Thursday, November 04, 2004

Stories of reality

I don't watch much television, and most of what I do watch is on PBS. And so I am very much out of the loop when it comes to anything like 'reality tv'. But I do read the newspaper, and I saw something today that gave me some hope.

I'm used to hearing about 'reality shows' encouraging selfishness, greed, infidelity, treachery and backstabbing. Shows such as The Swan tend only to reinforce sick notions of beauty; Joe Millionaire not only hinged on greed, but also had not one, but two lies at its heart. These shows seem particularly concerned to prove in great detail that Darwin's theory applies to society as well as natural selection.

Given this impression you can imagine my pleasant surprise when I ran across this story (sorry, registration needed) that talked about ABC's Extreme Makeover Home Edition. This is a show which works with people in difficult situations (a single mother, a quadriplegic man, or, this Sunday, the Vardon family in which the parents are deaf and one son is blind and autistic), and helps to improve their living quarters. The quadriplegic fellow was given an elevator so he didn't have to live in the basement of his three story house, for example. Here is programming that has usefulness beyond mere titillation or voyeurism; you can watch without shame, and feel good without hesitation. No social Darwinism here.

It might rightly be objected that the show only shows the good parts and that life is, of course, much harder than can be presented in 44 minutes of network tv. The quadriplegic man is still in his wheelchair at the end of the show; the Vardon family still has challenges. I heartily concur: this show is not reality -- no more than Survivor, Joe Millionaire, or the others. The point is that if we are going to entertain ourselves with stories that are not-quite-reality, why would we choose stories that hinge on someone being humiliated, or someone winning by betraying another, when we can choose a story where people working together make someone else's life a little less hard?

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Friday, October 28, 2005 8:56:00 PM  

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