For a period of 6 months in the mid-1980s, my parents decided that we could have a TV. But in Swaziland back in those days (now officially Eswatini), there was only 6 hours of programming. It started around 4 in the afternoon with a picture of King Mswati III and the national anthem being sung. Then the news came on, then the children’s cartoon show “Fat Albert”, and then a variety of adult shows, then the news again, followed once more by Mswati’s face and the same choir singing “Nkulunkulu Mnikati…..”. Among the adult shows, was the Jimmy Swaggert show. For those of you who are not familiar with him, he was one of the most famous televangelists in the world. He would preach with his Louisiana drawl to thousands and broadcast it everywhere. I remember his blond coiffed hair, his mono-coloured suits, his perspiring face as he held the microphone often with eyes closed, his gallivanting and gesticulating across the stage as he cried and pleaded for the blessing of Jesus, and of course for donations from his congregation to help fund his private jet, his multi-million dollar house, and his secret out-of-town motel meetings with prostitutes.
The people in the audience were big-eyed and awe-struck. Some were crying. Some were swaying back and forth, their feathered hair-styles flowing like limp ferns. They all seemed utterly convinced of the singular truth in Swaggert’s words. If he had told them to go jump into the river with their clothes on in the middle of winter for the lord, you got the feeling that they would have run outside and immediately done it. I also was transfixed by his performance, on the other side of the world under a night sky holding the Southern Cross.
“Alibi” is not about Swaggert and his empire. But it is about someone who has a blind faith in the idea that their belief is the ‘one’ and only one. That Armagedon, Kingdom Come, and some epic final battle between good and evil will materialize. And they alone have the truth. They alone are capable of seeing what is right and wrong. And they are willing to arm these beliefs with intentions that make the world an uglier place. I asked myself: how does one salvage enough empathy in order to soften the face of the one attacking you?
You can watch the video for ALIBI we did with Luca Lucchesi below: