Shilling For the Apocalypse
How right-wing media use fear to move product
I have a confession. I love watching The Jim Bakker Show.
If you’re not familiar, Bakker is a daytime televangelist who promotes, well, buckets of food. You know, for surviving in your bunker as the world ends.
Bakker’s formula is simple — he reads from the Bible, tells his viewers that the apocalypse is nigh then reassures them that he’s offering calamity-ready food-buckets for low low prices.
Bakker began preaching the gospel on television way back in 1966. In the bad old days, Bakker and his ilk would bilk people out of their cash by asking for donations and making strange promises they couldn’t keep. Times have changed. Bakker is much older and less interested in donations. Now he moves product.
These days instead of hopes and dreams, confidence men push products such as food buckets, shitty backup generators and holy water. It’s a grotesque but lucrative tactic that fringe conspiracists such as Alex Jones have also adopted.
The Jim Bakker Show is half old-time revival and half infomercial. From his pleasant studios in Branson, Missouri, Bakker holds court on a stage designed to look like a podium built on Main Street, USA.
Shuttered storefronts line either wall. The audience sits at round tables and leers up at Bakker and his crew. Bakker and his associates sit on the left hand side of the stage while dozens of buckets of food-like slop dominate the right.
When “Pastor” Bakker speaks, he’s either warning you that the world will end soon or telling you how the food he sells will help keep your family alive through the tribulations.
Bakker’s episode on May 8, 2017 was typical of his shtick. He opened the show by mocking people who believed in climate change, then explained that God uses the weather to tell people He’s pissed. Cut to video of the recent flooding in Branson.
“God spoke to me during this storm,” Bakker said. “Because it was like we didn’t plan for it. We had a few hours notice, but it hit and it became the largest storm of its kind in history. The thing of it is, people don’t get ready. You have to prepare.”
God’s crafty pitchman is here to help you prepare. For just $200, Bakker will ship you two Tasty Pantry Deluxe Plus Buckets filled with everything you need to serve around 750 meals. He claims it’s almost an $800 value.
After assuring his audience that climate change is a lie, Bakker peddled his buckets for a full 10 minutes. The program only runs an hour.
Bakker is an old hand at this. He became a household name in the ’80s for his impassioned sermons, extreme wealth and unabashed corruption. In 1989 Bakker went to prison on 24 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy.
The judge sentenced him to 45 years. He was out in five — and returned to T.V. in 2003.
It took him years to come back to television, but when he did his pitch had changed. In the old days, Bakker and his wife took donations and sold people lifetime memberships at luxury Christian resorts that didn’t actually exist. It was lucrative, but it also landed Bakker in prison.
He still takes donations, but he reimburses his congregation in buckets of slop he assures them will last through the coming apocalypse. The arc of every show is the same. He pulls a scary headline out of the news, tells his flock how it’s a sign of the coming end times and then sells them Bakker-brand survivalist gear.
Selling food and gear is much easier and much less troublesome than complicated real-estate schemes and tax-dodges.
Rebecca Smith is just as scared as everyone else ismedium.com
It’s the exact same scheme Alex Jones uses to make money. Jones is a popular conspiracy theorist and radio-show host in Austin, Texas. He’s been around for years but rose to national prominence during the 2016 election, when people figured out that Donald Trump uttered outlandish comments that sounded like things Jones had just said on his radio show.
Despite broadcasting four hours every day on a nationally-syndicated radio show, Jones makes nothing from syndication fees and next to nothing from advertisements. The bulk of his income comes from pushing supplements of dubious quality.
Typically, a popular radio show makes its money from syndication fees and ad buys. Jones’ radio show has no syndication fee. He gives away the show to any station that wants it for free. In exchange, the local stations agree to air a couple minutes of advertising that Jones builds into each show.
For Jones, that means pushing a bizarre pharmacy of dietary supplements, colloidal silver, iodine supplements, probiotics and paleo powders. Jones warns that a cabal of global elites is trying to poison the world to keep down the population.
But don’t worry. Jones offers just the right mix of powders, oils and tinctures to ward off the side-effects of the Illuminati’s chemtrails and poison water. At least with Bakker, buyers get a bucket of actual food. With Jones, it’s mostly snake-oil.
New York Magazine recently broke down Jones’ business model and estimated the conspiracy shock-jock brings in millions of dollars a year selling supplements. The end is not nigh. But the sales pitch certainly is.
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