American Fast Food: The Back of a Televangelist’s Book Deconstructed

Daddy eye!

 

 

I think that the back of this old book advertises itself in a crassly mendacious fashion. Here’s some things that I notice:

  • The photo and the author’s name take up the top half of the back cover’s display—suggesting that a cult of personality is being promoted around him. He is the authoritative, suit and tie wearing father-figure who does not smile because HE IS SERIOUS.
  • You cannot look in voyeuristically at this man’s photograph because he is gazing out, unblinking, into your soul.
  • His authoritative ethos is bolstered by the fact that he is a Director and Speaker–with a capital “D” and “S.”
  • The promise of the book is absurdly melodramatic—“THE BOOK THAT YOU HOLD IN YOUR HAND . . .” WILL PRETEND TO ANSWER DEFINITIVELY QUESTIONS THAT NO ONE ACTUALLY KNOWS THE ANSWERS TO (SUCH AS WHY GOD PERMITS WAR), AND WILL MAKE INHERENTLY UNVARIFIABLE CLAIMS ABOUT THE SPIRIT REALM. GROOVY GHOULIES!
  • I especially find the cover’s last promise cloying: “Why and how a false prophet can easily be recognized . . .” The EASY part is particularly telling, for it exposes the book’s underlying appeal (in so far as it has any). It is religious fast food. One holds a book in hand that promises to deliver immediate gratification. The agonizing uncertainties that accompany human existence can disappear for the price of the book! The big daddy figure has clear and easy answers—and has done all the work for you. But what you are buying is really nothing nutritious, but consists of spiritually empty calories.
  • In short, the back of this book embodies Fyodor Dostoevsky’s critique, in The Brothers Karamazov, of false religion as a bamboozling and conning appeal to “miracle, mystery, and authority.” 

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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