Extreme Makeover beneficiaries in extremis
When I was a kid, I loved to watch Queen for a Day.
Four tale-of-woe women would tell their tale-of-woe. The applause of the studio audience would be registered on some sort of applause-o-meter. And one lucky lady would be chosen queen. I don't remember that the gifts were all that big - washer dryer, TV, a dozen Ship 'n Shore blouses - but the queen got to parade down a runway in a red velvet cape, wearing a crown and carrying a bouquet of roses.
At least I thought the cape was red velvet - wasn't that what queens wore? - but, alas, we didn't have a colored TV, so who knew? (For all I know, the show wasn't on in color either.)
Getting a colored TV was one of the reasons I wanted my mother to go on Queen for a Day. The other was for a close dryer.
But I couldn't figure out quite what my mother's tale of woe would be, as her house hadn't burnt down, she wasn't (yet) a widow, and she didn't have a bunch of handicapped kids.
Just having 5 lustily shrieking, healthily combative children underfoot wasn't enough - that I realized early on, especially in a neighborhood where families with over 10 lustily shrieking, healthily combative children - while no means the norm - weren't especially rare, either.
Alas, my mother never tried for Queen for a Day. Eventually, we got the colored TV, but that was well passed the time when I cared about watching Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color. And, as I recall, the dryer appeared in time to rescue me from a few years of hanging the clothing out to dry in broiling summer and dead of winter.
Queen for a Day is long off the air. And the paltry prizes would never fly in this day and age of extreme everything.
I've only watched Extreme Makeover a couple of times, and have found it a weird combination of soppy sentimentality, earnest do-good-ism , and appallingly crazed consumerism.
For those not familiar with this show, it involves a hard luck family in a rundown house. The cases are all "different but the same:" the severely injured Iraqi war vet whose wife just left him and the kids; the family that's trying to jam their drug addicted sister-in-law's 6 kids into their squinchy two bedroom bungalow; the orphaned family whose 19 year old "head" is trying to hold things together while attending community college...
The Extreme Makeover crew swoops in on the lucky family, sends them off on vacation (the ones I've seen all seem to go to Disneyworld), tears down the old house and, with the help of community volunteers and a local construction company, builds a new one.
The new homes are generally wide-eyed-fantasy McMansions: well out of scale with the style, size, and price range of the neighborhood. Just a wild guess, but these homes probably ends up breeding at least some resentment about the initially over-joyed neighbors happy to see a deserving family taken care of. Not to mention that the location probably doesn't do much by way of re-sale value, as the folks who want and can afford such monstrosities are probably more interested in living in a neighborhood of like-edifices, not in the midst of tumble-down, 800 square foot post-war ranches.
The new homes are also fitted out - furniture, appliances - that are ooh- and aah-worthy, but half of which probably don't hold up for that long. One of the techniques used is to design the kids' rooms around the interest-du-jour of each child. Thus, the eight year old girl gets the pink princess ballerina treatment. The six year old boy gets the bed shaped like a baseball glove. Etc. Doesn't take much fast forwarding to see these kids rejecting these rooms.
But, at least for the moment when the lucky family is shuttled back from Disneyworld to see their new life, everything is beautiful.
The families are also showered with things like cars, college tuition at Local U, and enough money to pay the property taxes for a while.
The show has been on for a few years and, of course, there's now some track record of people selling these dream houses - to cash in or because they can't keep up with the upkeep. More recently, a couple of the EM houses have been foreclosed on.
On Zillow, I read that one home was foreclosed because the family couldn't pay off their old mortgage on their destroyed home, nor could they handle the utility bills on their new mega-house. The other foreclosed house was reportedly used as collateral for a hefty loan to start a business - a construction business, of all things. (Such timing!)
According to Access Atlanta, where the second foreclosed home - a whopper at 5,500 square feet - was located, the Extreme Makeover show had this to say:
A representative of ABC offered an e-mail: "'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition' advises each family to consult a financial planner after they receive their new home. Ultimately, financial matters are personal, and we work to respect the privacy of the families."
And, of course, they are under no obligation here to make sure that the people they "gift" with a makeover live happily ever after. They're in it for the ratings, the ad revenue, and I'm sure at least marginally for the good-hearted, tears-to-my eye, lump-in-the-throat feel they get when that six year old, who's used to sharing a cramped bedroom with a bunch of sibs, leaps into that baseball glove bed.
But the show, of course, plays into the worst aspect of our culture: the wretched excess, the "stuff cures everything" mentality, the shoddy, quick fix.
It probably wouldn't make for such great TV, but wouldn't you like to see the Extreme Makeover crew build a whole bunch of modest, useful, sustainable homes, Habitat for Humanity style - rather than focus on one out-scale, garish, house-full-of-junk?
I'd love to see a follow-up on all the Extreme Makeover cases to see how they - and their houses - are doing 4, 5, 6 years out. Now that would make for must-see TV.