American Idol: Fame, Fortune, and Self-Delusion
A recent poll by the Pew Research Center released last week reveals that "eighty-one percent of 18- to 25-year-olds...said getting rich is their generation's most important life goal." The second most important, according to the survey: "being famous." Described as the "millennial" generation; fifty-one percent listed being famous as the second most important life goal.
A Gallup Panel survey of 18-to 29-year-olds released last month found that 55% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement "You dream about getting rich."
Most telling are the results of an annual survey of college freshmen by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA in which 2005 data show that "the percentage who say it is 'essential' or 'very important' to be 'very well off financially' grew from 41.9% in 1967 to 74.5% in 2005." Ironically, "developing a meaningful philosophy of life" dropped in importance from 85.8% in 1967 to 45% in 2005."
Anecdotally, one only has to watch an episode of American Idol to realize that many in this generation are obsessed with fame and fortune to the point of radical self-delusion. Convinced of their "ability" many of these "wanna-be" stars seem oblivious to the fact that they have absolutely no singing talent whatsoever. None! In fact, their outrageous assumptions to the contrary and subsequent humiliation (of which we and the judges only seem to be aware of) are a central part of the show's entertainment.
I think this is only to be expected among a generation raised in the ";self-esteem at all cost" era in which everyone is encouraged, cajoled and celebrated regardless of their performance. It seems as if the worst thing a person could be told today is that they have fallen short in any endeavor. The harm in all of this is a false sense of self coupled with a false sense of reality. The self is elevated to the place of supremacy in their world in which, to borrow from Lesslie Newbigin, "Who am I? Becomes an absorbing question, one that would never occur to a person who takes for granted the existence of a real world by which one can orient oneself."
Newbigin is making a profound point here. In the absence of any comprehensive and coherent view of reality there naturally follows a sense of isolation which limits one's view of the world to only its relation to the self. The autonomous self becomes the arbiter of truth, i.e. "What's true for me" becomes the only and final basis for determining truth while the authentication of the self is reduced to one's own experience, lifestyle, and feelings. Thus, there is no overarching authority outside oneself by which one can analyze, understand, and determine how one should interact with the real world. In other words, "It's all about me!" and these self-delusional perspectives have become common. Such people basically construct their own reality utilizing the superficial means of fashion and style combined with a "star-like" view of themselves.
Why should we care, you may ask? Because we want to reach the world, including the forthcoming generation with the Gospel view of reality in which it's not about you but about Him!
Furthermore, a culture which encourages people to authenticate or give meaning to themselves can only offer the means of experience, lifestyle and feelings. Inevitably these cultures will gravitate to more extreme "experiences" such as illicit drugs and sexual profligacy, reduce the aim of life to the acquisition of things, and separate passion from reason.
In such a culture, life is for now and there is little interest in the larger questions regarding life and its meaning. This is hedonism and a hedonistic culture presents a formidable set of "false pretensions that keep people from knowing God." The preeminent interest becomes one's own personal peace, pleasure and prosperity. These values hold strong appeal to fallen man and the lusts of the flesh.
Historically speaking, it is at this point that civilizations, which have fallen into this state, almost always secure their demise. There is diminished interest in those activities that serve the greater good - activities which are foundational to building and maintaining productive societies. Instead, what social energy remains is poured, more and more, into activities that satisfy our selfish appetites: sex, materialism, amusement, self-medication though drugs and alcohol, etc, etc.
As Christ-followers living in a real world among people living in societies we are to care about the conditions of society and be vigilant bearers of the Truth at every point. When we recognize those patterns which indicate a destructive course, the Church should be quick to sound the alarm in an attempt to persuade people toward a true understanding of reality understood from Christ's perspective. This is the all-encompassing Gospel.
By persevering to speak truth into a culture that has become so self-delusional we may actually aid in their accepting the good news of Jesus. And, for many within the Church they too must be encouraged to recognize and abandon this narcissistic tendency. Contrary to what many professing Christians believe; the Gospel cannot be understood as an addendum to an already well-lived life. Becoming a follower Christ demands a whole new orientation in one's life away from the self and a new understanding applied to the whole of reality. This is the role of discipleship and its conspicuous absence in so many churches has only accommodated self-deluded Christians who continue to think and live with a desire to become the next American Idol.
Copyright 2007 S. Michael Craven
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S. Michael Craven is the Founding Director of the Center for Christ & Culture, a ministry of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families. The Center for Christ & Culture is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to recapture and demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, additional resources and other works by S. Michael Craven visit: www.battlefortruth.org
Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.