Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Robert Tilton: A History in Flatulence

No matter what else Robert Tilton does in his life, he will go down in history as The Farting Preacher. No matter the scandals, no matter the miracles, Robert Tilton is the Farting Preacher. Google “farting preacher” with “Tilton” and you get over 78,000 hits.

I can’t imagine that anyone visiting this site is not familiar with the video clips of Robert Tilton with farting noises dubbed in. Simple and crude and basic as that. Why Bob? Why farts? Why so popular and enduring? These are the questions occupying my mind this morning.

Although a bona fide YouTube sensation these days, the footage first began its journey as a humble video tape. Around 1990 I acquired my first copy. I had two edits of what I called “The Fart Tape” – a shorter color version, and a longer, slicker black and white one. I honestly cannot remember how I came by them initially. I recall trying diligently to track down the tape’s origin in an effort to upgrade my copy. Such was the task of an obsessive collector of weird video clips in those days. After I got to know Harry at the Trinity Foundation, I pestered him about it, but he steadfastly denied all knowledge.

In the second issue of my Robert Tilton Fan Club Newsletter in October of 1991, I wrote a “review” the tape. Then a couple of months later on December 11, 1991, Dallas Morning News columnist Steve Blow did an article about the fan club and mentioned my review of the “gassy Tilton tape that has been making the rounds.” He also helpfully pointed out that my newsletter was available at a certain record store on lower Greenville, and shortly thereafter the shop was overwhelmed with people asking for the tape, gratefully paying $20 a pop.

During the rest of the 90s and into the early part of this century, the footage, known variously as Joyful Noise (our title), Heaven Only Knows, and the Farting Preacher, stayed alive by becoming incorporated into the on-air shtick of radio jocks such as Mark and Brian. It was also hosted on a number of websites, pre-YouTube. A website, not active currently, popped up claiming to be the original source and selling dvds of it. The website was and if memory serves, the story was that the guy who made it worked for one of the hundreds of television affiliates in the 1980s which showed Tilton’s Success N Life infomercial. This story makes sense – the guy would have had access to the shows and also access to professional video editing equipment, and if anything, the original tape was a pro job.

These days Robert Tilton is a YouTube phenomenon with dozens of variations of the theme posted at any given time. This is despite the fact that Tilton has apparently hired someone to constantly monitor YouTube and issue take-down requests. So the clips come and go. Some are extremely well done and some are so stupid they’re funny and some are just plain dumb and awful. I’ve even seen little kids miming the fart tape in front of their webcam. I’m not posting links to any particular examples because they have such a short lifespan. If you happen to see one you like, I recommend snagging it with something like this.

Some of the YouTube fart-slingers (fart jockeys?) take their craft very seriously. The ones who use classic Success N Life clips from the 80s get more props than the ones who mine their clips from the current programs of the grayer and more sedate Bob airing in the wee hours on BET. Of course, the trick is to time the farts with Tilton’s face-sqruntching, or pounding on the desk and yelling ‘woo-hoo’, or those dramatic pauses of his where he is being washed (or ‘warshed,’ as Bob would say) in the Holy Spirit. Extra points if he’s talking about a sound or a smell, or says something like, ‘Oh, yes, there it is.’

I imagine the same thing attracts this new generation to Bob that attracted me back in the day. The wackiness, the lunacy, the seemingly blatant con and insincerity, dare I say… the Evil? Watching Bob demands some kind of response. Some people respond with a vow of faith of $1,000. Some people fire up the editing software.

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