Thursday, May 25, 2006

Embarrassed American

The more I learn about the role the U.S. plays in economic and cultural imperialism around the world, the more that cheesy Lee Greenwood song, "Proud to be an American," makes me wince.

But this post isn't about politics, it's about pop culture. If ever there was a time for us to make a cultural statement of response to what it means to be American, now would seem to be it. So you'd think that the Dixie Chicks would have good company singing their protest songs. Alas, they don't. And their little blip on the news screens in the past week was completely overwhelmed by what? A poorly executed film adaptation of a novel, and American Idol.

I've already written about the film, so here we go with the Idol thing. For the record, I watched all of 90 minutes of the whole season, 60 of which was the final competetion night. Truthfully, I couldn't quite make it through the whole 60. Bad, bad, bad, bad music. It seemed like this season was getting hyped all over the place while I sat in ignorance, and so I tuned in. I can now say with confidence that ignorance is, in fact, bliss. I'd like to spout off about how weak the final two contestants were, but then someone might chime in that the shaved head dude from the top four got robbed. Whatever - I saw that dude, and he wasn't that great either. To make things worse, Idol forced the top two to sing the original songs that will be released as their first singles. Those songs were bad enough to be on Christian radio. Really. These songs were not the contestants' own, so I don't hold that against them. And yet I am clearly a minority voice, given the ratings the finale got (which I thankfully spared myself of watching). How is it possible that America's tastes are this horrendous? How is it possible that I have read the blogs of faithful Idol watchers praising these people, and also claim to be into U2 . . . almost as though they're on the same level?

I get that there's a lot more to this show than the music - it's the dream of going from back woods Alabama honky tonk to the spotlight of a world stage. It's people fantasizing what it would be like to suddenly be famous and admired by millions. Heck, most of us would feel really good about ourselves if we were admired by a couple dozen.

Maybe I'm just out of touch. Maybe I am actually an elitist. Maybe I'm not getting something. O.k., fine. I'm o.k. with that. Just don't make me watch that show any more. And by the way, I mean no offense to those of you who enjoy the show. My reaction is more about the collective response of our culture to all this.

Don't we have better things to be doing? Like flossing our teeth. Like organizing our closets. Like listening to good music.

posted by Steve at 9:48 PM
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Anonymous Steve commented at 2:52 AM~  


Anonymous Sue commented at 7:13 AM~  

Hey, Steve,
I confess to "lurking" on your blog since Adele blew your cover. It's not you that's boring, Steve, the music is. Although I probably shouldn't say too much because I probably watched 2 minutes of the whole American Idol thing, total, on my way to and fro across the family room. If you can get your hands on the latest issue of "Cutting Edge," the church planting magazine published by the Vineyard, I think you would enjoy an article by John Mortensen, a worship leader in Springfield, OH, and a piano professor at Cedarville University. He has some good stuff to say about "masspopcult" and specifically how it has influenced contemporary worship.
But maybe the reason you are bored with "masspopcult" music is that is has become less about ART and creativity and more about marketability.
Mortenson says: "A music industry producer selects and promotes a celebrity, and that celebrity's songs, based on marketability. Marketability ... [means] it must be new and catchy and viscerally appealing at the first aural and visual encounter."
So you can pretty much say goodbye to "difficult" and "complex" on American Idol, or anything packaged in less than the very narrowly defined American ideal of marketable "beauty." After all, it IS called "American Idol" and not "American Artist."
If you've never seen the PBS documentary "The Merchants of Cool," it's another one that explains how the market exploits and eventually destroys originality.
I'm guessing I'm not telling you anything new, but I'm posting it anyway. :-)
Take care, and if I ever figure out how to do my own blog, you can lurk back.

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spirit farmer data

I'm Steve Lewis. This used to be my blogging home. My online home is now at When this blog was my active online home, I lived in Seattle. Now I live in London, UK. I follow Jesus (poorly most of the time), worship simply, read a lot, watch culture, go to school, listen to music, write, enjoy art, and drink a lot of coffee.
e-mail me:

seattle spots

victrola coffee
zoka coffee
university of washington
church of the apostles
quest church
sanctuary church
shoreline vineyard

sites i visit

off the map
nt wright

a few of the blogs in the feedreader

jason evans
joe boyd
kevin rains
alan creech
chris marshall
bill bean
eugene cho
jordon cooper
dwight friesen
john chandler
amy palmer
ryan bolger
rudy carrasco
ryan sharp
sings in the sunshine
rick bennett
scot mcknight
karen ward
alan hirsch
dan kimball
petey crowder

i'm reading it

colossians remixed
africa unchained

i finished reading it - 2007

generation me
jesus and the restoration of israel
god's continent
globalizing theology
gustavo gutierrez: essential writings
jesus and the eyewitnesses
garlands of grace
twenty poems to nourish your soul
the black swan
dancing in the streets
made to stick
signs in contemporary culture
hit the bullseye
the politics of jesus
readings in christian ethics
toward old testament ethics
the kite runner
principles of conduct
velvet elvis
the irresistable revolution
they like jesus, but not the church
the great omission
charisma: the gift of grace, and how it has been taken from us
the starfish and the spider
a perfect mess
the world cafe
the new faces of christianity
leaving church
journeying in faith
the creed
transforming mission
metaphors we live by
foolishness to the greeks
personal knowledge

states i've spent time: 2007

british columbia
oh yeah, denmark, too

i wrote it

managing conflict in the 'new world'
music review: over the rhine
film review: bonhoeffer
music review: fighting jacks
film review: the passion of the christ
how reality tv changes lives
the best tv article you've ever read
corks & caps: a wine lover's story of change
america's idols
random, disorganized thoughts about life after the katrina disaster
missional . . . plain and simple
on becoming post-gnostic

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