Friday, May 26, 2006

American Idolatry

It is a sad and telling commentary that one of the most popular television programs in America (of course, I've never seen it) is called "American Idol." I cannot escape this rampant idolatry because news of it is in the newspaper (which I read; I'm over forty) and on AOL news (which is unavoidable if you use the service).

Idols are counterfeits, impostors, which lack reality but command obedience. Eric Fromme, the German psychologist and atheist, one wrote that the Old Testament was one long tirade against idols. (Of course it is that only because it demands theocentricity.) John Calvin opined that the human mind was "a perpetual forge of idols." Such wayward minds need constant monitoring and repentance. The Apostle John ends his First Epistle by warning his readers, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." The Apostle is unheard by too many today.

Now idols are a way of life (and death). Having abandoned the Real (in art, in religion, in music, in politics, in relationships), we revel in the unreal, making it "real" to us. Heroes are out; idols are in. The knowledge of people with commendable character passé; reveling in media personality is hip. Some Americans even consider TV "personalities" to be their "friends." Over sixty million people voted for their idol of choice on "American Idol" and cannot get enough of their instant celebrity. Instead of reading books together, or singing around the piano, or reciting poetry, or just conversing or praying together, people sit mindlessly, but breathlessly in front of multiple idols: the television itself is an idol and a keeper of a myriad (its name is Legion) of restless and rampaging idols. In fact, the entire "living room" (oxymoron now, for most homes) is configured to honor and worship the television: all is directed, not heavenward, but television-ward. No seat is out of range of the TV.

"Little children, keep yourselves from idols." Idols obscure deeper, richer, better realities. But idols are more assessable, more popular, and nearly omnipresent in American culture. They cater to impatience, lust, greed, and all the vices of the flesh. However, finitudes claiming ultimacy ultimately trade on lies; they are pretenders, fakes, frauds; they are hollow, shallow, and shabby--although noisy and well-lit. Idols, for all their pretense, have no place in the Kingdom that is to come. They should have no place in the lives of Kingdom people, who have tasted of the heavenly realities that are now bearing on the bounties of the earth.

15 comments:

PS said...

The title of your post atracted my attention. I happened to have watched the entire season of American Idol this year. Never thought I would have but I did.

What are you speaking to exactly in your post? Are you speaking out against the show American Idol? What the show represents? Perhaps the name the show chose? Television? The pitiful state of american culture? All of it?

Could be just me. I respect your writings but I am curious for a deeper explanation of this post - because I watched the show and do not see as many relationships between your points, what the show is about, and its overall affects on culture.

Becky said...
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Becky said...

Alessandra Stanley reviewed the Idol 'finale' in Thursday's New York Times. She recalled that the popularity of Idol is bizarre because it is--at heart--a celebration of mediocrity.

In addition, we have a serious problem when the following is the case: "The host, Ryan Seacrest, said 63.4 million votes were cast this season, boasting, "That's more than any president in the history of our country has ever received."" Is this not the most depressing thing possible? Why are we patting ourselves on the back because crappy singers are somehow more important to our culture than the workings of government?

The "everyman" and "everywoman" nature of American Idol must somehow account for its popularity

Douglas Groothuis said...

To PS:

To get a better sense of my concerns, read "Truth Decay," especially the appendix, "Television: Agent of Truth Decay." But first read a lot of the Bible, particularly what it says about worship, idols, godliness, and worldliness. See Romans 12:1-2; 1 John 2:15-7; Luke 16:14; and so much more. Read Psalm 1 also!


"What are you speaking to exactly in your post? Are you speaking out against the show American Idol? What the show represents? Perhaps the name the show chose? Television? The pitiful state of american culture? All of it?"

I am speaking out against all of it, the systematic, insideous, and supernatural stupefaction of America, God help us.

Susan said...

Becky,

That "American Idol" celebrates mediocrity is a noteworthy commentary on our culture. The failure of Modernity to produce the excellence it promised has produced the momentum behind this rush to embrace mediocrity. America swings with disturbing nonchalance on a fickle pendulum, idol to idol, unconcerned... that it swings over Hell.

-Susan

Ed Darrell said...

And yet Kelly Clarkson wins Grammies for her album -- she being among the first winners of the "American Idol" title.

Yeah, it's a replay of Ted Mack's Amateur hour, with a bit of British-accented insult thrown in -- but what's wrong with dreaming to win the talent contest?

Mediocrity? You've not listened to those guys belt them out, you confess. Johnny Unitas was such a mediocrity, in football. Jesse Owens was such a mediocrity, in running.

Sometimes when one doesn't watch television, it becomes possible that one doesn't really know what one has missed.

Becky said...

I have watched them "belt it out," but unfortunately they were all painfully under the pitch. I've watched *idol* enough to be subjected to "renditions" of Queen masterpieces, horrifying interactions with American standard songs (and Rod Stewart...ewww), and soul patrol writhing on the ground.

This is what I was putting up with while *Lost* was in reruns, and I was a captive audience, prevented from running in horror because of an injured appendage.

Douglas Groothuis said...

"Sometimes when one doesn't watch television, it becomes possible that one doesn't really know what one has missed. "

True enough. But my point was not the level of talent, but the "idolatry"--of the tube and the talents, such as they are.

However, if you want to experience aesthetic excellence, immerse yourself in classic jazz, not TV culture (except when classic jazz is on TV, which is rare).

nedric said...

Hi - I found your blog through a search on criticism and such. Nice post!

I see what you are saying: Connecting with others around an idol lacks the excellence of gathering around something real.

In the original post, the distinction between "idol" and "reality" was much more prevalent, and I would like to contribute to this line of thought.

After reading MacIntyre, if we accept the idea that humans are story-telling animals, and that stories are fictions (or at least highly selective and edited versions of "reality"), then doesn't the distinction between real and idol dissolve?

Becky said...

DRG:

Point taken. However, one might construe my "watching" tv as doing "research" for contributions to posts like this. The good news: I return to teaching again on Tuesday. My mind will be otherwise engaged.

Douglas Groothuis said...

Nedric says:

"After reading MacIntyre, if we accept the idea that humans are story-telling animals, and that stories are fictions (or at least highly selective and edited versions of "reality"), then doesn't the distinction between real and idol dissolve? "

It is hard to know where to start with something so thickly larded with error, frankly. But:

1. If Ned's statement itself is a fiction, why bother worrying about it? Why apply it across the board?

2. If MacIntrye's nonrealism is wrong, which it is, then the problem Ned raises doesn't obtain.

3. There are many reasons to think nonrealism is wrong. Logically necessary truths cannot be fictions or constructions:

a. The law of noncontradiction
b. The law of identity
c. The law of bivalence
d. If I think, then I exist.
e. Torturing the innocent for pleasure is always wrong.
f. Modus ponens
g. Modus tolens

4. Narrative or worldview contradict each other and cannot all be true. For example Islam denies, while Christianity affirms, that Jesus is God.

5. No one thinks that there is no difference between fictions and facts, between unicorns and corns, between elephants and elves.

6. Worldviews must be tested against reality through principles.
Does the worldview deny itself? Does the worldview jibe with external reality? Does the worldview provide a genuine way to live or is it impossible.

7. And so on!

Milton Stanley said...

Manual trackback:

Douglas Groothuis, reflecting on a popular television show with a surprisingly candid title, reminds us that idolatry is not dead in North America:

Dan said...

I can't resist this quote, " 1Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon. He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life. And it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed." (John recording the vision he was given on Patmos).

I have wondered for years what John would think of the shrines in our living rooms with speaking idols front and center!

Douglas Groothuis said...

If there is a literal Beast to come before the Eschaton, you can be sure he will be on TV.

Vicki said...

I appreciated this post so much, and found you via Transforming Sermons today. The Lord has already convicted me of falling into the TV trap. Thanks for posting. I referenced you in my post today.