Evangelists and the Almighty…Dollar

Reprinted from Loose Change (TCBMag.com)

For decades TV evangelists have effectively used Jesus to make millions. Thankfully, many have been busted for the petty criminals they are. I remember watching Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker testify to the Lord while simultaneously fleecing their flocks to support Tammy’s growing collection of expensive shoes and their fun-filled “house of worship,” the Heritage USA amusement park. The Reverend Jimmy Swaggart preached the bennies of salvation while separating little old ladies and Southern dullards from their savings accounts in order to fund a steady stream of prostitutes. “Jimmy likes the girls.”

Televangelist Robert Tilton, my favorite sleaze, dressed to the nines in silk suits and gold bling, and employed a convincing camera spiel imploring sick and vulnerable people to write checks for which he would deliver his healing powers of faith through the phone lines.

These good ol’ boys knew how to use a belief system to sell some shit, didn’t they?!

A recent article posted on Facebook about an entrepreneurial photographer felt eerily similar to our televangelist friends. Not because the photographer was doing anything untoward or criminal. From the look of it he is a very good photographer. But he also is a very smart cookie, exploiting a strong cultural belief to effectively promote and market his business.

You have to admire people’s chutzpah. But often it translates into a cheesy way to make a buck, particularly when it’s being done at the expense of thousands of professional colleagues who are fighting for strict standards when it comes to open-source photo usage on sites like Pinterest.

This photographer insists, like other digital evangelists, that making one’s creative portfolio available for free is the only way to avoid being a reviled traditionalist, a stick in the mud, a brick-and-mortar, dead-tree has been. We’ve been listening to this drivel since Napster first started pirating songs, and the digerati has been banging the “everything not us is so yesterday” drum for two decades. It’s become tiresome, disingenuous, and in many ways a scam. This is particularly true when one considers the ever-increasing stream of privacy violations from our friends at Facebook, Amazon, Google, and others.

Granted, this photographer is having some success putting his stuff out there for all to use. I say “some success,” if one judges him by the number of Twitter followers or Facebook friends he has. How or whether he makes any real money on his photos is another question.

But therein lies his genius and his schtick. Upon visiting his website, one sees that in addition to making his photos available, he has a virtual pop stand of products, selling all manner of instructive videos, software, and coupons for products. Clearly his enthusiasm for open sourcing isn’t rooted in his belief in the digital gospel as much as it is a decoy to separate a fool from his money.

Having observed the digital space for more than 20 years, I’ve learned that whenever I hear the “free information for all” mantra, someone is likely trying to screw me out of something. Whatever happened to the Stewart Brands of the world who actually believed in what they were doing?

Editor’s Note: Gary Johnson is President of MSP Communications in Minneapolis, MN and authors the blog Loose Change for TCBmag.com.