Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 8pm
Hellfire and Rhinestones
Curated by Leah Churner
And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are... (Revelation 20:10, KJV)
Evangelical Christian broadcasting has been big business since the dawn of radio, when showmen émigrés from the United States established mega-powered "border blaster" stations in Mexico, out of the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission and the National Association of Broadcasters, to beam controversial messages to the masses. But it was not until 1960, when the FCC allowed local television stations to sell airtime for religious broadcasting to the highest bidder, that electronic evangelism met TV and reached its full potential for showbiz.
Televangelism launched a new American aesthetic for the Seventies and Eighties, the spectacular Southern Gothic. Armed with new technologies (videotape, satellite transponders and cable television), preacher-celebrities built increasingly surreal empires over the air and across the land, tax-free. Space-age architecture prevailed at Oral Roberts University and Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral (designed by Philip Johnson), while Tammy Faye and Jim Baker broke ground on God's answer to Disneyland, Heritage USA; Pat Robertson aspired to be the first televangelist president. But market saturation and flimsy accounting caused the empires to groan under the weight of success. In the late 80's, the biggest stars were wiped from the small screen in a deluge of sex-and-money scandals. Approaching the millennium, the evangelists fled television and, somewhat ironically, colonized AM radio.
This is indeed a satisfying rise-and-fall narrative, and on December 2, Light Industry dares to honor the golden age of televangelism. The lineup of bizarre nuggets will include Werner Herzog's 1980 documentary God's Angry Man, a portrait of Dr. Gene Scott (1929-2005), the ferocious preacher who pushed direct-address television to its hypnotic extreme; Christmas in America, a deeply entertaining extravaganza performed by Miss Velma of the Universal World Church of Glendale, CA, in which Miss Velma flies through the air, shoots a real gun, rides a miniature motorized bus and narrates the manger story from the perspective of a raccoon; finally, among other treats, we'll hear from piano man Jimmy Lee Swaggart, who styled himself as the antithesis of his cousin Jerry Lee Lewis, and became the subject of an Ozzy Osbourne song in 1988.
Witness for yourself the fury and the sparkles, the pluck and the gumption, the threadbare puppets and wind up-toys. Even as they rattle your loins, these transmissions from in and around the Bible Belt will baptize you in the fact that the culture that spawned televangelism is (God forbid!) the culture that spawned you.
Holiday refreshments served.
Leah Churner is the archivist at Electronic Arts Intermix as well as a writer.
Tickets - $6, available at the door.