Successful TV

November 26, 2007 at 6:45 am 1 comment

In one of my former career chapters, I was on the road to becoming an academic scholar of media & cultural studies (particularly feminist media studies, which means studying images of women & gender on TV & film). One of several reasons I didn’t continue on that specific path was that I really couldn’t watch that much media and maintain my peace of mind. I also couldn’t really enjoy living in constant critic mode.

Now, I watch TV very selectively, and I do think my peace of mind is much better (for various reasons, but less media among them). Still, for all of my critical media studies and my current low-media intake, I’m not anti-TV — for us grown-ups at least. There is a lot of destructive, manipulative junk in the media and I can’t stomach much of it. And, yet, media still has incredible potential to make a powerful, positive impact.

I think Oprah has absolutely changed the world for the better with some of what that show has exposed and accomplished. I’m all for grown-up escapism with a heart (and witty reparte) in shows like Sex & the City. Although we no longer have cable, I can still say that PBS shows, History Channel documentaries, a well-written and -performed drama like Six Feet Under, the old Behind the Actor’s Studio, a classic Friends farce — shows that make us think or laugh or give us art have a place and value in my book.

And, tonight, I flipped on our 12-channel tube and tuned in to a show that really touched me, the 100th episode of ABC’s popular Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. I’ve only glimpsed this show once or twice before, but tonight I got sucked in with a storyline of a domestic violence-affected family. Cynics may call the show cheesy or maudlin, and I, too, can see problems with corporate sponsorship, product placement, neighborhood equity, commercial excess, etc.

But, still, the point of this show really is to help people — 100 families so far. Yes, it pulls our heartstrings by showing us families in tragic situations and giving them the instant gratification of an over-the-top new house in seven days. But, well, so what? (I’m into heartstrings.)

These are real families, with real tragedies (as far as producers can verify, I’m sure), and this show brings communities together to help them. Hundreds of people turn out and get to work hammering nails and laying tiles. The show’s message is basically to work together as community to keep families together (yes, while validating mainstream American consumer values). So, at least within the mainstream paradigm, for whatever its faults, I say this is still successful TV, and much better than the bulk of misled garbage on the air.

Yes, I had to chuckle tonight at the thought that this well-intentioned show stemmed from a less-than-lovely predecessor, the old Extreme Makeover, in which a person (usually a woman) was “made over” with extensive plastic surgery each episode. I could take my feminist media studies red pen to that show all day long through next Tuesday (ugh).

And, yet, somehow out of that train wreck of a show came this community-builder. This show that has helped families through loss of parents, mobility, and stability by giving them a home that works and assists them in keeping their lives together.

Tonight, the episode focused on a family whose tragedy came from a widowed mother of four being shot and killed by her abusive ex-boyfriend. The woman’s sister and her husband took in the four orphaned and traumatized kids, with three kids of their own and another on the way. Along with the home rebuild to give the new family of ten more space, the show sent a message that laws must be changed to protect women and children from abusers (and the mom/aunt had already worked to change those laws in Minnesota).

OK, so the twins’ Elmo room was problematic. The house was way overdone for my taste, and practically a commercial for corporate brands and consumer excess. But, overall, seeing this torn family get the literal space to help them heal — I really can’t be too cynical about what they did tonight.

I’m always going to be critical of media, and I’ll teach my daughter to do the same, but I think a true critic also must look for positives, what works, not just what doesn’t. And I believe the makers of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition have something to be proud of. They are producing relatively clean, heart-warming TV in a sea of polluted media waters. Nothing is perfect, but in my book success is not perfection or flawlessness, it is purpose, meaning, connection. Consumerism aside, I saw that tonight, and I felt it.

It’s rare now that I spend an evening in front of the television, and I’m glad for that. But I’m also glad I let go of my critic a bit and let myself into the life of this healing family and its community tonight.

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Entry filed under: Media.

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You are visiting "Having Enough (In a Have-It-All World)"...

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To spark conversation about redefining success (as individuals, families and institutions) and to counter "never enough" messages currently circulating in our culture.

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Megan Pincus Kajitani: Writer, Editor, Former Academic Overachiever and Career Counselor, Mom, Wife, Feminist, Gen Xer, Californian who believes that change is possible View Megan Pincus Kajitani's profile on LinkedIn

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