What you see is not always what it seems. This is most apparent in everyday television. The media has always been able to dictate how we see things. And with the boom of reality television, the media is able to discipline our thinking through real people and no longer through paid actors. From telling us how to meet the ideal to how to make the perfect home, reality television does it all and teaches all. A perfect example of how reality television clouds our vision is the show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. The show allows the viewer to see a team a construction workers go to work as they help build a new home for a family in need. Sounds great, but things are not always how they seem.
Everyone wants to live the "American Dream" In this show, a lucky family gets the chance renovate their sometimes small, broken, or rundown homes and change it to a dream house. A team of construction workers work diligently to provide a new home for these families in seven days while the family goes on vacation. In each episode, the host begins the show by picking the deserving family. He and his team watch a video made by the family detailing all of the problems the family has and why they deserve a new home. For most of these families they are poor and just looking for an alternative way to make it. And for the majority of them they believe that this show is the alternative. I believe for many families in America today who face troubles like the families on the show, they've become dependent on the show praying to god that they get picked. I watched the show and I believe that every family that has been chosen is indeed deserving of ABC's promise of an Extreme Makeover, but once the cameras stop rolling, can they afford it? What are the corporations real motives, is it really to help deserving families?
Who gets to pick the people who get on these shows anyway? ABC gets to assign who is needy and who is not. Since the gap between poor and rich is caused by the same capitalistic system that produces this show, by deeming who is poor and needy, they are reinforcing capitalistic ideals. For someone who is watching the show in a similar situation as those on Extreme makeover, how can one expect them to feel. They would want an extreme makeover also and would trive for it. Thier goals have changed.
The show itself is quite moving. The way the show is put together and stories the show finds make it a must see show. Lets take Harpers family for example. They are a family of five who recently just moved out of the housing projects and into a home which has a bad septic system. When it rains waste pours into their home making their home almost unlivable. To add more to the story, the host is in the hospital on a hospital bed. He says that a hospital bed will not stop him from helping a family in need. So he sends the team to design the biggest house they've built.
The harper family is indeed in need of help but building them a huge home is not going to
solve the harper families problems. Laurie Ouellette states that shows like extreme makeover serve to obscure the social nature of want and encourage individualistic responses that necessarily fail to address the full scope of the problem. What the show fails to do is fully address the problems of the family. For many of the families on the show, they are given a upper class house on a lower class budget. Yes, the harper family has a terrible home, but how did they get into that position. The show fails to analyze some questions such as financial state of the family and education. They also fail to guide the family once the cameras stop rolling and the family must pay off an old mortgage for the house that was torn down, huge utility bills, new property taxes, and an overall higher standard of living full of brand name products.
What the viewer must understand, is that when it comes to reality television, no matter how great and touching it looks, it has been produced in such a way to give that effect. Jennifer Pozner states that the viewer tune into reality television because these shows frame their narratives in ways that both reflect and reinforce deeply ingrained societal biases about women, men, love, beauty,(and in this case) class, and race.(Pozner, 97)
After seriously analyzing the show I began to believe that the show does not only help some of the families on the show, but they also exploit them. Extreme makeover uses the grief and the suffering of other people to entice the viewer into believing that our society is still giving out great charity. The only charity here is the new problems shows like this give to these families. And the charity is scarce.There are plenty of families in need, but only one family gets chosen each week. Wouldn't it be a greater charity if ABC used the thousands of construction workers that help one family, and instead split them up in teams to help many. The houses would most likely be smaller but the overall contribution would be greater.
Pozner, Jennifer L. "The Unreal World." Women: Images & Realities, A Multicultural Anthology. By Amy Kesselman, Lily D. McNair and Nancy Schniedewind.
Ouellette, Laurie & Hay, James. Better Living Through Reality TV. Blackwell Publishing: 2008.
Image taken August 8, 2008 from