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Madonna's Crucifixion Circus Act

Someone should tell Madonna that her Catholic-bashing, Jesus-exploiting shtick is getting old, as old as the recycled Abba tunes she's putting out as her own music. As old, almost, as she is. It's the kind of exploitation that makes you want to ignore her instead of protest against her. By protesting her endless profaning of what many people - 85 percent of Americans qualifies as "many," I think - hold to be sacred, do protesters only put more gas on her fire?

Make no mistake. At 48, she may be old enough to be Grandma, but Madonna's latest "Confessions" tour, the one in which she mounts herself on a mirrored cross and dons a crown of thorns as she sings, is still a commercial bonanza. It's being touted as the top-grossing concert tour ever by a female "artist." Reuters reports that in the past six years, Madonna has sold a staggering $400 million worth of tickets.

Numbers like that haven't escaped some TV executives. Her latest benefactor is the NBC television network, which announced in July that it would air a two-hour special of her concerts at London's Wembley stadium. Would they include the infamous mock-crucifixion in her song "Live to Tell"? In August, NBC executive Kevin Reilly declared, "She felt like that was a cornerstone of the show. We viewed it and didn't see it as being inappropriate."

Notice that Madonna insisted her stunt as Jesus in a blouse and skirt could not easily be edited out. She said it was crucial, and in a way, it really is. Without religious controversy, she is merely an aging drama queen in an overpopulated crowd of heavy-breathing pop divas, all playing prostitutes for the wealth and infamy.

Now it appears that NBC is rethinking the endorsement. Clearly they committed to her without feeling the public-relations need to sniff before they bought this smelly package. In the wake of an outpouring of objections from the likes of the American Family Association, the Catholic League, and others, NBC is now back-pedaling. The network now states it is "awaiting delivery of the special, and once we see it in its entirety, we can make a final decision."

For those of you keeping score at home, it seems that in the last few weeks, NBC is attempting to create a new public campaign to insult Catholics and evangelicals alike, as if NBC stood for Notoriously Bashing Christians.

They picked up the wildly successful, biblically-based "Veggie Tales" animated series for Saturday mornings, but executives ordered the cartoon makers to excise the Bible verses and the God stuff. And they began the new drama "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" with a plot about Christians ("a psycho religious cult") ruining television today.

Nobody who cares about the state of the culture has missed how NBC never has an ounce of this "courage" or a throbbing urge to take a stand for "freedom of speech" when the faith in the spotlight is Islam. In February, when Muslims were violently protesting in the streets over comparatively mild Islam-mocking cartoons in a Danish newspaper, where was NBC? Cowering in a corner.

NBC's Campbell Brown announced on an NBC weblog that when it came to that religion, "After some discussion in our editorial meeting, we have decided not to show the cartoons explicitly. We are trying to treat this issue with care and sensitivity while still bringing you the story." They edited it out in a spirit of multi-cultural outreach to a tiny minority - a spirit they can never seem to locate for the majority of Americans who revere Jesus.

So why not also edit out the Madonna crucifixion insult?

In 2004, the Parents Television Council released a study analyzing the treatment of religion on television and found that of all the networks, and by an overwhelming margin, NBC's treatment of religion was the worst. In fact, NBC had 9.5 negative treatments for every positive treatment, the absolute worst network by far. (Put in proper perspective Fox came in a distant second-worst with 2.4 negative treatments for every positive.) In 2005, a dreadful NBC sitcom called "Committed" - that unsurprisingly expired within weeks - carried a whole half-hour plotline mocking Catholic reverence for the Eucharist. Madonna would have loved it.

In 1992, NBC was the network that aired the one-hit wonder Sinead O'Connor on "Saturday Night Live," ripping up a picture of Pope John Paul, shouting "Fight the real enemy." Executives were genuinely outraged and apologetic at the unplanned display. Twelve years later, we have Madonna's circus act coming to town, at NBC's invitation. This time, NBC's executives are publicly proclaiming that the planned mockery of Jesus Christ himself isn't seen as "inappropriate."