Idol Chatter

As my fellow blogger Doug Howe recently noted, last week marked MTV’s 25th anniversary. Doug has decided to forsake the cable giant for more “positive, spiritual” pastures, but I am still on board. It’s true that the channel hawks such wares as the this-close-to-being-morally-bankrupt “Room Raiders” and “Parental Control,” but I would argue that MTV isn’t actually the spiritual wasteland Doug thinks it to be. Sure, the audience may learn more about religion through controversy than catechism, but they are exposed to different beliefs and views and may be inspired to explore them. And so, in no particular order, I present just a few of the ways that MTV has become Multi-Faith TV:

We all know that “Catholics Do It Better,” thanks to Madonna, whose very name reeks of religion. In order to understand songs like “Papa Don’t Preach” and “Like a Prayer,” and to understand the controversy and appreciate the symbolism of her edgy stage shows, teens learned more about the religion either on their own or through MTV soundbites.

Speaking of imagery, many MTV videos incoporate classic iconography. Perhaps one of the most prominent hagiographic clips is “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M., replete with images of arrow-riddled St. Sebastian.

Ask most late-20 and early 30-somethings how they learned about Buddhism and they will answer, “The Beastie Boys.” The three party-obsessed, Jewish boys from NYC became serious paractitioners of Buddhism and popularized the “Free Tibet” concerts.

Just last week, on a very amusing episode of MTV’s “Run’s House,” Rev. Run, former member of rap pioneers RUN-DMC and a reverend-priest in Zoe Ministries, accompanied his brother, Russell Simmons, co-founder of Def-Jam records and a devout Buddhist, to a yoga class.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints:
Julie the Mormon. That’s how Julie Stoffer, who starred on “Real World: New Orleans,” will always be known. Julie did in 2000 what the Osmonds did in the 70s–in her own quirky way, making Mormonism mainstream.

The past 10 years has been the decade of the virgin on MTV. Everyone from Britney Spears to Jessica Simpson to Mandy Moore was talking about God and virginity. One need only Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” to see pure unabashed Christianity on Viacom’s video vixen. Plus, evangelical Christian bands like Sixpence None the Richer, Jars of Clay, and P.O.D. have all enjoyed frequent rotation.

Recently, millions of teens were introduced to Hasidic Judaism via rap/reggae artist Matisyahu. He sings about his faith and “counts among his musical inspirations Bob Marley, Phish, and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.”

Just recently, MTV began running a campaign of promo spots called “Spiritual Windows.” One of the promos features Muslim men bowing in prayer. More importantly, the network featured Colin Powell discussing Islam and provided factual and responsible reports about that religion post-9/11.

And don’t forget the terrific work being done by MTV documentaries: “Made,” in which a teen realizes a life dream with the help of a coach provided by MTV. And then there’s the “Real Life” series, which offers dramatic, often inspiring, takes on subjects affecting youth.

Sure, MTV is a bit unorthodox, but it’s a great way to educate the masses and increase understanding. Just ask former MTV VeeJay Carson Daly who had, at one time, wanted to be a priest. Without MTV, how else would Middle America know what it means to be a Hasidic Jew who sings reggae, which itself is often associated with Rastafarianism?

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