Tammy Faye was a pioneer.

I didn’t see The Eyes of Tammy Faye documentary upon which the film of the same name is based. So I don’t know how accurate it is or if Jessica Chastain’s version is embellished with a newer sensibility about Tammy Faye than what’s come before, but what was clear in watching her transform from Jessica Chastain to an almost look alike of Tammy Faye, was that she, Tammy, was uninterested in catering to the patriarchy that is so repugnant in the Evangelical and tele-vangelical world. When Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, began their career on Pat Robertson’s network (Christian Broadcast Network), they devised a formula that would mimic Johnny Carson or other late night talk shows, but have it focused primarily on Christian issues. They called it The 700 Club and it was a huge success for the CBN. When Jim and Tammy walk into the Pat Robertson mansion for a luncheon, they gape and wonder how much Pat Robertson is paying himself. Jim tells Tammy, both correctly and incorrectly, that they paid for this. He is correct in the sense that The 700 Club was an enormous success and a great fund raising vehicle. He is incorrect (and this will lead to his later downfall), in that it was the viewers and their donations who paid for it.

At this same luncheon, the men are at one table, discussing important male things like the importance of destroying feminism and homosexuality, while the women are at another table discussing — who knows, we don’t get to hear. But Tammy, who’s got a kid in her one arm and a plate of food in the other stands between the hen’s table (which is out in the hot sun) and the men’s table (which is under the shade) and she decides to sit at the men’s table. That’s not the first significant instance of where Tammy Faye doesn’t do what she’s told, but it’s the first sign that a female is trying to have a voice and much to Jim Bakker’s embarrassment, she uses it. Jerry Falwell, who is invited to this luncheon, calls her, behind her back, a “firecracker,” which I took to mean as a woman who doesn’t know her place. Except that she does know her place, and it’s not at the wives’ table.

Pat Robertson stole The 700 Club from the Bakker’s but, perhaps being young, they simply decide to do the same thing and create their own network, which turned out to be the PTL (Praise The Lord) network. It was probably the beginning of their downfall, because it was too much for a somewhat unsophisticated couple like Jim and Tammy to handle. It became so popular that almost 20 million viewers tuned in every night, they opened a Christian theme park called Heritage, USA and sold what were basically time shares and it was, for a time, the 3rd most visited theme park in the U.S.

But details aside, for the rest of the movie, much of the conflict stems from what a woman is supposed to do, and Tammy Faye’s refusal to do it. On her way to give her husband a kiss, she witnesses him making fun of her makeup, and then sees him get into a very homoerotic wrestling match with the longtime PTL producer. But she says nothing and seems to understand why Jim doesn’t touch her the way she’d like to be. When Jim is trying to sell the Heritage USA theme park to the developer Roe Messner, it’s Tammy Faye who comes to the rescue and gets him to do it. (The irony, which is not mentioned in the movie, is that when Tammy Faye comes into the living room where her husband Jim is failing at trying to sell this amusement park idea, she takes the hand of Roe and her husband, and then Jim takes the hand of Roe and they pray together. Roe Messner eventually became Tammy’s second husband until he also landed in jail for very similar reasons.)

When the envious snake Jerry Falwell comes to look at the amazing television setup they’ve created, which included a satellite feed that went to 56 countries, he happens to notice an episode of Tammy’s Hour (or something like that — maybe Tammy’s Corner) where she is interviewing via television, a former gay pastor about coming out, his struggle with his parents, and his dealing with AIDS and, what was very common for her, she cried and her mascara ran down her face. Falwell leaves saying he can’t abide this abomination. (He could have been talking about both Jim’s wife and the AIDS patient.) But, the envy with which he looked at the studio, and maybe the Christian theme park, could have been the reason for the rest of what happened to Jim Bakker (who is still alive, and was just fined for trying to sell a “cure” for Covid19.) Yes, Jim Bakker was a terrible financial idiot, and he was probably a loving husband but gay at heart, but whatever he was he could always rely on Tammy to bring in the dollars because so many people loved her. Somehow, he was set up to have sex with Jessica Hahn, who was then paid some hush money that was taken from the PTL accounts. (This is, by the way, exactly what Michael Cohen did for Trump, using the election funds to pay off a woman who had dirt on him.) Jim Bakker gave control of PTL to the viper Jerry Falwell who had promised to keep it going while the scandal blew over. He promptly evicted the Bakker’s (including Tammy’s mother and step father), sold all of their belongings and then persuaded the newspapers to look into the shady dealings of the PTL company. He took everything from them, including the theme park. Tammy Faye had to move into a small trailer house while Jim Bakker was sentenced to 45 years. One of the people tele-evangelists who had called Jim Bakker a cancer, was Jimmy Swaggert, who was later caught in a hotel room masturbating to a stripper.

I might have the order of things wrong, but in Bakker’s trial, Messner (Tammy Faye’s future husband) testified that he had been told by Falwell to pay off Jessica Hahn for her silence. Except she wasn’t silent. That still puzzles me. And I’m sure Murdoch Post got its tip from Falwell. But all sorts of people, many of whom are dead or almost will be, would have to testify to the suspicious aspect of the most successful Christian televangelist couple, the equality they gave each other, and Tammy Faye in particular, and why they went down in flames. The donations to their organization kept rolling in as long as they were on tv. It only went up in smoke when Falwell took over (probably to take over that time on the satellite.)

I always felt bad for both of them. I enjoyed watching their show. There was a weird charm they had, and I respected them because they never vilified people like Falwell and Swaggart and Pat Robertson did. When they said they loved everybody they meant it. And (even though I’m an atheist) when they said Jesus loved everyone, I could feel their belief. I never felt they were lying.

One thing they left out, was that after Tammy Faye was on her own and with very few options, she said it was the gay people who supported her after her downfall. It may be that we gay men like a good female-focused tragedy. But the tragedy in this case, is that the patriarchy was too strong and too determined to destroy her.

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