow more compelling, I guess. That, and the fact she wasn't a right wing christo-fascist like the others.