A Thin Coat of Paint

Amy Grant is back and nicer than ever.

This fall she’ll be hosting NBC’s Three Wishes (premiering Sept. 23), a television show made possible by the success of another: Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (premiering Sept. 25). Anyone who has seen the promos for Wishes will find the tears of joy, group hugs and rising orchestral arrangements reminiscent of ABC’s mother of all feel-good reality TV. Incidentally, Home Edition will also see a debut of sorts when season one is released on DVD Nov. 22. Just in time for the holidays, families will gather round the latter day hearths of home entertainment centers to bask in the warmth of good deeds brought to you by Sears and Michael Eisner.

The flow of sensationalized sex and violence through the currents of entertainment is as strong as ever. Our nation is at war. From Southeast Asia to Southeast North America, the reverberations of natural disaster have shaken the world. Given the circumstances, it seems cynical and misanthropic to criticize wholesome and heartwarming TV shows like Wishes and Home Edition, shows that are just trying to do some good in this crazy mixed-up world.

Most people would agree that the Home Edition crew is doing a pretty good job. Tune in and you’re liable to see deserving families get a fresh start, maybe even praising the Lord along the way. But what happens when the cameras shut down, the carpenters leave and Ty Pennington takes off his makeup? The new paint becomes old paint and starts to chip away. Ultimately, feel-good reality TV like Home Edition uses whitewash to cover sepulchers in a lucrative illusion that overlooks the true needs of humanity.

While recent suspicions of tax penalties, shoddy craftsmanship and all-out fraud have cast suspicion on shows driven by renovation prizes (Los Angeles Times 8/11/05; Chicago Tribune 8/21/05), the most subversive deception perpetrated by such programs lies elsewhere. In the tradition of the Gospel of Oprah, feel-good reality TV supplies band-aids to combat a terminal disease.

Home Edition wallows in materialism disguised as benevolence, throwing finite solutions at the infinite struggles of humanity. Sure, the gifts given to hard-luck families provide a generous boost; and granted, it’s far too easy to disparage possessions and creature comforts from behind the buttressed shelters of upper-middle class suburbia. But there’s no denying the logic touted, endorsed, promoted, dare I say worshipped by shows like Home Edition: If new stuff makes you happy, and your life is really, really sad, then you must need lots and lots of new stuff.

No matter how emotional, encouraging or uplifting these TV shows may be, disciples of Jesus must reject this philosophy. The Rabbi scorned bare necessities like food and water; even these elements of basic survival bring no more than a modicum of temporary satisfaction and security (Matthew 4:4; John 4:13). The apostle Paul wrote, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12, TNIV). It’s difficult to imagine somebody so excited about Jesus (“the secret”) getting more excited about a new kitchenette or tool shed or tent-making kit.

Are the works of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition sinful or evil? By no means. Giving to the poor, building communities, comforting the sick and heartbroken—these are all noble accomplishments. Without Jesus, however, this benevolence is ultimately wasted—“rubbish,” Paul might say (Philippians 3:8). When He is the motivation, true love gives eternal life. When anything besides Jesus spurs people to action, the resulting efforts yield nothing but self-centered futility.

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“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:2-4, TNIV).

According to the Bible, a spectacle like Home Edition is a hypocrite-fest. This sounds harsh, but does anybody really care about the people this show helps? Jesus is the only one who’s above the exploitation of the poor families paraded on national television, and His name’s nowhere to be found when the credits roll. Sears joins the project to get its name splashed across primetime. ABC’s in it, as long as the ratings stay high. In the meantime, viewers keep tuning in, eager to buy into sensationalized benevolence and join in the celebration of band-aids and whitewash.

They have received their reward in full. These words emit an eerie resonance under the din of celebratory cheers that conclude every Extreme Makeover home renovation project. We cheer, laud and cry tears of joy over paint that will chip off and blow away.

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