Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Secret Manipulator...ooops...Millionaire

There's a new show on Fox Wednesday nights called The Secret Millionaire. The premise is that multi-millionaires go "undercover" as poor people, live in a ghetto for a week on welfare wages, lying to everyone about who they really are, and then when the week is over, the put their Minolos back on, tell the poor people the truth and hand out big fat checks to the ones they deem deserving. The millionaires give out at least $100,000 of their own money on every episode, but the amount and distribution is how they see fit. I like the idea that people are giving their own money (not the network's) to the people that deserve it, and that these "Real Housewives" type women are seeing how poor people live. Daniel liked the show last week, so I decided to give it a whirl last night, even though I am morally opposed to shows that purposely manipulate my heartstrings to the max.
I stopped watching Extreme Makeover Home Edition, because it felt like it had become a competion of how pitiful and selfless a family they could find, and that was just too much for me--
"I'm Ty Pennington. Today's family is really deserving...both parents are veterans, one was killed in Iraq, the other lost both legs and one eye, they have 54 adopted children, 12 of which are blind, 16 of which are deaf, and 3 of which are both deaf and blind with stutters. But despite their obstacles, they manage to find 45 hours a week to devote to the charity they created to help kids with deformities learn to play the harpsichord. Their current house is 100 square feet, the children sleep in piles, and the walls are filled with deadly black mold, but that doesn't stop them from singing songs as they walk 15 miles to school each day..."
While I agree that many of these families seem to be very deserving, what's wrong with helping out the average family with a parent out of work who is trying to pay the mortgage on a small dilapidated home? Why does it have to be gold-medal suffering? Plus, I got annoyed at the fact that all of these families who could not pay their bills or fix up the dangerous aspects of their busted-down homes ran their own charities.
Do not misunderstand me, I am pro-charity, pro-volunteering, and pro-giving back--but let's get real here. As a parent, you have a responsibility to take care of your own children and keep them safe, and if you are leaving them alone in a shack filled with black mold (like every single house on the show seemed filled with) because you are running a midnight basketball program for inner city children full-time, you are not being a responsible parent! You should be taking the 40 hours a week getting a second job to pay for the mold removal, and then when your own family is safe and asbestos-free, then you can devote your free time (not all of your family time) to helping others outside your home. I am 100% behind teaching children that they are not the center of the universe, but I am 100% against teaching your children that every single person in the world is more important to you than they are. You are a parent, your child's well-being is the #1 responsibility you have. In the end, it won't matter much if you were gone single-handedly building churches or gone fishing with your buddies, all your children will see is that you were never there. I'm not trying to be bitter, I'm just explaining why manipulative shows lose my interest, and the trepidation with which I entered the viewing of "The Secret Millionaire."
My concerns did not turn out to be unfounded. The show, while commendable in it's purpose, is beyond lame in it's presentation. Firstly, the millionaires are no big "secret." They have these people take off their insanely large diamonds and put them in "poor people clothes," all of which are brand spanking new. I wear more run down clothes than that, and I'm not living in Watts, LA (where last night's couple went). The people they befriend try to act surprised when they find out that the couple they've known for a whopping 4-7 days is actually rich, but while the gratitude is real, the surprise is blatantly fake. And who can blame them? Some dude shows up in your neighborhood with disturbingly white teeth, brand new "ghetto" clothes that have creases in them, his overly-hilighted wife looks like she is terrified around every corner, and they claim to have moved in from the next ghetto over? Come on, these people are really really poor, not really really stupid.
Not to mention, the wife's nervousness is completely unfounded because they are being followed around by a film crew! You want to be safe in the country's worst neighborhoods, have a cameraman filming your every move. No one is going to mug someone on camera, even if they only claim to be filming a documentary about your lousy living conditions, not spouting your wealth. No gangster wants their face of film for the cops to use as evidence. The cameras are also why every person they meet tells their entire life story and talks about (surprise!) the charity they run. Last night, the millionaires were shocked that a neighbor stopped by to welcome them to the area, and they said no one in their area would do that. It's possible that she stopped by out of pure niceness, but I'd bet if they had moved into their mansion home with a film crew following their every move, someone would have stopped by, if only out of gross curiosity. People are nosy where ever you go.
Finally, I was irritated to find out that this guy was a self-made millionaire who grew up in East LA. How horrified can he really be if he was living in this type of neighborhood for most of his life? His wife, who looked like she was going to puke when she walked in their apartment, turns out to have a story of her own. Ten years previous, she was pregnant with her first child when her first husband was stabbed in the head right in front of her while trying to stop a shoot-out at the mall. If your husband was killed in a gang shoot-out in the mall, I'm going to wager you weren't in a mall on Rodeo quickly did these people forget what kind of world they came from? So, while it in no way diminishes the suffering of the people they met, knowing how put-on and manipulative the shock and disdain probably was kind of killed the show for me.
I enjoyed watching the poor people react to the generous gifts of these not-so-secret millionaires, and that's why people like the show, I guess. Ironically, this couple handed out 3 $50,000 dollar checks, but the guy last week gave out 4 $100,000 checks so Daniel yelled "that's cheapo!!!" at the TV. Interesting monster Fox created here, that someone handing out 150,000 could be considered "cheapo," and perhaps that's what bothers me most about the show. Do we live in a world where charity work has to be done on TV? Has giving to those less fortunate really become such a competition that the givers are not only in competition to be most generous, but the recievers have to be competing for "most deserving?" If you aren't on TV touting your woes, you don't deserve help you may desperately need? If you don't come running when a camera is around, are you left out in the cold? Can't we find a way to celebrate giving in secret, instead of giving in prime-time? Why can't we appreciate those that truly (not superficially) pay attention to the real needs around them and give according to what they see, not what parades itself in front of them? Can we someday reward the family that works day and night to keep their own kids off the street and off drugs, as well as the family that devotes themselves to strangers because their own child is already lost to violence?
So, Fox, I appreciate your efforts to turn reality TV into feel-good TV with a lesson. Truly I do. Maybe, however, it has come time to quit watching others attempt to make the world a better place while pushing their own agenda, and work quietly together with a single agenda--true charity, the pure love of Christ.


Natalie said...

WOW, you are so AWESOME!!! This could be my favorite post of yours!! That was terrific! And, not that is matters one bit...of course I think you are exactly right(as usual) and my husband has said the same things about EMHE!

Natalie said...

And on a different topic...everytime I hear "Do They Know it's Christmas", I think of you and laugh.