Capitalism and corporatism have reached new lows on ABC on Sunday nights. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition feeds corporate/capitalistic propaganda to the public, lulling us into thoughtless acceptance of the ridiculous state of our country. Show host, Ty Pennington, excitedly (phony? . . . Shut up, Holden!) and with nifty humor leads viewers through a humorous home remodeling show that is designed to pin us down in obeisance to our corporate gods.
The show typically starts out with one hell of a sad story, a story that moves the stoniest of hearts. A deaf couple has a child who is blind—they struggle to communicate and function. On another episode we have a poor family with a son who recently lost his ability to walk. Their house is a handicapped person’s nightmare. Next week a lovely lady is highlighted. She lives in a piece of crap house with a big family in a poor neighborhood. She is a local Mother Teresa, taking in the needy in her community, feeding and sheltering them. A few weeks ago, a lady nominated a complete stranger to be the subject of the home remodeling. We find out that this stranger had donated bone marrow that saved the life of the nominating lady’s little girl. The stories are beautiful and touching. They are of people facing hefty misfortune who struggle on against the odds. They deserve better.
In come Ty and cohosts, all of whom have expertise in something that I have yet to figure out, and all of whom have great, happy-go-lucky, hokey personalities that play in orchestration with each other as a deadline to complete the extreme home makeover approaches. The home will be completely remodeled–sometimes even completely rebuilt–refurnished and accessorized (we are talking plasma TVs and luxury swimming pools here) in a week. All this is done with a huge team of laborers (I’m wondering if they are union) who work their asses off, while the homeowners are off on a dream vacation on ABC’s card. It’s very entertaining. And they are helping the deserving among us who suffer unjustly.
Well, they are helping a few of them. Not many, actually, when you think of the numbers. If you look at the big picture, they aren’t making much of a difference at all. It’s not like poverty is going down because of ABC and their hit show, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. But we do get to see tremendous difference in the lives of representative individuals–individuals who represent what the hell is wrong with capitalism and corporatism in the first place. And yet ABC, corporate perpetrator of crimes on the poor, comes in like some hero god who saves the unfortunate and needy. They somehow convince us that they are Robin Hood.
It’s a tricky scheme, although when you watch it from a cynical viewpoint (AKA Dirtgrain’s Disease), the Matrix exposes itself. To start with, this show must have the same writers as Walker, Texas Ranger. It, despite the pureness of the real people who get their homes made over, is full of phonies and false sentiments–especially when you are reminded that Corporate Big Brother is behind all of this–ABC is constantly mentioned, and Sears and other sponsors have their products and services advertised throughout the show and during commercials. The cynic quickly comes to see “plasma TV donated by Sears” as “the sick corporation that sucks on your souls has found it in the goodness of its heart to give back to you.” I digress. The phoniness comes through in the scripting.
As we are shown the gripping story of the deserving family at the beginning of the show in docudrama fashion, intermittent shots of the show’s cohosts crying are flashed before our eyes. Are they trying to convince us that corporate America does have a heart? Phooey! Then, while the tears are still wet, Ty gives some inspirational–but clearly transparent–speech to his meeting of cohosts. Something to the effect of, “We’re going to give Johnny the wheelchair accessible hot tub that he needs, courtesy of Sears, Aquafina and Celtic Sea Salt Seasoning.” Right here, in the middle of the “let’s go do extreme good” speech, I realize what a bunch of bastards these cohosts are. They all live in Beverly Hills (or wherever midlevel corporate whores go to roost), but they get to go into some poor neighborhood (they don’t only help poor people, mind you–on one episode, I saw them nearly demolish a perfectly fine, “middle class” home) and think that they are fixing these people’s lives by giving them a new home (which obviously can make their lives easier and maybe more enjoyable–provided they get along with each other–money can’t buy happiness? Love?) and throwing a bunch of expensive accessories at them. That’s all we have to do, America.
Once the family is away on their vacation, the crew sets in on one truly remarkable task–sometimes building an entirely new house in one week. Throughout the rebuilding/remodelling, we get nice little scenes of Ty or some other monkey going to some kid’s room. “Stevie said that it was tough to share a room with his brother, Jimmy. Well, I’m giving him a new room [I swear they say self-aggrandizing crap like this]. What Stevie doesn’t know is that I’m going to turn his new room into a Chucky Cheese.” On an on we get links to this or that family member, his or her predicament, and what the host/crew/corporation is going to do for him or her.
Then it comes time for the family to come back and discover their gift from God. . . er. . . Corporate America. It’s like it is on other house remodeling/makeover shows. The changes are drastic and extravagant. The families are overwhelmed by state-of-the-art, big-money goodies that rain down on them and flood. At this point, I’m pretty sure the families’ reactions are not scripted (although magnificently edited), as at least eighty percent of what they say is “Oh my God.” Oh my God. . . Oh my ABC. . . Oh my Sears. . . Oh my Big Brother great and magnificent corporate benefactor. . .
As the families are saved/reborn/super-indoctrinated/made-grateful-to-the-ones-who-screwed-them-and-their-kind-in-the-first-place, all the phony-assed cohosts are there to beam at what great things they have done (self-aggrandizing) and to throw out some schmaltzy lines and salty tears (I swear I saw the hand of a prop guy holding up a freshly cut onion under a cohost’s eyes on more than one occasion). It all adds up to an extreme emotional assault on the family and on the viewers–what a powerful propaganda tool. ABC doesn’t stop there all the time. On one episode, the crew put an addition onto a house that would serve as almost a separate apartment so that and man, woman and their baby could have room to live in the home of the woman’s parents. ABC set it up so that at the end of the show, after all the “Oh my Gods,” there was one more surprise to top all of the other emotional wrenchings–the man proposed to his wife. Ty led the man through it, laying the surprise on the woman, giving the man the ring, and telling him what to do. Here we have ABC sticking its mechanical arms up these people’s asses and making them perform sacred, personal things like puppets. ABC and Ty gave these people marriage and a life together. And people are saying that marriage is a sacred institution? Yeah, right.
On last Sunday’s show, the deserving family consisted of a single mother who had adopted some kids who have AIDS (HIV). The catch–as if the kids with AIDS wasn’t gripping enough–was that the mother had just discovered that she had cancer. At the end of the show, we got a quick flash of close-ups on the family members, one at a time, each saying, “Thanks, ABC.” The last thanks came from a little girl who had AIDS. What to make of it?
Clearly some good is done for these families. They get improved-to-the-max living conditions (within the confines of their homes–I’m sure ABC, Ty and his rich cohosts don’t actually want these people living next door to them in Beverly Hills or wherever) and a lot of merchandise. It would be sweet for anybody–free crap is great, at least for a while. But I wonder if their problems are solved–as ABC so clearly wants us to think. What would a long-term study of these people’s lives reveal about the impact of the extreme makeovers?
That issue aside, the real creeper is the impact on everyone else. We get corporate America, creator of huge financial disparities between the rich and the poor, instigator of the decline of the middle class, purveyor of low-wage, no-insurance (irony with girls who had AIDS thanking ABC?) Walmart jobs, misleading the public that corporations are helping the poor, that corporations care, and that corporations are doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. They aren’t doing anything about poverty and the divide between the rich and the poor. They don’t have hearts. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is a cash cow. It costs them nothing (when you consider the advertising power of the show). It’s done for money. Corporations have tapped directly into the compassion of their viewing audience, and these corporations are redirecting corporate propaganda back at us. It is pure manipulation of emotions. I get this creepy image of a person smiling and crying and laughing as he or she watches an episode, thinking how great it all is for these people–but in his or her unconscious are the ideas that ABC/Sears/corporations are nurturing, benevolent gods. Yikes.