17 May 2010

Doing the Right Thing for the Wrong Reasons - Why I Detest "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition"

I only needed to hear a few seconds of the audio track coming from the TV in the other room before I made a dash into the viewing area. Alas, I was too late.
“It’s just ‘The Simpsons,’” my wife scowled as the changed the channel. “It’s on like, every day, all the time.”
Her fingers worked the buttons on the remote, and eventually, the screen was filled with Ty Pennington’s smiling face.
Time to leave.
My wife and I agree on many important things, but when it comes to television, we are night and day. My wife, you see, happens to really like “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” ABC’s home remodeling show that has produced 162 episodes during seven seasons. The basic premise is that Ty and his diverse crew of lovable re-modelers will send a deserving family on vacation and re-build them a new home, often with modifications for disabilities, in a week. The families, from what I’ve seen, also have medical bills and mortgages paid, and sometimes receive cars.
I have no doubt that the needs of the families on the show are genuine. What I take issue with is how the entire thing is presented. It reinforces the same sort of “deus ex machina” moral portrayed in CBS’s “Undercover Boss.” In TV land, people who have problems are helped only when someone with far more power than they (like a television network) swoops in to fix the wrongs. Unfortunately, it’s about as likely as winning the lottery.
What bugs me the most about “Makeover” is the sort of ham-handed sentimentality that drapes everything in the proceedings. The warm fuzzies culminate in the citizens of whatever no-name town the build is happening in to come over a hill wearing matching t-shirts with stirring music playing, ready to tear down the house.
“When we heard about the [blank] family’s troubles, we just couldn’t stand by and do nothing,” a resident will say.
Really? How coincidental that your desire to help just happened to occur when a major network is filming a television show on the same family! Remarkable! It almost makes me forget that if your town really had its act together, and really cared like you claim, Ty Pennington and crew would have never heard of it. There would be no need for “Extreme Makeover” to even be here, because the Johnsons wouldn’t have to be living in a cardboard box near a pig farm. You would have already taken care of them.
The homebuilders who get some face time are just as cloyingly humble, mumbling memorized statements about building the house on behalf of the blah-blah company. “Makeover” is really nothing more than business PR disguised as do-gooding. Next time you watch the show, pay attention to how many needless close-ups of brand names there are during the build process. Once you notice, you can’t ignore it. Also, Ty seemingly never forgets to mention “the good folks at CVS Pharmacy” who pay peoples’ medical bills, or Ford, who donates cars.
“Makeover” is a prime example of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. How many people, I wonder, would show up to build this house were the cameras and fanfare not present? And how many write-offs do businesses, ranging from contractors to Sears, get in the process? In “Makeover,” everyone wins: the family, ABC, Ty Pennington, volunteers and the corporate donors.
Building a house for a family in need is an admirable thing, but when was the last time you saw Habitat for Humanity workers on prime time every Sunday night? Somehow I can’t feel dirty after watching “Makeover,” as the exposure seems to contradict the inherently invisible humility in giving:
Matthew 6:2 – “When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret.
“And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

1 comment:

Noel Petit said...

Yes, Habitat does 100's of homes annually and gets press when a local newscaster volunteers. Unfortunately, we are approaching a time when home ownership will be out of reach for many. As building codes expand with "this will just add $300 to each home" monthly, we will find construction and remodeling too expensive. This is one of consequences of a government that will solve all problems.