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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?  

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7 Comments

  1. I’d like to see Extreme Makeover: New Orleans Edition brought to you by the United States Government.

    Or better, Extreme Extreme Makeover: Baghdad Edition brought to you by Haliburton.

  2. Amen.

  3. Agreed. It will be interesting to read your analysis as your critique is quite well placed. It would be interesting to see if issues of race, class and gender perpetuate current social relations (i.e., the great bwana bestows HIS largesse on the deserving supplicants). Good luck. Keep up the struggle!

  4. Louis Althusser: “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes Toward an Investigation” is hereby recommanded.

    Rolf B

  5. I’m only 12, but I think that the people who run this site are just playing Devil’s Advocate. What I saw in that article was: “All these people do is supply a home to people who are the same as you or me, for reasons no one understands.” You probably have a very good point but I really don’t understand why you are so negative about everything.

  6. @M.Steele The big questions, and I mean big, is

    1) Why does this TV-show/TV-network/… do this?
    -> TV wants eyeballs to sell ads/product placements. By using people in need and tap into our feelings for these people they get our attention, our eyeballs. Which the pass on as a commodity to stakeholder of this tv-show.

    2) Why does these people need the help in the first place?
    -> (guess “Michael” in his comment above is referring to this question). In this question lies the macro twist. If we all think needy people should get help, why don’t we use the government for that? It is supposed to be a syndicator of power doing the right thin for us.

    Sorry, but I needed to react to the episode I’m currently watching. Thank you M.Steele for posing the question for me to respond to.

  7. I love this show even if it makes me cry because I enjoy to see people happy. I lost everything when I got my divorce my ex-sister in law took my husband and left me with nothing. But I raised 3 teenager girls on my own and lived my life for them until they were able to get on their own. Twins are 22 and a 25 years old. If my girls need anything i would give them my last dollar so they wont be strees. People say i should do and buy things for me because they know I lost so much that i almost went tru a break down but i had to be strong for my girls they need me and i need them more then they know. I might not get my life back the way i lived before, and will never own another home or to call my own but this show makes me see people happy and i hope my girls would one day appreciate what i lost to raise them so they can be happy. So the reason for message is to tell people everyone has proplems and there is always someone out there that need more help then you and to keep your head up because seeing my girls happy is more important to me then for me getting back my life. I will always live for them because I dont want to go thru what I did and to show them i am a stong person and they can be strong if i cant help them. If I could write a book, people would want to know how i did it all i can say, keep your head up and one day it will be your turn and I hope mine is soon


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