Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves To Death: Public Discourse in The Age Of Show Business. Chapter 8 Pages 114-117.
There is an evangelical preacher on television that goes by the name of Reverend Terry. She appears to be in her early fifties, and features a coiffure of which it has been said that it cannot be mussed, only broken. Reverend Terry is energetic and folksy, and uses a style of preaching modeled on early Miltion Berle. When her audiences are shown in reaction shots, they are almost always laughing. As a consequence, it would be difficult to distinguish them from audiences, say, at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, except for the fact that they have a slightly cleaner, more wholesome look. Reverend Terry tries to persuade them, as well as those "at home," to change their ways by finding Jesus Christ. To help her do this, she offers a "prosperity Campaign Kit," which appears to have a dual purpose: As it brings one nearer to Jesus, it also provides advice on how to increase one's bank account. This makes her followers extremely happy and confirms their predisposition to believe that prosperity is the true aim of religion. Perhaps God disagrees. As of this writing, Reverend Terry has been obliged to declare bankruptcy and temporarily halt her ministrations. Pat Robertson is the master of ceremonies of the highly successful"700 Club," a television show and religious organization of sorts to which you can belong by paying fifteen dollars per month. (Of course, anyone with cable television can watch the show for free of charge.) Reverend Robertson does his act in a much lower register than Reverend Terry. He is modest, intelligent, and has the kind of charm television viewers would associate with a cool-headed talk-show host. His appeal to godliness is considerably more sophisticated than Reverend Terry's, at least from the standpoint of television. Indeed, he appears to use as his model of communication " Entertainment Tonight." His program includes interviews, singers and taped segments with entertainers who are born-again Christians. For example, all of the chorus girls in Don Ho's Hawaiian act are born-again, and in one segment, we are shown them both at prayer and on stage (although not at the same time). The program also includes taped reenactments of people who, having been driven to the edge of despair, are saved by the 700 Club. Such people play themselves in these finely crafted docu-dramas. In one, we are shown a woman racked with anxiety. She cannot concentrate on her wifely duties. The television shows and movies she sees induce a generalized fear of the world. Paranoia closes in. She even begins to believe that her own children are trying to kill her. As the play proceeds, we see her in front of her television set chancing upon the 700 Club. She becomes interested in its message. She allows Jesus to enter her heart. She is saved. At the end of the play, we see her going about her business, calmly and cheerfully, her eyes illuminated with peace. And so, we may say that the 700 Club has twice elevated her to a state of transcendence: first, by putting her in the presence of Jesus: second, by making her into a television star. To the uninitiated, it is not entirely clear which is the higher estate. Toward the end of each 700 Club show, the following day's acts are announced. They are many and various. The program concludes with someone's saying, “All this and more ... tomorrow on the 700 Club." Jimmy Swaggart is a somewhat older-style evangelist. Though he plays the piano quite well, sings sweetly, and uses the full range of television's resources, when he gets going he favors a kind of fire-and-brimstone approach. But because this is television, he often moderates his message with a dollop of ecumenism. For example, his sermon on the question, Are the Jews practicing blasphemy? begins by assuring his audience that they are not, by recalling Jesus' bar mitzvah, and by insisting that Christians owe the Jews a...
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