Knowing all this, then, why is it that each Sunday night finds me eagerly awaiting ABC’s Extreme Home: Makeover Edition? Have you seen it? It’s a reality show in which a picturesquely troubled family gets their ramshackle home completely renovated in a week. (ABC sends them on vacation.) The families have autistic children or are expecting triplets or have lost a parent (or both parents) to violent or tragic deaths or have adopted children with special needs. These are all very good people on the margins of the middle class and the cute carpentry team swoops in and gives them indoor plumbing and makes sure each child has a nauseating theme bedroom (if the boy wants to be an architect, he will end up with a protractor footboard for sure).
I’m unsettled by the ethics of this. I have come to think the anti-sentimental view too harsh—individual stories of how charity touches lives do matter. Habitat for Humanity and Heifer and Save the Children and other legitimate, worthy charities operate on just this principle. And there is something undeniably moving about seeing people’s worries lifted: “We’ve paid off your mortgage! And that’s not all, Sears [the whole show is an ad for Sears] has put thousands of dollars into your daughter’s college fund! But wait, moved by your work with AIDs orphans, Sir Elton John donated this new GRAND PIANO!!! Now you can play again!!” In the end, I guess this is merely reality t.v. and complicit with all the evils of the genre, only less so. (And I am not one to say that being less complicit makes something worse; I can’t stand all the cicada-eating in Fear Factor and have never watched more than a few seconds.) It is not taxing to watch and lets me be an 18th century sentimental tourist without having to even visit an unpleasant spot.
In other news:
- Genevieve has a new home for You Cried for Night. Check it out. (I’ve finally fixed the link at right, too.)
- The Times reviewed Windows on the World on Sunday, coming to similar conclusions to the ones I posted here a few weeks ago.
- More on Don Quixote tomorrow, but in the meantime, don’t neglect 400 Windmills!