Sunday, September 24, 2006
I Get My Television Fix Seated On My Crucifix
I wouldn't say I'm the type of son that goes out of his way to make his mom happy. First of all, she lives out of state, which is the universal offspring license to disregard a parent's happiness. Look, I didn't make her leave. I'm sorry she couldn't find work out here or maybe had trouble opening to doors after I had the locks changed, but once the state line is crossed, you might as well not exist. That might sound harsh when talking about the woman who bore me, but to be honest, I feel that way about EVERYONE who lives outside of California. It's not like she didn't know that going in.
I'm not totally heartless, though. The parent-child relationship is a complicated mess of bi-directional co-dependencies, patterns of passive-aggressive mental abuse and a whole nebulous network of comfortable mutually-perpetuated neuroses that make it almost impossible to enjoy the taste of roasted turkey. What that means is that almost involuntarily, I'm bound to do stuff that my mom would like me to do whether I mean to or not.
I did marry a nice girl with a good job. I'm raising decent kids (as far as I can tell) and I own a house. I'm a tolerable hand at lawn care and I regularly have the oil changed in my car. Every now and again I'll even eat a vegetable, though admittedly it's usually just when there's someone new on the burger assembly line at the Wendy's who no comprende "hold the lettuce."
Still, it's the thought that counts. When I'm eating the lettuce I specifically did not order, I think it would please my mom to know that I'm thinking "Ah well, at least it's some roughage." Mom would want me to be regular.
When I left grad school after one year with my handy door-prize MA clutched tightly in my weary, weary fist, I immediately went out and got a job doing data entry from a temp agency. Not really mom's big plan when she sent me off to school. And it only got better when I stopped working altogether the day my first son was born. That was 1999. Education was a big deal to my mom. I think she'd be happy to know that all the time and money that went in to acquiring that education for me is currently being used to solve the tricky, tricky puzzles of Lego Star Wars II. Sometimes you have to push two different buttons!
To make mom happy, every once in a while, I'll try to put my master's-level education into practice to maintain the illusion that all that time and money wasn't wasted. OK, mostly just the money.
What American universities actually teach, other than any useable stuff that's worth knowing, like "facts," is really what's called "critical thinking." The idea is kind of vague and hard to grasp, but if it's any help, the first thing you find out when you learn "critical thinking" is that there are, in fact, no "facts." Everything is debatable, every point of view is suspect and the only things that are worth knowing are the things an academic press will agree to publish so that you can get tenure. You don't actually have to believe those things and it's probably better that you don't because someone is going to come along in short order and "prove" that every conclusion you reached was bullshit anyway and that you are secretly a misogynistic homophobic racist.
The only consolation there is that they probably just said that so the publisher would accept THEIR book and boy, won't you all have a good laugh at the next professional confab circle-jerk in Vegas.
The main way "critical thinking" is employed is to make sure that whatever it is you're talking about, you go out of your way to find something bad to say about it. This is called "being critical" in academic circles. If you're not clear on what that really means, in social terms, this is called "being an asshole." Except, you know, professionally.
So for my mom's sake, to show that I know how to do what I was trained to do, I'm going to take something that is mostly unabashedly positive and find something negative to say about it.
Today, having seen it for the first time, I choose ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
Of course it would be easy to be critical of the original Extreme Makeover because that was a show about taking ugly girls and giving them to plastic surgeons to perform grisly experiments on, strap them into a dress three sizes too small and then film their parents crying tears of... happiness? Who can say, really?
The Home Edition one features a much lesser dose of human mutilation and is more about special-needs families identified by their community who have their house destroyed by cheerful people with bleached teeth only to have it replaced with a run-of-the-mill McMansion.
The one I saw was just today, Sunday. I missed the beginning so I didn't catch all the circumstances, but there were thirteen people living in a 900 square foot non-insulated hovel with holes in the ceiling. In Alaska.
The family is all packed up and sent on a week-long vacation to Disney-something (vertical integration is not a sin) while the cast of Rent and an army of conscripted contractors descend on the old house, destroy it and from it's ashes raise something new and powerful, Phoenix-like. Seriously, I hear they're razing all kinds of old neighborhoods in just this manner in Phoenix. Only with more eviction than so much Disney. The heat is not the only thing that is cruel in Arizona.
What can we find to be critical of in a show like this? Where can I fit the grad-school-honed thin edge of the wedge so that I might explode this operation in some dazzling and possibly publishable way?
I guess I could say that even though ostensibly the motivation of the show is altruistic, I could go so far as to point out that the existence of advertising breaks between segments of the edited bits of presentation (they have to edit some, you know... the show isn't actually seven days long) means that the primary motivation of the ABC/Disney people is not to help these people but rather to generate income for themselves. The cost of the new house and all its furnishings probably positively disappears next to the volume of income generated for ABC by selling primetime ad space for a well-watched television show. The more dire the family circumstances, the better as the dichotomy between project-start and project-end makes for a heightened sense of drama less for the sake of the family than to excite and entice the viewer, more of which mean programming schedule stability on Sunday nights and high, more regular rates for ad-space.
But the exploitation idea kind of goes out the window when you consider that these people actually do sort of get a new house...
But then, these are people who could only afford a 900 sqft house a couple hundred miles from the Arctic Circle. And now they are going to somehow be able to maintain a nearly 5,000 sqft replacement house. The TVs they put in the headrests on Pimp My Ride are pretty useless, but your car still only needs gas.
Again, though, I guess upkeep costs are something you can figure out seeing as you're not freezing to death anymore.
The best argument against this show I can think of is a social one. Look, if for instance you have a kid who is blind and deaf and has no arms or legs, sure, it's nice to have the Gay Mafia roll in and build you a ramp/conveyor belt contraption in front for access and a series of bite-able ceiling-mounted rings to swing from down the hallway, but come on. What does this teach people? What will this kid do when s/he's out in the real world and confronted by stairs? Or, you know, however it is someone communicates to someone in that condition the concept of stairs... the point is, the ramp/conveyor belt/swinging rings idea is just Big Brother coroporations coddling this poor child, leaving them ill-equipped to deal with the obstacles of everyday life. I mean, you know, more ill equipped than an obviously angry God has already left them.
The reliance on handouts and help from those who can afford to give it can only mean trouble as we develop an entire society forcing us to adapt to the needs of those who have less. Today it's corporations, but how long before the big hearts and altruism of multinationals are affecting governments? Next thing you know there's going to be a law forcing us to build these confounded ramp contraptions in front of every public building. With all these ramps in the way, where will we stand outside to smoke?
I say no. I say make them hop/waddle/scramble like the rest of us do. Sure, for those of us unfortunate enough to be born with working sensory organs and a minimally requisite number of wither-free, full-sized limbs to allow unaided locomotion, it's metaphorical, but there's no giant corporation lining up to give us money out of the goodness of their hearts either. So it all evens out.
See, I knew I could do it. You're welcome, mom. No don't ask for anything else when birthday time rolls around.
This post on the Narcissus Scale: 7.7