Idol Speculation

I don’t watch Australian Idol, because I hate the over-ornamented vocal style that is the current vogue. However, I’m well aware that a lot of people really enjoy watching the performances, and that a lot of kids dream about winning the competition.

So this week’s speculation that Assemblies of God churches are using bloc voting to push contestants who belong to their congregations to the top of the viewer favourites polls intrigues me. The Daily Telegraph journoblogger Garth Montgomery lays out the story in detail, including clips from the Today Tonight “expose”, and asks whether the various reality TV shows (which have nearly all had their problems with accusations of vote stacking) should have more transparent voting practices?

Obviously, vote stacking would be much more difficulting if the voting technology limited the number of votes that can come from a single phone number, but this would also cut into one of the ways in which the shows generate revenue, so that’s most unlikely to occur.

What some commentors over at Garth’s Monty blog have noted is that there are two immediate questions of fairness that such vote-stacking allegations raise:

  1. How does this make other contestants who don’t belong to large social organisations feel, when they’re taking part in a show which is allegedly all about talent?
  2. How would a contestant who does win through vote stacking feel later on when it doesn’t translate into recording sales and genuine broader community popularity? Mightn’t they actually feel cheated that they didn’t win on their own merits and have disrupted their life for several years based on what proves to be not enough talent? Mightn’t it be kinder not to build up false hopes of a true professional career?

To those two questions I would add: if the public perception becomes that one has to belong to AOG or another similiar group to win, won’t it ultimately turn the audience away and ruin opportunities in general for talented kids?

Disclosure: Garth Montgomery is my neighbour and I’m scared of his dog.

Categories: arts & entertainment, ethics & philosophy, religion

15 replies

  1. Or
    3) if people are stupid enough to belong to the Assemblies of God (or any other large social organisation that would vote en masse) AND believe that Australian Idol is either a good career move or an indicator of talent, deserve what they get, large phone bills included

    4) too many teenagers have too much unfettered mobile phone usage, without it the show would run out of cash and be off the air. I beg the parents of Australia!

  2. There’s certainly some interesting stuff in Monty’s blog. And the numbers of comments (179 at time of writing) is extraordinary, compared to comments on his other recent posts (20, 30, 40 …). Though they were pretty much what I’d expect: falling into diametrically opposed camps and not much in between.
    So Idol gets more publicity, thanks to Monty, and also Hillsong. What intrigues me is that the focus of the condemnation appears to fall on Hillsong, but it’s FremantleMedia Australia that runs the show, and makes decisions about voting practices and so on.
    A few interesting points and questions raised in the comments on Monty’s post …
    … Similar block voting was encouraged in the country towns of some entrants in recent years, and not much noise was made about that …
    … Actually these Christian contestants are quite talented and deserve to still be on the show …
    … Aren’t there more important things for our community to get riled up about?
    … Would the same complaints be made if the contestants had a a different religious affiliation?
    So why the fuss? Is it just another opportunity for the media to have a go at Hillsong?
    Personally, I’m more concerned about Telstra’s sponsorship of a competition that requires voting by phone only. (Though from their perspective it would be seen as an investment …)
    disclosure: I rarely watch Idol, I am not a member of any of the AoG churches, and I don’t have accounts with Telstra. I am not fond of scary Chihuahuas, either.

  3. I’d like to point m’learned friends to Matt’s take on the issue.

    You can see the pattern, the “affiliations” became more and more tenuous as the show progressed. By the end of it I was wondering if anyone who’d had a passing interest in the Acts of the Apostles was a Hillsong plant in their eyes.

    So in their defense (sort of), it is one thing to talk about how Hillsong carefully market their own album launches, it is another again to accuse them of machiavellian plots to take over the album launches of reality TV shows. That’s just plain paranoia. What I hope is a little clearer from the above is that the “devout” Christian culture that feeds into and feeds off Idol is a whole lot broader than Hillsong. There is no Christian Illuminati here.

  4. Definitely agree that the Today Tonight report was largely a beat-up aimed at smearing Hillsong: wonder if somebody was doing JWH a favour because of Costello’s perceived strong links with Hillsong?
    It’s perfectly understandable that Pentecostal congregations, with their strong musical culture, will produce plenty of candidates and that the congregations will want to vote for them. The congregations are not at fault for gaming a voting system designed to generate revenue for Fremantle Media and Telstra in order to help their own talented young people.
    As Garth’s final question of his post made clear, it’s exactly the opacity and capacity to game the voting system that is the real problem. I think it will hurt the show if the perception grows that one has to belong to a particular megachurch to have a chance of winning, and that’s pretty unfair to all the candidates, including any AOG contestants who might actually have had a chance of winning it without the gaming of the voting system. It will definitely hurt their sales after the show ends.
    Sure, there’s some aspects of bigotry towards the Pentecostals involved as well. I don’t think it’s anti-Christian as such – there’s a lot of conservative Christians who resent the Pentecostals’ growth while their own congregations dwindle – it’s more a combination of Aussie suspicion of conspicuous religious display and disdain of tall poppies (big, shiny, big churches).

  5. I am not fond of scary Chihuahuas, either.

    D is not scary in the simple aggressive sense. D is scary in a sort of exuding mad ninja skillz sense.

  6. I was intrigued with the Hillsong story too although it came as no surprise given Tarasai’s little girly loves God and her gift talk at the start. Yes, I watch Idol and enjoy it and that does not make me a bad person, perhaps misguided but not bad. 🙂
    The thing is – the Hillsong contestants can sing, and the weaker Hillsongers are being voted off so I think it’s irrelevant really…
    Also did you note 10’s slag off of Dancing with the Hasbeens on the same night?

  7. The thing is – the Hillsong contestants can sing, and the weaker Hillsongers are being voted off so I think it’s irrelevant really”¦
    This is precisely the point made by so many of those who commented on Monty’s post, and reasoned by Tigtog above.
    So my question to Today Tonight would be “Why do they want to make it relevant?”
    Tigtog, I’m going to stick my neck out here and disagree: I think the attack is anti-Christian. Hillsong are just the target du jour, and an easy one at that because they are big and shiny. Tomorrow or the next day it will be some other Christian group or church on some other issue. I don’t think it’s about all poppies at all.

  8. tall poppies, that is …
    You see, it all adds up. This was a very compelling phrase from another post here about the incidents and systems that some might say are insignificant but actually all add up to keep women oppressed.
    I don’t for one moment suggest that the scale of the “adding up” or the oppressive result is the same here.
    But … I do look at a media story like this and think “yep, another one” – isolated, it might appear irrelevant and insignificant, but add it to the other drips in the bucket and … it all adds up.

  9. To me the comparison is more like those who accuse feminists of hating men when really what feminists hate is misogyny.

    Hillsong and the AOG have the public perception that they want to unduly influence the political process in comparison to other religious/Christian groups. They are viewed as authoritarian and interfering.

    Criticisms of certain hierarchies for perceived abuses of religious influence are not the same as criticising their religion for existing.

  10. Matt Stone’s most recent post on the incident says it very well:
    So the Australian Idol finalists were targeted by the reporters simply for being Pentecostals, nothing more.
    According to Matt’s post and the Telegraph story he quotes, none of the contestants are Hillsong members, but because they are Pentecostals, the label “Hillsong” was applied to them.
    “Hillsong” and “AoG” are not freely interchangeable terms. It would be wrong to draw a conclusion about Hillsong (positive or negative) and apply it to all AoG churches. This distinction is one that I’d have thought a responsible investigative journalist might be able to make. But perhaps the journalist doesn’t personally know anyone who attends any of these churches, and was acting in ignorance. Not an excuse, but perhaps an explanation.
    A couple of questions for you:
    Is it true that the Australian public at large views Hillsong as “authoritarian and interfering”? I’ve read a fair number media reports about them in recent years that have this tone, but how wide spread is that viewamongst the community? To what extent do you think the media reflects the public view here, as opposed to, say, influencing the public view.
    And on the issue of Hillsong (or other churches) influencing political process, how do you define “unduly”? Can it be calculated according to the proportion of the population that claim to be adherents? Or according to the amount of money invested in social welfare programs? Or any other quantifiable method?
    Or does it simply boil down to people not wanting to receive counsel from others who choose to live their life according to different values?
    I am in no way elevating “Christian values” in comparison to values espoused by other faiths, just raising the possibility that the response to Hillsong (if it is widespread and negative) may not be because they behave badly, but because, deep down, none of us like being told by another the way we should live our lives.
    These are far more important questions than how Australian Idol manages its voting system, yes?

  11. just raising the possibility that the response to Hillsong (if it is widespread and negative) may not be because they behave badly, but because, deep down, none of us like being told by another the way we should live our lives.

    I think that is very true, but in the case of Hillsong and other churches which engage in strong political lobbying, it is also the perception that such groups wish to not only tell others to live as they would wish, but that they are planning to use the apparatus of the State to force others to live as they would wish.
    History and current events around the world tell us that no matter what religion, the harnessing of the State with Religion tends to end badly. People are more comfortable when religious leaders keep their noses out of party politics. At the same time people want religious leaders to speak up on issues of social justice, so of course walking the line can be difficult, however I expect that most people think the role of the churches is to pester the State to be more just and work harder for the common good, not bolster the State to be more authoritarian and work harder for the corporatocracy.
    I can’t say that I blame people generally for viewing religious leaders who cosy up to the State with a great deal of suspicion.

  12. I agree absolutely that the church’s role in our community ought not be to bolster the State to be more authoritarian and work harder for the corporatocracy. If, as you say, Hillsong engages in strong political lobbying, is it to achieve these two outcomes? And in what areas of government policy? (I’m not aiming to defend Hillsong, just feeling the need for some examples to help me understand what you’re meaning here.)
    People are more comfortable when religious leaders keep their noses out of party politics.
    Why is that, do you think?
    Every other sector of our community is permitted to lobby (“pester”) for change in public policy and the spending of taxpayer dollars. In what way are church leaders so different from the rest of us that they should be denied the right to lobby the government on political issues? Farmers, environmentalists, tobacco manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, motorist associations, parents, teachers, unionists … all these groups and more are permitted, nay, encouraged to lobby. Why not church leaders??
    Churches lobbying for change (or for maintaining the status quo) is not the same thing as “harnessing the State with Religion”, which I agree has very little going for it. If lobbying did equate to harnessing, then I might just as easily say that the government was harnessed to the tobacco industry. This is ridiculous of course – the tobacco industry cannot use its lobbying influence to force me to take up smoking, for example.
    It is most definitely a fine line that you say the community asks church leaders to walk: so many issues of social justice (lobby, lobby) are also political issues (keep out, keep out).
    Seems a bit unreasonable to me.

  13. Hillsong seems to strongly advocate the prosperity doctrine that wealth is a reward for piety, and this implies (although of course they never state it outright) that the wealthy are thus proven to be more righteous than others. Emphasising wealth-building is inherently advocating corporatocracy in today’s economy, and that’s where they put their political dollars. Hillsong also seems to advocate State enforcement of their particular moral codes regarding reproductive choices and same-sex relationships, which is an increase in authoritarianism. Of course, any group has the right to advocate for authoritarianism and corporatocracy, but they shouldn’t expect to be free from criticism for it.
    Please note that I emphasised their meddling in party politics, it was even in the line you chose to quote, yet your response is conflating all politics with party politics. It’s an important distinction.
    As to holding religious leaders to a higher standard in their dealings with politics, that’s a consequence of religious leaders’ claim to be serving a higher truth and thus having superior authority for their claims when compared to other groups. It is unreasonable to accord extraordinary status to your group’s claims and then argue that your group’s actions should thereafter be judged just the same as anyone else’s.

  14. The theological teaching that you describe as “prosperity doctrine” is certainly worth challenging. I’m rather uncomfortable with it: for one thing it seems to ignore the Bible’s teaching that those who follow Christ are to live sacrificial lives, many to the point of persecution; and for another it gives the impression that God’s blessings are primarily material. This is why I’d agree that your concern over its implication that the wealthy are thus proven to be more righteous than others is well founded.
    However your claim that Hillsong’s teaching about wealth is inherently advocating government by the rich, and that they put their political dollars into pursuing that, could be seen as inflammatory in the absence of some specific examples to support it.
    You also claim that Hillsong want the State to enforce (through legislation?) the church’s moral codes. That may well be true. And they probably wouldn’t be alone among the churches in that respect. If your concern is that this leads to an increase in the authoritarian character of our government, such that it takes away what we might regard as our freedoms and liberties, then there are other lobby groups you might want to condemn, too. The various anti-smoking organisations, for example, who successfully lobbied for the establishment of Quit and, eventually, bans on smoking in many public venues. Lots of smokers would be standing with you!
    At the risk of pre-empting your response to this comparison, I’m guessing that the real issue here is not the enforcing of particular behaviour as such, but an objection to it arising out of a moral or ethical code that may differ from your own. Your code would probably be different to the churches’ on the issue of reproductive choices, so you’d object to them trying to restrict freedoms in that area of people’s lives. But you’re probably comfortable, like the anti-smoking lobby, with restricting smoker’s freedoms in order to protect the health of the community. Just an example.
    As to the distinction between politics and party politics, it is an important one. I missed the fact that we were making a distinction, as your earlier post had included a claim that Hillsong (and other churches) were planning to use the apparatus of the State to force others to live as they would wish. I assumed this to include such activities as lobbying individual members of parliament, lobbying political parties, or any of the other mechanisms available to organisations in our community who want change via the political process.
    But I understand now what it is that you’re emphasising: that Hillsong meddles (or has meddled) in party politics. Are you suggesting something akin to Archbishop Mannix’s campaign against conscription during the years of the First World War, or something like his subsequent support of the strongly Catholic anti-conscription faction of the split Labor Party? Or something else? As above, a claim like this could seem inflammatory without examples to support it.
    On your last point “¦ are you saying that church leaders claim a superior authority for their political lobbying and that the reason the public views this lobbying with suspicion rests on their failure to live up to a higher standard of behaviour? (Trying to paraphrase and make links with your previous comments and my questions.)
    You know, I don’t know that they do, as a rule, claim that sort of authority. I’m sure they would openly acknowledge that their views on a particular issue are influenced by what the Bible might teach (in fact, I’d be a bit disappointed if they didn’t), but that’s not the same as claiming outright that the State and the community has to submit because “the Bible says so”. I’m limited here to what I know of the Sydney Anglican Social Issues Executive over the last few years, and am happy to stand corrected if I’m way off base.
    This was rather long, and a long way from where we started with Australian Idol, but I’m rather enjoying the conversation, Tigtog. I hope you are, too.

  15. Actually, I’m bored.
    Could I, if I wished, find support for various arguments I’ve made above? Surely I could, and certainly some of your points have merit, and if I were in the right mood I might enjoy it. But I’m not: you have taken the discussion into areas way beyond my original claims, any rebuttal would drag this out even further, and neither of us is going to change our mind.
    Nobody else is reading this, and I don’t blame them.

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