American Idolatry

May 24, 2006 life , commentary 4 min read

Tonight I had the incredible misfortune of watching the American Idol finale. Until tonight, I have been proud to say that I’ve never watched a single minute of the show. (I know, you’re thinking ‘do you live in a hole?’) However, tonight I was hanging out with my niece at my brother’s house, and he and his wife are avid watchers of the show. Not only that, but their 3 year old daughter told me how Chris was her favorite, but he got voted off. So we had to watch it.

I’ve avoided saying much about faith, ethics, or politics on this blog (well, I’ve avoided saying much about anything, for that matter), but I can no longer resist.

I have intentionally avoided watching American Idol for many reasons. Partially because it’s a fad and I usually attempt to avoid those anyway, but also there’s something that just feels inherently wrong about it, starting with the title: AMERICAN + IDOL.

As I watched the first hour or so, I read the feature article from the latest edition of Time magazine. After voicing their opinion about the current president at an anti-war protest in Europe, the Dixie Chicks were boycotted by most country radio stations and ridiculed by their fans. They were criticized as being anti-American or un-patriotic. Calling people that have the courage to voice their opinion “anti-American” is just wrong. (Not only in principle, but technically; I have no complaints about Canada, Mexico or most of South America. So, if anything, call me anti-U.S.) Besides the fact that we mis-use the word “American”, “Freedom of speech” is almost synonymous with “American”. How can someone who exercises their first amendment right be anti-American? It doesn’t matter what my opinion is, voicing it constitutes being an American (so feel free to be American if you disagree). If anyone is anti-American, it is those that sit on their couch and are spoon-fed their faith, ethics and politics through a television screen.

They said on the show tonight that over 64 million people voted for the finale, which is more votes cast than in any presidential election in American history. How sad is that! We don’t exercise our right to voice our opinion in our own government, but we will for a TV show? Maybe someone should tell them that just because it’s called “reality TV”, it isn’t a substitute for reality.

A few months ago my wife and I were listening to cheesy Christian radio while driving to see family. (Northwest Iowa is a radio wasteland, so the choice is either country, Christian, or the current price of porkbellies.) The news segment, which is often enteraining anyway, consited primarily of news about a foundation that was established to give awards and cash prizes to movies that effectively communicate about God and the message of the Gospel. I’m a supporter of art in any form, so I can appreciate encouraging good art. But they then proceeded to give an American Idol update, and encouraged listeners to check their website for American Idol news.

As a Christian, I don’t understand how Christians can embrace this show. The show tells you that it is about idols in the title! At least the Israelites have an excuse; the golden snake didn’t have a sign on it that said “Golden Idol”. I’m not being dogmatic, I just know that idolatry is hard enough to deal with as an afluent American, I don’t need help with that. As I watched the show, I was amazed at the amount of sex and ego that I was being bombarded with. Where is Christ in that? I’m not saying everything we consume needs to be “Jesus Junk” (to borrow a phrase I heard someone say recently), but how are we being image-bearers of an artistic creator?

To sum up this post of random thoughts about ethics, faith and politics (I’ll try to post more often on these topics so they’re not so random), I am grateful for the freedom that this country has afforded me. But I am often times ashamed to be an American, and today was one of those times.

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avatar of Brandon Keepers I am Brandon Keepers, and I work at GitHub on making Open Source more approachable, effective, and ubiquitous. I tend to think like an engineer, work like an artist, dream like an astronaut, love like a human, and sleep like a baby.