Religion and network TV blend nicely in primetime

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And now, Jesus would like you to listen to this very special word from our sponsor … Did you know that acid reflux is a disease that can be healed with this pill? Do you ever get that not-so-fresh feeling? Obey your thirst! Obey Jesus! BUY NOW! NOW!”

Sex sells, but guess what? So does Jesus. Combine the two and you’ve got the yin-yang of primetime programming. “Desperate Housewives” to get your hot side hot, and “Joan of Arcadia” to keep your cold side cold (“No burning at the stake for this plucky Joan. Just a thick juicy steak being grilled your way at your local Steakhouse! Come on down, right now!”)

The success of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of The Christ” against all conventional wisdom has got all good Hollywood execs scrambling for the next big piece of the Christian demographic pie. So bring on “Revelations,” “Book of Daniel,” and “Briar and Graves” — all shows now on the air or in development for next season. For someone in television development, the only way to get the demographic pie is to provide the magic symbol that encircles advertisers and viewers. So, Christian TV isn’t just for “Praise the Lord” loser cable programming anymore. Nope, now it’s going to be God himself, through half-hour or hour-long parables, with advertisers hocking crap to consumers.

Now, you may argue that while commercials do hock crap, TV shows themselves are artistic, creative, pristine entities that keep people’s hot sides hot and their cold sides cold. However, they are most definitely sandwiched between commercials. Hot, affordable juicy beef patties have nothing to do with being “Touched by an Angel.”

Every television executive, every television writer, and every television all-beef patty advertiser know that their twin tenets of existence are to deliver audiences to advertisers and simultaneously distract them from this patently obvious fact. Thus, the necessity of emanating stupefying TV death-rays. Why else would anyone program golf?

I do not mean to bemoan Christian commercialism. I think that the match of religious audiences with advertisers is one made in “7th Heaven.” Now, you can save your soul from the comfort of your couch. But why go to the church when you can go to the mall instead? It’s better for the American economy for you to buy than it is for you to pray. In other words, the time you spend in church would be better spent if you were spending.

Besides, everyone knows church is boring. Television is exciting! Church is based on the Bible, which is a bunch of words that make no sense and are boring, right? Television is based on rapid-fire dialogue and action-packed sexy images that make no sense and are exciting. Church makes God an old, white-bearded curmudgeon. Why can’t God be a hot dude, like he is on “Joan of Arcadia”? He can, and he is. It’s the magic of television — more magic than transubstantiation, and much easier to comprehend.

The logic of advertisements is the same as the logic of religious faith. Ads, like dogma, appeal to a sense of emotion over reason. They distract with bells and whistles, and then implant subconscious instructions. They prove their point with tautology — the point is the point.

In religion, God is the Father, but you are unclean in his sight and must obey certain rules. Of course, God sees all. That’s why he knows, no matter how many other people think you’re swell, that you are damned. Jesus will save you, but not from anything bad that might happen to you. God is love, but hates sin. Jesus died for your sins, but if you don’t believe that, you’re going to hell.

In advertisements for a product like Head-Ex, things are much the same. “Head-Ex. When you really have a headache, Head-Ex works,” or “A Doctor could tell you the same thing, but who listens to doctors?” or “I use it because it works, that’s why.” “Head-ex.. Don’t listen to the hype.” “Obey your thirst and drink this!” “Why just shower and shampoo when you could shower, shampoo and have a mind-blowing orgasm?” “The people who wear these jeans are so cool, they’re naked. You should buy these jeans so you can be naked, too.”

Like I said, religion and advertisements go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Over-saturated audiences need a little more fear of God, and advertisers have to spend billions to figure out how to make people buy, but why can’t people just accept things on faith? Couldn’t this money be better spent at the mall?

Laura Bahr is a graduate student studying mass communication.