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Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

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My wife loves this show. Every Sunday night we find ourselves glued to the television watchin this team of seemingly altruistic builders arrive unexpectedly at some deserving family's rundown home, send them on vacation, knock down their house, and in the span of seven days, build a brand new one that is nicer than most people's wildist dreams. The show ends with everybody in tears, especially my wife, and with the builders saying something to the effect of: "This is the most deserving family we have ever met," or "By what we did I really believe that we saved (insert name)'s life." The show ends and we all feel better about the generosity of the American spirit. And a good time was had by all.

Well, almost all. Call my jaded, or call me a cyinc, but the show really bothers me.

What bothers me is what we don't see. Those things that attention is never called to. I will pose them for you here, and you let me know what you think.

1) The family chosen is always deserving in some miraculous way. This is not a bad thing. And I am not saying that the team has not halped some people who genuinely needed help. What I want to ask though, is on what basis are families chosen. We are led to believe that they are chosen based on their need. Fine. But, being that we do live in a culture run by capitalism, and television production is about making profits, doesn't it make sense that the families are chosen, at least in (large) part based on what kind of rating the network can get, and on what kind of sponsors they can attract? Does this detract from the "altruistic" image of the show?

2) The show is, in my opinion, driven by advertisers. We are constantly bombarded by the product placement in the home. Constantly seeing "Kenmore," "Sears," the names of window companies, etc... I don't know, it just seems a little underhanded to me. It is one big advertisement under the guise of helping people in need. Also, consider the contractor who "donates" time and money, in exchange for the amazing advertisement. When people go to build a home, they go to the one who was so kind to those other people. Does this undermine the stated/portrayed "good intentions of the show?

3) My assesment is that the Extreme Home Makeover team has become the new "Justice League of America." Remember them? The superheros banded together to bring justice where there was injustice and need. Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, Aqua Man, The Wonder Twins, The Green Lantern. I really think that the Extreme Team has taken a similar role upon themselves, at least for adults. Think about it. They swoop in when injustice/poverty/damn bad luck is perceived. They have super powers in the form of money and corporate sponsors in order to accomplish their goal. To accomplish an absolutely impossible task (building a house in seven days) with their super powers, and then leave with a tearful thanks from those rescued. The difference is that the JLA really was altruistic in the sense that they NEVER RECEIVED ANYTHING IN RETURN for their services. THE ENTIRE PREMISE of Extreme Makeover Home Edition is to receive money from advertisers, corporate sponsors, and boost the ratings. Nothing is really donated, everything comes at a price. Consider the fact that the television network does not sell television shows as a product. That is not theor primary product. You are. They develop shows in order to attract an audience, and then sell that audience (you and me) to their advertisers. We become a comodity, based on our desire for true social justice to be accomplished. This may, in fact, work against true justice by contributing to potentially damaging/domineering social structures.

4) My largest concern is for our society, especially the Christian church. I wonder if the effect of shows like Extreme Makeover Home Edition will foster an even greater complacency in the church for social action. It is not hard for me to envision a group of caring citizens wanting to do something great for a down on their luck family in their neighborhood, and then deciding not to because either a) they do not have the kind of resources, skills, or backing that those people on TV have, and could never do anything like that; or b ) that we give up social action altogether because we come to see it as within the realm of someone else rather than ourselves, eg, there is someone else to do that. What I mean is, will the church give up this kind of social action completely, and come to see helping people in the community as the job of corporate America? I really hope not.

Well, there's my 2 cents. My wife won't even watch the show with me anymore, because she says I ruin it for her. But for me, I really have to ask myself, Do the ends justify the means? It depends on what one considers the ends, and what one considers the means.


Edited by clarence
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Welcome to the board, clarence (real name, or is it just a Wonderful Life? smile.gif )

Y'know I don't fault you at all for your assessment on those involved with the show. Most times when it comes to the Church universal or Christian behaviour I feel the same. But I don't think that we can hold the parties involved with the show to the same standard. Despite their perceived intentions I do believe God's work is being done, though maybe not by the "Godliest" of people.

As for pragmatism, here's my take (and as a disclaimer I no longer watch the show either): Despite ABC, the advertisers (Sears especially), and the contractors milking this thing for publicity, good is being done. Pragmatically, are any of them acting criminally? Of course not. Are they being unethical? I don't think so either. Are they truly altruistic? Not at all. So they are simply not doing this good thing for absolutely nothing in return. And because ABC, the advertisers (Sears especially), and the contractors do not claim to be Christian corporations or run by Christians then I don't think that we should approach them that way. This is not a clear cut case of pragmatism, but even if it were, as Jesus said, they have their reward in full.

I mean, like you I see the puppet strings. I laugh at all of the gratefulness heaped onto these corporations who are getting priceless advertising because of it. But what I think is so great is that despite their motivations, they have decided to throw millions of dollars into these communities, into these homes, and that really has changed peoples lives. They have the ability to get this done, and it is getting done! Obviously this money could have been used for other, less charitable means, but it isn't. Because of that, peoples lives are being changed for the better. I honestly hope the show runs for a billion years so that every needy family in America and across the world can be blessed by this giving. I'd start watching the show again if it meant that would happen.

As for complacency in the Church: Are you feeling that way? Do people you know seem to be this way? I'm very honoured to be a part of a community of believers who's focus is on charity in all of its forms. In fact, we don't have "members," which denotes a lack of involvement. We call them "partners" as a means to remind us to be active in our faith, our love, and our hope. Not that we've got it all together, but my point is that anecdotally I am not experiencing this worry in my community. It's a concern, which is why we are mindful of it - just not a worry.

Anyway, that's what I think. Again, welcome!

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  • 3 months later...

This is my response to those who criticize EMHE for being anything less than altruistic:

They may see the good you do as self serving. Continue to do good.

They may see your generosity as grandstanding. Continue to be generous.

They may see your warm and caring nature as a weakness. Continue to be warm and caring.

For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It never was between you and them anyway.

You must sit in the center of the fire of your own being until the truth burns clear. -- Unknown

Do all you can, with what you have, in the time you have and the place you are. -- Nkosi Johnson, South African AIDS education activist

Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid. -- Goethe

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My first ahem.

"Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?"

« Nous connaîtrions-nous seulement un peu nous-mêmes, sans les arts? »

Quoted on Canada's $20 bill; from Gabrielle Roy's novel La montagne secrète. The English translation, The Hidden Mountain, is by Harry L. Binsse.

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I believe this is my first post in the TV forum.

Just to say:

Great article, Kebbie. Lots to chew on, plenty for me to think over. Well written criticism.

I am a fan of the show and I like what they're doing, but for more than only how I feel when I see it. But you've given me some insight into a different view, and I appreciate that and will incorporate it if/when I see the show again.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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  • 10 months later...

I just think it's funny that Ty Pennington is the face of EMHE. I mean, he's perfect for it. He's a complete goofball.

Anyway, if Sears and whatnot want to make good publicity by showering people in need with really cool stuff, that's fine by me. The thing *I* think is interesting about the show is how flipping fast they get the building done.

I mean, I've worked with contractors before. I've worked with contractors who have signed a contract before. I've even worked with contractors who have told me "yeah, we can do that in a week."

They have never done it in a week.

I'm going to say that again, but louder:


And I'm not talking "Build a house." No, I'm talking "Build a fence," or "build a deck." It gets done, eventually, most of the time, but it takes much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much longer than one week.

And these guys? They build three story houses with sunroofs, indoor waterfalls and a sub-basement BATCAVE, complete with a mini submarine that Ty cobbled together with some old pipe and oilcans that he found in the back yard, in "a week or two" -- and they tear down the original building first.

That is why I like to watch the show. Just to be reassured that yes, Virginia, it really can be done in time.

It had a face like Robert Tilton's -- without the horns.

- Steve Taylor, "Cash Cow"

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how flipping fast they get the building done.

The key to the speed in my estimation is A LOT OF PEOPLE, a LOT of people.

Think barn raising!

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  • 3 months later...

EMHE came to Raleigh, NC, my back yard, in December. The show will be broadcast January 21. Read all about it, including behind the scenes video, etc.

Another story from the Biblical Recorder, details the involvement of North Carolina Baptist volunteers in the home makeover, and tells more about the homeowners' faith and ministry.

We never watch this show, but of course, we'll tune in this Sunday!

Edited by BethR

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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  • 1 year later...
I loved the comment comparing EM:HE with Habitat for Humanity, an immensely more successful program. ;)
Habitat is an infinitely better concept than Extreme Makeover. But I've talked to a couple people who have worked with Habitat and there are abuses there as well. I think they've made the application process a lot more restrictive in recent years. I know from experience working in social service circles, giving a bunch of free stuff to folks who have nothing is almost always a recipe for disaster.

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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