Reality Television and Authentic Faith

No wonder our family enjoys reality shows like American Idol or Little People, Big World. The Parents Television Council's new study, Faith in a Box 2005-2006, is a review of how religion is portrayed on prime time broadcast television. One of their findings was about reality television:
Reality shows are more positive towards religion: The format of the program was a significant factor in the portrayal which religion received. A majority (57.8%) of the positive portrayals of religion were to be found on reality programs. By contrast, an overwhelming percentage (95.5%) of the negative portrayals of religion came from such Hollywood-scripted drama and comedy programs; only 4.5% of negative portrayals of religion were found on reality shows.
Examples in the report include:
  • Cindy Teas, who started a summer camp for handicapped children, states: “I thought about how many times I felt like God held my hand and walked me through this walk of faith…and there were all those little hands I’ve had the opportunity to hold.” (ABC, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition October 16, 2005)
  • Dunstin, who is suffering from cancer, says: “I just trust in the Lord to take care of my children and family…Sometimes you wonder, why me? But then…you give thanks to the Lord, pray, and move on.” (ABC, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, March 19, 2006)
  • P. Miller says: “You gotta pray and you gotta thank The Man up above for just givin’ you the opportunity to do some of the things that you wanna do.” Miller and his dance partner Ashly are shown holding hands in prayer before their dance performance. Both say “Amen” at the conclusion of their prayer. (ABC, Dancing with the Stars, January 27, 2006)
  • Danni leads her group in prayer to Jesus, giving thanks for their meal. (CBS, Survivor: Guatemala, October 13, 2005)
  • Mandisa tells Simon Cowell that she has forgiven him for his rude remarks about her weight because of the grace she was given through Jesus Christ. (Fox, American Idol, February 15, 2006)
  • Melony states: “I’ve been blessed to still be alive this year, and God gave me life. He gave me another chance, and I’m going to live and live it healthy!” (NBC, The Biggest Loser, January 4, 2006)
  • Carly, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was four years old but recovered, says: “A lot of people prayed for me and I think that really helped me.” (NBC, Three Wishes, September 30, 2005)
  • The Weaver family prays and asks God to keep them safe. Mrs. Weaver is heard in voice-over stating that it was the family’s relationship with God that enabled the family to get through her husband’s death. Throughout the episode Mrs. Weaver prays for help in accomplishing her tasks. (CBS, The Amazing Race: Family Edition, September 27, 2005)
Brent Bozell, President of PTC, finds this ironic:
"...(In) reality shows such as Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and The Amazing Race, where real characters freely express themselves, faith and religion are positively portrayed. But in scripted shows, where Hollywood writers express their worldviews, faith and religion become four letter words – to the tune of 95.5% negative portrayals. This is an industry that is completely out of touch with reality."
I'm not so sure he's right about that last statement. After all, producers edit reality television for public consumption, and the references to faith cited above could have been cut. They could have been used to denigrate the characters rather than endear them to the viewing audience. But they weren't. Could profit-driven Hollywood actually be responding to the spiritual hunger for authenticity in our culture by shifting positive expressions of faith into reality television? As Anastasia Goodstein of Ypulse puts it:
(Young people are)... more cynical when it comes to marketers' motivations, more savvy about what is authentic or cool or offers real value, and a much tougher audience to reach in general. There's just so much noise.
Is it any wonder, then, that our culture prefers a simple declaration of faith from people of genuine faith to a slick, scripted profession articulated by writers and actors who don't believe a word of it?

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