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When I first started this blog it was a typical capricious moment; at a time when I somehow had the quaint notion some text activity of mine on the blogosphere might actually serve some kind of (auto)didactic revolutionary purpose. Academically, I think it was a sign of still needing to “grow-up”, which is not to say I turn my back to revolutionary purpose. On the contrary. However, an order of humility and affirmation is warranted. I’ve made that point. ‘Why are you so negative about everything?’ A comment maker asked AV at a time when I left the blog to drift far out on the sea of my priorities.

A blog should be useful to me and potentially to others who stumble upon it in a search. Now one thing I have to do as part of my work is review books, and most of them “academic”. But the thing with me and reviews, I’m not so good yet at the publishable quality academic book review. I either get too intense into the material and so start writing a paper, or I procrastinate and wait too long until after reading the text, which is the biggest sin of book reviewing. Yet, when I have taken the time to write 1000 words book reviews on some text I always arrive at helpful reference text for myself.

After analyzing this somewhat paradoxical situation it occurred to me that my problem, in part, is that I have little extrinsic motivation to write the reviews as a matter of course precisely because they are not destined their selves to be published, and so then it becomes yet another “chore” aspect of research work. Meanwhile, I have this blogspace. Why not write my reviews as for blog publication? This will encourage me to develop a style for reviewing texts that I like, give me a sense of destination with the texts thus making no longer a “chore” of research, but part of the more enjoyable, creative stuff, and in addition to serving me as described above, perhaps also serve others.

Now, I do not want to get into a textual bias or a logocentrism. The theme is not delimited in any dogmatic or orthodox way by an epistemology, method, or ontology. Ultimately, I envision reviewing all the media which moves through my library. But for now, I’ll start small, and start functional, and make the first review of a book I just finished reading and taking notes from.

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?  

I watch a fair amount of television, and I am interested in analyzing television in both a pragmatic and critical manner, i.e. a sociological reading of television. Such readings are attempted often in media studies, studies in contemporary culture, studies in popular culture.

Any discussion of culture cannot escape discussions of power, representation, and politics; and there is no shortage of philosophical, social theoretical, and critical literature out there to point out the impossible complexity of the groups of groupings that entertain forms and types of cultural products:

The heirarchy of texts and interpretations, the use of subversive readings and the practicality of such subversion, the theme of ‘popular culture’ as ‘secular religion’ -or maybe, and here I’ll go out on a limb, a reassertion of a paganism indigenous to European culture come Ameropean -with American products sometimes (and I don’t want to over-emphasize this as a generality) retaining puritanical and messianic recreations easily allegorically related to Judeo-Christian constructs (which themselves never really escaped certain signifiers of pagan spiritual disposition; Christian tradition especially literally occupying pagan sites with their own churches and cathedrals all carved nice and neat with pagan style gargoyles and the assertion of protestations and factionalising in the face of a policy of linguistic and canonical domination).

Yeah. That’s one sentence.

This means a literature survey and discussion of the relations of popular culture, media, religion, representation, and politics. It also means brainstorming…and harvesting questions. To begin I’ll search for articles dealing with paganism and popular culture, since it seems a sufficiently narrow place to start and I doubt I’ll find many dealing with both together.  

I also wish to open up a discussion about different persistent types of television shows.

citizen/super hero and and/or light sci-fi : the 4400, smallville, heroes, lost, medium,

sci-fi: Star Trek, Stargate, Farscape, Battlestar Gallactica

medical/social serial drama (tragic-comic): ER, judging amy, grey’s anatomy, scrubs

class comedy and adolescent/adult identity: gilmore girls OC, one tree hill

alternative-traditional family sitcoms: will & grace, friends, etc.

reality makeover: Extreme Home Makeover

Of course this is just a scheme and boundaries are not hard. For example, Smallville could fit in ‘sci-fi’, ‘citizen/superhero’, ‘sexuality sitcom’, ‘social serial drama’, or ‘adolescent identity’: depending upon the sample of shows and scenes selected. Moreover, I know there are many types of shows that even this broad construction of categories leaves out, crime, investigation, and mystery serials/dramas, among many others. 

I am going to pick up Extreme Home Makeover as my first case study here, since the show really is starting to scare me for reasons to be made more clear to myself and in text down the road.