Faith at Altitude

Religion and spirituality in the shadow of Pikes Peak

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Screening Faith

The Parents Television Council recently released its latest study on how television portrays religion. Its conclusion: TV ain't doing so hot.

According to the PTC, negative references to faith outweigh positive references overall, with the biggest offenders being scripted television shows. Fox's "Family Guy" and "House" were particularly offensive, according to the survey, with an assist from another Fox show, "The Simpsons." UPN (now the CW television network) was the dial's most offensive outlet, but PTC cited few examples from the network: Apparently, not enough folks watched UPN to worry the PTC all that much.

By comparison, reality shows were havens (heavens?) for positive depictions of faith, according to the study.

All of this is pretty interesting and, on one level, enlightening. Most Americans say that faith is a big part of their lives, so it would make sense that reality shows might have a higher faith content than scripted shows. And certainly, some shows do more than their fair share of slamming spirituality: In one episode of "Family Guy," God apparently creates the world by farting and setting the ensuing gas on fire. I certainly don't think that's what's being taught in Sunday School.

Still, it's interesting to see what PTC marked as "positive," "negative" or "neutral."

The PTC slaps a "negative" label on an April 9 episode of "The Simpsons," wherein a Hindu tells Homer "In our system of beliefs there are many gods." The following week, as "The Simpsons'" pastor wonders whether getting into a debate over evolution and creationism might boost attendence, he says "our membership HAS been dwindling since the Episcopalians put in those vibrating pews." The PTC also considered that a "negative."

Positive remarks were reliably preachy. "American Idol's" Mandisa earned kudos from PTC after she forgave Simon Cowell for making a crack about her weight, because Mandisa cited Jesus as the reason she was able to be so forgiving. But some "positives" broke form: On "So You Think You Can Dance," a Jewish contestant says "sometimes I'll be in synagogue praying and I'll just, y'know, bust a move and people will start giggling." Another positive, according to the PTC.

Neutral? An example comes from the WB show "Reba," when a character receives a new television and says "Oh, thank the Lord! This is the best thing that's ever happened to me!"

Well, you can't say the PTC wasn't thorough.


Anonymous Zen said...

Anyone else find it interesting that the network evangelicals trust the most for accurate news reporting (FOX) is also the network that PTC claims is (by quite a bit it seems) the most negative towards religion?

This seems to support David Kuo's argument that the (neo)conservative political establishment has no true respect for religion, and in fact is only interested in using (exploiting?) the religious to achieve a political / social end.

3:05 PM  
Blogger Dean said...

When it comes to the validity of the methodology used here, I'd have to rate it "mixed" to "negative."

6:36 PM  

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