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Monthly Archives: March 2007

I’m sitting here at the home page of the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition website watching the video clips. At the time of my visit three videos are streamed via the front page with the remainder accessible via hyperlink. The three videos are brought to us through the sponsorship of Sears and Ford; are from the grand give-away portion of three different shows. The grand give-away comes at the end of the show where the deserving family returns from their all expense vacation to be showered not simply with a new home but all sorts of ostentatious gifts from some of the show’s sponsors:

1. “Ford Gives to the Tate family”

Frontline Iraq war veteran (PTSD?) receives new truck.

2. “Papa John’s gives pizza to a local community center”

A community center for kids in what appears to be a low income neighborhood receives credit for over $10,000 worth of pizza (‘a year’s worth’).

3. “Ford gives to the Farina Family”

Dedicated ‘find a cure’ activist and her mother receive new cars.

Even if you have not seen the show, that the grand giveaway would constitute the front page snippets is no shock. The sponsors (presumably)expect a degree of notoriety for their charitable acts. Indeed, the point of the show is to make a specatcle out of charity by making it conspicuous. This show is a combination of habitat for humanity, disnyland, and amphetamines, all with a streak evangalism/messianism.

If Ford wants to throw a few crumbs in front of the television camera, so be it. At least the show convinces me beforehand that the people deserve what they get -but then again, it is really hard to convince me that a person or family is NOT deserving of a ‘decent’ place to live and some safe, sufficient, and (preferrably) clean means of mobility in the community.

Perhaps the best place to begin as I explore this goodwill reality series is its basic narrative structure, which can then be broken up in order to deal with the content and themes in a somewhat systematic way.

Based on my casual observation of multiple episodes I feel it is safe to generalize a narrative structure for almost every episode:

1. Establish sympathy and legitimate need, i.e. these people deserve to be the recipients of conspicuous charity because… (editation of family application video + design team commentary)

2. Consolidate sympathy and empirically establish legitimate need… (walk through of inadequate housing conditions coupled with community, family, and design team commentary confirms and consolidates not only the material need of family, but crucially, how the family through some deed(s), condition, or response to harsh circumstances fulfill the ethical/moral/spiritual requirements to legitmately receive conspicuous sympathy and aid).

3. Heroism of the build… (Comments and anecdotes of various players sustain sympathy and logic of legitimate conspicuous aid, but this is now used to cast the designers and builders as heroes of mercy in their ambitious, highly individualized, and ‘extreme’ building plans to be completed within a mere 7 days….) For those out there seeking out the religious aspects of the show, that is quite a coincidental number.

4. Conspicuous charity… (the family returns from all expense vacation and is ‘blown away’ by the new home, furniture, and landscape with all of its novelties and gifts the design team and producers can convince sponsors to procure. This becomes the point of catharsis for the audience: symptoms of structural distress in American sosciety as experienced [tragically] by a family deserving of legitimate sympathy is ‘healed’ and witnessed in healing [through workers at the site; vicariously by the audience] through acts of conspicuous charity).

I think the easiest way to proceed from here is to compare the content of the particular narrative portions to see what patterns and tendencies are there. Only after I have closely analyzed this show will I dosclose a more comprehensive critique. For now, the question for me is, as far as Extreme Makeover: Home Condition (its producers, design team, and sponsors, and expected audience are concerned), which types of families deserve legitimate sympathy and thus receive the conspicuous charity, the symptom-healing act of god, of Disney Corporation’s ABC?