The most rabidly right-wing program on television is not The O’Reilly Factor or even Sean Hannity’s hour-long ass-pounding of President Bush, but ABC’s Sunday night sermon, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Under normal circumstances, such a program would go ignored, as it would be just another reality experience that exploits our perverse need to be entertained by the lives of others. However, because of the show’s staggering popularity, it needs to be probed, analyzed, and dissected, if only because the American people rarely speak with such collective force unless they are expressing their affinity for sentimental tripe or homespun propaganda. From all corners of the media, we’ve heard the unending praise: “wholesome family programming,” “uplifting and inspirational,” or better yet, “Red State entertainment that evokes God at every fucking opportunity.” Okay, the last one’s mine, but it’s the only statement that accurately defines what’s going on here. On the surface, ABC is building a new home for poor saps who have either experienced a recent death in the family, or have gotten overwhelmed by debt and tragedy. Typically, this involves a surprise visit, a free vacation to some “exotic” locale for the residents (Mexico is common, as if that shithole is an escape from anything except running water and clean air), and a weeklong construction project to help a family overcome the odds. Simple (and boring) enough, but what they’re promoting (outside of home building on-the-cheap and on-the-fly) is the idea that family is best when large, spirited, and devoted to Jesus Christ. And you’d better fucking mention his ass on at least two dozen occasions if you want the treats to keep coming. He’s Santa Claus, only with rock-hard abs and one helluva sculpted back.
Amidst the tears, screams, and fainting spells, the lucky few who receive a visit all seem to think that a “miracle” has built their new home. Whether they feel “blessed” or “touched,” these people always forget that in order to qualify for ABC’s list, one must submit a mawkish video begging for someone to build them a new home. And the more pathetic the story, the better. As a result, tragedy is paraded before us like an unending circus, hopefully to inspire us, but most likely to force us to our knees in a puddle of whooping and tear-stained gratitude. Over here, there’s a widower with seven children. And over there, there’s a plucky farm family who recently lost a father, although we never learn what struck the man down. As he was a farmer, suicide or a drunken collision with a pole on some rural road are the most likely scenarios. These are people who have been battered by life’s cruel lash, yet look to one of the world’s largest media empires to save the day. Apparently, the endless nights of prayer have fallen on deaf ears, or, as these people would explain it, have led them directly to ABC. Either way, the network comes out smelling pretty good. God could be on the board of directors, instructing his lackeys to bestow lavish gifts on the poor, suffering souls of the earth (all American, needless to say), or the corporate titan could be single-handedly changing lives, that is when it isn’t begging Michael Powell for more consolidation and deregulation.
More heinously, the show is a scrubbed-clean, all-out endorsement for the eradication of social services and New Deal/Great Society programs. The “spirit of community” wins out over faceless bureaucrats, although the neighbors are largely reduced to cheering from the sidelines. In this past Sunday’s episode, we hear that a collection has been taken up, which helps a California farm family pay the bills. But where were these fuckers before the cameras started rolling? Oh, that’s right, rubbing their hands with glee in anticipation of the government auction that would allow them to buy cheap farm equipment. So yes, it’s a phony conception of community, but what other kind is there in a country that has practically made a national sport of lip service? I have no doubt that ABC is promoting an agenda here — a decidedly conservative one — that not only argues that charity begins at home, but when in need, get on all fours, bark like a pathetic, drooling dog, and beg corporate America for whatever you need. And again, call me in a few years once these hastily built, cardboard cheapie homes start coming apart. By then, of course, the network will have found fresh meat to grind up for advertising dollars.
At bottom, though, the show is 60 minutes per week of the naked attempt to convince us that we can come together as a nation and root for the little guy. There’s no red, blue, Republican, or Democrat, only a can-do spirit that helped make this country strong. Hell, we Americans love to pitch in! Ain’t we the most generous, givin’ people on the face of the earth? Don’t I always hear about charitable contributions, selfless sacrifice, and plucky brotherhood? It’s all a staggering lie, folks, for we’ve never been more at each other’s throats. And for good reason, as we are currently in the deepest cultural divide in a hundred years. Perhaps ever. I’d rather not get too detailed about it, but essentially, the forces of righteous anger, religion, superstition, and “moral values” are pitted against the reasonable, the intelligent, the logical, and the godless. Those who think, act, speak, drive, work, and fuck with their heart — the emotionally driven drones of flyover country — versus those who would rather cite a recent tome than one’s “gut” when defending a position. Those who blubber and sob at cynically crafted imagery, thus opening their heads and wallets to fads, fashion, and eventually, “friendly fascism,” against those precious few men and women who choose to peek behind the curtain; who live with the iron truth that the only thing to take at face value is the fact that human beings will always let you down. But ABC, like so many media outlets in our corrupted age of surrender and servitude, wants us to believe in their magic; the fairy dust and puffy clouds that promise a bright day ahead, so long as we hold hands, join together in song, and place our trust in a collective spirit best labeled devotion.