It's easy to be cynical about the furor created this month when Extreme Makeover: Home Edition came to town. Yeah, it's a network TV show that pulls at the heartstrings by showing wonderful things happening to people suffering hardships. Sure, the local TV stations and The N&O went nuts with coverage, milking the mania. And yes, a vintage bungalow was sacrificed so a gleaming, faux-stone-facaded subdivision home could be built in an historic neighborhood.
But, as Derek Jennings points out in this week's cover story, so what? Who among us would tell any family as selfless and struggling as the Rigginses that they shouldn't have the kind of house that thousands of newcomers build for themselves every year? You go say that to them.
Can't do it, can you? Because in our attitudes about work, public support and giving a hand to those who need it, we believe people should be able to get their fair share of the vast wealth this nation has found and created. At bottom, all of our politics—even rich, corporate right-wingers (and poor ones)—are based on the belief that we know the best way to make that happen.
Our will as a people is reflected in the laws we create. We believe housing should be decent, workers should be paid a fair wage, and the community should help those in trouble. It's in the specifics that we disagree.
So let's look at the lessons we can learn from the Extreme Makeover experience. Jennings has a few suggestions: The spirit and infrastructure for volunteerism it created should be capitalized upon long-term; all corporate citizens should make addressing the common good part of their business practices; we should support businesses that accept that responsibility; and there should be incentives for them to pursue it.
What else can we learn? Shouldn't we be embarrassed that families like the Rigginses have to live as they do? We need to open our eyes to the conditions around us and press our elected officials to address them. Cities need to aggressively enforce housing codes and create powerful economic incentives for poor families (and landlords) in older areas to repair their homes, improve their neighborhoods and protect our architectural heritage.
As Jennings writes: "When all is said and done, I'd like to see an Extreme Makeover: Community Edition, in which we use the lessons learned from the TV-inspired rebuilding of the Rigginses' home in Raleigh." That should be the lesson of this (TV) season.
We're proud to announce that Byron Woods, the Independent's dance and theater critic, was one of 25 arts journalists who've been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship to the 2007 Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater. He'll be at The Annenberg School of Journalism at the University of Southern California from Jan. 30 to Feb. 9 working and studying with top professionals in the field. Congratulations, Byron.