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Idol Chatter

With only a few episodes left, I suppose that now is as good of a time as any to admit to my current TV-viewing guilty pleasure–“American Inventor.” It’s not that I think it is an exciting, well-orchestrated reality show in comparison to the zillion other reality shows on the tube. It’s just that at the end of every episode I am left with this nagging feeling that I have just witnessed a uniquely American reflection on our culture’s attitudes toward faith–in ourselves, in the ideal we call the American Dream, and even faith in God.

The premise of the show, whose producer credits include American Idol’s Simon Cowell, is a typical reality show-style competition designed to find the next great American invention. Contestants demonstrate their inventions for the prerequisite reality show panel of expert judges–each, of course, with his or her distinctive quirks–and hope the judges will vote them through to the next round. Some of the inventions, such as the Sackmaster 2000, which helps fill sandbags quickly in a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina, were designed truly for the benefit of mankind. Other inventions are designed for educational purposes, like the multicultural doll, Niya, and some inventions, of course, are just plain stupid. In tonight’s back-to-back episodes, the final four inventors will take the prototypes of their inventions to the American public, so we–the American public–can call in and decide who will win the million-dollar grand prize.

What makes this series such a mesmerizing train wreck–one which is uplifting one moment and horrifying the next–are the back stories of the inventors themselves. The sacrifices these people have made are astounding, and in some cases, possibly a little insane. Yes, some of these competitors are an inspiration because of the risks they have taken to achieve something significant, but many other competitors, no matter how good their intentions, provide a cautionary tale about the dangers of putting your faith only in the material, the tangible, or the self-serving instead of having faith in something greater than ourselves. (In one instance, a man told the judges he donated a kidney so he would have good karma going into the competition).

But the real reason I will be watching tonight’s episodes is that in spite of the more outrageous aspects of this show, I find that “American Inventor” challenges me spiritually in an unexpected way. While I consider myself a big dreamer, I am not exactly a huge risk-taker, and this show makes me think about where in my life I spiritually can walk a little more by faith–just not solely in my own strength.

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