Green Idolatry

It’s really American Idolatry, but we wouldn’t like it if anyone called it that. The two words almost meld into one with this phenomenon, a little too close for comfort, not quite close enough to be called a definitive rendering. In a phrase, just the way we like it.

It’s ostensibly just TV criticism, but you have to really squint not to see the Darwinian parallels to our shallow, wasteful nature.

But it isn’t necessary to seek deeper meaning in the finale; it’s the “American Idol” franchise itself that best speaks to the state of the nation.

“American Idol” matters not just as a pop culture phenomenon, but as an institution that works — with scary efficiency — at a time when so many other American enterprises seem flawed or imperiled. It stands out this season in particular: “American Idol” is a money-making machine in the middle of a worldwide recession, an old-fashioned must-see television hit at a time when the Internet and cable have eaten away at the networks’ hegemony.

Equal parts commercialized excess and live TV so scripted even its delayed gratification drips in perfect, pre-measured droplets, each constituent part supplies just a little more sadness than the last in a perfectly conceived formula ordained to guarantee the success of the whole. This is the sort of relentlessness that we can respect and believe in, even as it’s weighed down by self-knowledge that’s as loathsome and desperate as the pursuit of fame and fortune itself.

As a commodity, we eat fun and humiliation for breakfast, but not before we slap a corporate logo on them.