God, the Devil, and David Spade
TVisGOD started about five years ago, says the religion's founder, Chicago freelance writer Amy Bugbee. "My sister April and I were always watching TV and talking about TV, and we had come up with this idea that TV is the modern God because everyone has one. My husband was like, 'You two should start a religion.'" The sisters put out a few issues of a newsletter and then a zine, and a friend, Mark Hejnar, made a ten-minute promotional video featuring a sermon from Pope April. "But we're both pretty busy," Bugbee says. "Things didn't move as quickly as we would have liked." A few years flew by; then "about a month ago I decided I would just go ahead and build my own Web site for it."
On August 21, tongue firmly in cheek, Bugbee launched TVisGOD.com, a "ministry" site that looks like it was built by Marshall McLuhan on drugs. Starting with the observation that most Americans are already worshipers, with television enshrined as the center of their lives and living rooms, General Amy lays out the foundations for the Televisionist faith: TV saves; TV shows help us through every imaginable experience; talk shows are the modern confessional; entranced staring at a TV show or video is ritual viewing; the holy book is TV Guide. The site includes words from Pope April ("If there is a devil in television, then it is the news") and a favorable review of the show Monk by their mom, Mother Mary Joan. Visitors are invited to send in their own reviews and purchase items like the video sermon ($7), TVisGOD buttons (three for $3.50), or a lifetime membership in the ministry ($20).
Like many a TV preacher, General Amy had the help of a devoted spouse. Her supportive partner is inveterate envelope pusher Shane Bugbee, former agent for John Wayne Gacy's art, founder of Michael Hunt Publications (which kept the likes of once-jailed underground cartoonist Mike Diana in print), and the force behind this summer's Angry White Male Tour. After finally giving up on Michael Hunt (keeping it afloat was "always a losing battle," says his wife), and in response to 9/11, he was busily constructing his own new site while Amy was building hers. Evilnow.com, which he says is "50 percent" satirical, sells Hitler dolls and official Church of Satan T-shirts to an audience of "white boys" who "wanna revolt" and "want to do it in style." He's referred to as the Pastor of Disaster on TVisGOD, and on Evilnow he fondly mentions "my wife Amy," who "will kill you, fuck your corpse and then carve you up for stew." But she is quick to say the his-and-her Web sites are separate endeavors: "I don't want my TV ministry to be tainted."
TVisGOD had just gone up when Amy heard writer and comic David Spade describing his new movie, Dickie Roberts, on the Howard Stern show and thought it sounded just like scenes from an undistributed Judy Tenuta movie. Shane had been given a video of the Tenuta film, Desperation Blvd., two years ago by a friend who was trying to find it a distributor. Amy says both movies are comedies about former child stars who can't cope with the real world and include scenes where each aging prodigy "sits around a card table with other former stars." (Desperation Blvd. was the last film appearance by former child actor Dana Plato, who died of a drug overdose shortly after it was completed.) "I couldn't believe it," Bugbee says. She E-mailed Tenuta to ask if she had sold the rights; when she heard back that Tenuta was shocked and calling a lawyer, she put an article on her Web site accompanied by a photo of Spade with the word "thief" across his forehead. The article speculated that the studio "just stole the idea and handed it over to one of their contract comedians." Within a week she heard from Spade's publicist, who said that Spade had never seen Tenuta's film, never read the script, and never heard of it. Bugbee posted the statement on her Web site.
On September 9 she got an E-mail from Spade's attorneys, charging defamation and commercial misappropriation. "They wanted me to retract the story and apologize publicly. And the apology had to be approved by them before I could post it. I was really surprised." Although the item had been picked up by the New York Post's Page Six (where it appeared August 29), Bugbee says the Web site had drawn all of 300 hits at that point, and a previous article she had posted--wondering if American Idol was fixed--seemed more sensational. She posted the cease-and-desist letter on her site and the next day received another announcing that copyright infringement would now be added to the charges. Bugbee took the letter down but has refused to remove her story: "They wrote back threatening to sue each of us--me, my husband, my sister, and my mom--for at least a million dollars plus legal fees." She and her husband "have nothing," she says, but Pope April and Mother Mary Joan are upset. "I talked to a friend of Judy Tenuta's who's a lawyer; he told me if it's going to start costing money, to call the ACLU."
Laureate? Not Quite Yet
There's one appointment Governor George Ryan isn't rushing to fill: Illinois has been without a poet laureate since Gwendolyn Brooks died two years ago. A spokesperson for Ryan says "the governor has been talking with a number of people to gain insight into the process," but--as opposed to, say, picking agreeable folk for the gaming board--this is "a very challenging decision." Looks like it'll be up to the next administration to search the current crop of lint pickers and slammers for a successor to Brooks and her predecessor, Carl Sandburg.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Robert Drea.