Fred Clark’s post Move that schoolbus! is from… a while ago. If you’ve ever seen the show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, though, it’s worth a read, as is the article he links to.
The few times I watched it, I felt vaguely ill about the massive pile of stuff that was thrown at the featured families. Especially in run-down neighborhoods, I couldn’t help but wonder how the neighbors felt about the sudden appearance of a gargantuan, state of the art house crammed with technology and luxurious furnishings. (I hadn’t seen an episode where other homes on the block got any assistance, but apparently it sometimes happens.)
Clark’s idea of having Extreme Makeover: School Edition crystallized it for me, that an extravagant act of commercialized charity totaling near half a million dollars for one family could, in another application, benefit hundreds and hundreds of children, or even several families. The producers do such a great job positioning the families as suffering and needy. But I wonder, do they really need so much?
I’m pretty sure that paying off someone’s mortgage and getting them a reliable car and a family vacation while sprucing up their current house is a financial and emotional boost that any family would rejoice to receive. But because it’s on television, and not really about helping, everything is about vast quantities of stuff. We can’t just fix up your current house, we have to tear it down and start over and throw out all your furniture and appliances and get you new ones. We can’t just get you a new reliable Honda Civic, we’re going to get you an expensive SUV.
Then I feel bad about “begrudging” any of these families the lottery they basically won by appearing on the show. My proposal of mortgage, car, vacation, and house sprucing obviously shows I’m not arguing for only giving them enough gruel to live on and two outfits so they can wash one while wearing the other, but the producers make it too hard to look at the family and say “wow, should this television show really get credit for helping people when it does so in almost the most narcissistic, inefficient way possible?”
So yeah, I don’t watch much television anymore. Too complicated.