Tuesday, April 24, 2007

American Idol and Poverty

My wife and I don't watch or follow American Idol. Actually, with an active toddler at home, we don't watch much TV other than Blues Clues and the Wiggles. So I certainly did not think that I would blog about American Idol (although it will be interesting to see my page view numbers once I do!).

This morning, however, I read E.J. Dionne Jr.'s column about the decision of the producers of American Idol to use the program to increase awareness of poverty:

Is there something worse than a multimillion-dollar televised entertainment operation patting itself on the back for weeks on end in celebration of its brilliantly inventive and groundbreaking approach to philanthropy?

Actually, there is something worse: a total indifference to human suffering. If pampered stars and their corporate patrons have a hankering for public approval or -- could it be? -- a sense of authentic obligation, perhaps that behavior should be encouraged.

Those among the 30 million or so regular watchers of Fox's "American Idol" (yes, I confess I'm one) will know I'm referring to the "Idol Gives Back" spectacular that airs tonight and tomorrow to raise money for poor children in the United States and Africa.

. . .

What marks a genuine cultural change is "Idol's" interest in poverty itself. The extravaganza is not just about collecting money for some good causes (America's Second Harvest; Save the Children; Boys & Girls Clubs of America; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and UNICEF, among others). The program will, in effect, be a sustained, two-night argument to "Idol" viewers that they might have an obligation to do something about injustice and the pain of others. This is subversive.

Read it all. I agree with E.J.--the producers are taking a risk with this emphasis on poverty. This is not a "safe" cause like disease or disaster relief, but instead focuses on scandal of extreme poverty throughout the world and devastating poverty in the United States. Let's hope it works.

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