Date of Award

1992

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Theatre

First Advisor

Leslie A. Wade

Abstract

This study explores the myth of the self-made man in American popular culture and how Jimmy Swaggart, the renowned televangelist, manipulates this myth in representing himself as an American hero. Central to such inquiry is Swaggart's use of theatrical device in promoting his heroism. Three fundamental questions provide the focus for investigation: (1) How in general does the creation of myth serve the needs of culture? (2) How specifically does the myth of self-made-ness benefit American culture? and (3) How is Swaggart able to participate in this powerful myth (especially using theatrical modes) in order to gain cultural sanction? In addressing the first two questions, this project constructs a myth theory based primarily on ideas advanced in Roland Barthes' Mythologies. For the last question (which mandates a look at the way Swaggart is "read" by both secular and evangelical factions), the ideas contained in Michel Foucault's three masterworks Madness and Civilization, Discipline and Punish, and The History of Sexuality prove especially useful. Foucault's discussion of the sacred position of the madman in medieval contexts, for example, gives us a productive analogue for exploring Swaggart's relationship to the secular media. In terms of his evangelical readership, Swaggart's attempt to advertise himself as a martyr is illuminated by Foucault's explanation of the "technique of confession" in Western culture. This project concludes that the on-going carnival of Swaggart's sexual improprieties will prove problematic to his survival as a practicing televangelist. However, Swaggart's iconic presence (like that of Elmer Gantry or Aimee Semple McPherson) will live on in the American mind as simply an up-dated version of the mad religious performer.

Pages

224

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