“American Idolatry”

A very good use of ten minutes would be to read Carl Trueman's "American Idolatry."  You can probably guess what it's about.  His basic point?  The human heart is attracted to shows like this because (1) our hearts easily identify with the pursuit of fame and self-idolatry and (2) since we're not famous, watching someone else be denied idol-status is a high second on the list.

Seen in this light, Idol, both for contestants and for viewers, is a kind of trivial microcosm of the world as we now live in it, a world where the harmony between Creator and creation, and between one creature and another, has been severely disrupted. That’s why it is so successful; and why reflection upon it is so instructive. Torn between wanting to be gods ourselves, and desiring to see all other pretenders to the throne cast down from their pedestals, we see in Idol the way the world is as we would wish it to be, played out in the comfort of our living rooms for our own entertainment. If you want to understand the modern West, watch the program and observe the overwheening narcissism of the contestants (particularly in the early rounds!); and if you want to understand what makes you tick, reflect upon what exactly it is in the program which is so attractive. Is it Buzz from Omaha dismembering Aerosmith’s Dream On? Is it Dionna from Detroit trying her best at R-E-S-P-E-C-T? Or is it something deeper, darker, much more pleasurable but far more sinister, within your own heart?

The idolatry embodied in American Idol is thus twofold. First, that of the contestants, who want fame as if fame was something worth the effort. Yet fame is only so to the extent that it deceives us into thinking we are indispensable and important, as it allows us to realize our latent idolatry of self. Second, that of the viewer, who rejoices at the sight of others being told, in no uncertain terms, that they are talentless, dispensable laughing-stocks, that they are not, in short, gods. Not as good as being god yourself, of course, but seeing others denied divinity is probably the next best thing.

More and more, it strikes me that television is one of the most dangerous ways to relax and one of the most dangerous forms of entertainment.

Relaxation usually means switching the brain off, but watching TV is one of the most important times to have your brain and your discernment in full gear.  If you watch TV and relax at the same time, you'll lose the battle, and you probably won't even know that a battle was going on.  Do it enough times, and you might just lose the war.

Likewise, entertainment is generally an enjoyable experience received with passivity.  But passivity is not a good idea when watching TV.  Commercials form worldviews.  Having double- or triple-digit channels can teach impatience, immediate gratification, and purposelessness.  Tons of movies present a fantasy-land where we learn that vices are virtues and vice versa.

I don't think that television is the devil.  I just think that he's there almost every time you turn it on.

Be careful, friends.

One thought on ““American Idolatry”

  1. I have been wondering more and more, if tv is the image of the beast that people will worship in the last days. I am really torn on this one.


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