Dependable Erection

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Extreme Makeover in Raleigh

Two very different takes on the recent "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" episode which wrapped up filming in Raleigh a couple of weeks back.

First Sven gives his take:

There's a Triangle, but non-Durham note that was too 'extreme' for me to pass on posting today in the N&O. I had previously read that the not-so-reality-based tv show 'Extreme Makeover' decided to help out a low-income family in Raleigh's Mordecai neighborhood and National Register district by 're-doing' their house with the added kitsch of sending the family to Disneyworld while this happened. A cool and worthy endeavor, I thought.

I was shocked to read today (and, particularly in the world of real estate and development, I am not easily shocked) that not only did the show plan to tear down the 70-year old bungalow, but 1) they did it in an over-the-top staged 'Braveheart'-emulating event of demolition derby cars pulling apart and ramming the house to death, and 2) the replacement house would be built in a week.


The meager humor is that the cars couldn't actually do this - they pulled the columns off, but the porch roof stayed up. The crew had to pre-chainsaw the framing of the house in order to get the walls to fall down when the cars hit it. So then it looks like the place really was not-worth-saving. After all, if a car can knock it down....

And, bottom line, you cannot build a quality house in a week. You can build a functional, servicable, and ultimately, disposable house in a week. The irony is that what they build almost certainly could be knocked down by a car. What results is questionable charity - renovation of the now-demolished house is not the kind of project that meshes well with Pez-dispenser television, but the end result would be a much greater appreciation of the property value for the family than when they sell the house-that-was-built-in-a-week. Given the holiday season, it's reasonable to ask if the net result is 'Giving', or 'Taking'?

Sven, as he always does, makes some excellent points. I'm not always pre-disposed to saving old buildings in the way that he seems to be, but his arguments are sound and he knows his stuff.

Derek Jennings, in this week's Independent, provides a different perspective:

The recently completed Extreme Makeover: Home Edition project in Raleigh was a scripted Christmas miracle. Hollywood celebrities came through on a shiny white horse—er, bus—and, aided by a local builder with a heart of gold, saved the day for a struggling-yet-deserving family. The community came out in droves, demonstrating generosity and love, confirming the best of what we believe about ourselves. Let the studio audience say awwwwww.

As with any Christmas miracle, the setting wouldn't be complete without a chorus of bah humbugging. An alternate take on the above would be: Media conglomerate comes to town and bombards us all with the message that corporations are our salvation and that happiness and success are attainable through over-consumption and the redemptive power of things.

From an abstract, political standpoint, of course I recognize the program is "entertainment"—a show to ABC/Disney—and a highly rated, Emmy Award-winning one, at that. It is most certainly an advertising opportunity for Sears, the show's main sponsor, which stocks each house on every episode chock full of appliances and plasma TVs from their stores. And, sure, the way in which the producers tell the families' stories are carefully calibrated for maximum tear-duct drainage. But so what?

. . .

In Raleigh, the program chose a family in the Mordecai-Halifax Court neighborhood just north of downtown. In recent years the area has undergone a Hope VI HUD grant-funded transition from the Halifax Court public housing project to a gentrifying, mixed-income neighborhood. New, detached $400,000 homes share space (for now) with older, modest and often deteriorating dwellings dating back to the earlier part of the last century.

I'd actually found out early about the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition project coming to Raleigh. I'm on the board of directors for a local charity that provides services and transitional housing for the homeless, and an e-mail forwarded to our distribution list from one of the show's producers piqued my interest. The e-mail asked people in local government and community organizations to nominate families we felt were deserving of a new house and being featured on TV. The Rigginses received several nominations and overwhelming support, certainly fitting the Extreme Makeover prototype in that they're highly regarded and display selflessness despite adversity.

The husband, William, has been blind since 1985 and works as an assembler for Lions Industries, which provides jobs and services for the visually impaired. His wife, Linda, a social worker, has suffered a number of health issues over the past year resulting in large medical bills which, piled on top of day-to-day expenses, threatened to overrun their modest resources. Through it all, the couple remain tireless workers at Building Together Ministries, a nonprofit, Christian community organization that provides tutoring, after-school services, summer camps, a thrift store and life-skills classes for disadvantaged youth and parents. Building Together shares its facility with Hope Elementary Charter School, right across the street from the Rigginses' residence.

Their home (like, sadly, far too many downtown) was in extreme disrepair and easily could have been condemned by the city, leaving this couple and their three young children, ages 3 to 6, with no affordable place to go. Even in the midst of that, and living in a house so small they had to keep their refrigerator in the dining room, they took in another family for a while last year, letting them stay in their converted attic. Friends, coworkers and neighbors say that type of concern and willingness to push their needs aside to help others typifies the Rigginses. Their strong faith ascribes this timely intervention to divine providence.

. . .

What snarky blog posts and pissed purists miss while decrying all of the resources being concentrated to aid one family (and often one whose needs may not differ much if at all from many other members of their community) is that when Extreme Makeover: Home Edition comes into a city, they help to create a volunteerism infrastructure. There are folks who are lifelong activists, volunteers and community servants who daily go about their business of quietly making miracles in the lives of their fellow citizens. Our society would fall apart (or at least do so more quickly) without them. Yet on the set of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition in Raleigh, I met not only those diehard stalwarts, but also a large number of folks who told me that this was their first volunteer or community service project.

Triangle Homeworks saw its roll of registered volunteers double due to its involvement in the project. And were it not for the opportunity to participate in a TV production, receive a blue T-shirt, and the slim chance of an autograph or getting on television, I'm sure the number of folks showing up to work on the Rigginses' house would have been a lot less.

But here's the thing: Doing good for others and playing a part in doing something on a scale much more grand than you could accomplish on your own changes a person.

I don't know if Derek was specifically responding to Sven. I don't think so, and honestly, this is such a busy time of year that i haven't been able to keep up with everyone in town who might be writing about this. But both of these writers are making very legitimate points.

Jennings goes in to describe the condition of the house in great detail: "The family's 6-year-old son was living in what was about a 10-by-10 foot plywood addition tacked onto the back of the house. There was no heating there, except for a space heater," he said, his eyes watering.

"Don [Mead] said, 'I don't care about a TV show. Whether that happens or not, we're gonna do something for this family regardless. And when it was announced and finalized, and we got to actually meet the family, the first thing that Don did was go seek out that little boy and tell him, 'I promise you, you won't have to sleep in the cold ever again.'"

So here's the thing. When you give people a chance to help out someone else who's less fortunate, but clearly deserving, 99 times out of a hundred (oh , hell, 100 times out of a hundred) they'll come through. But the larger picture is that you don't get a hundred times to come through. You basically only get that one chance. And the other 99 deserving folks, well, they might as well not even exist.

and then there's that deserving thing.

By all accounts, the folks whose house was just rebuilt were deserving of a more comfortable existence. I'm happy they got it.

What we can hope for is, i think, two things.

First, that this new community of energized volunteers can keep things going and find all of those other residents in the Triangle living in equally difficult conditions, who are equally deserving, and figure out a way to help them out as well. And by deserving, i mean that they're living, breathing human beings who aren't doing any harm to anyone else. You don't need to be a saint to deserve being lifted out of squalor. And if these new volunteers start thinking about just why it is that all these deserving people are living in deprived conditions, maybe they'll start trying to tackle the systemic problems that our society creates which result in so many people living in substandard conditions. I hope Derek keeps us up-to-date on new projects this community takes on.

The second thing, is to incorporate a little of what Sven brings to the table. There are things from the past worth saving. It's not always necessary, or even desirable, to plow down the old to make a new start. Just because it makes a better TV show, it's not always the way to go.


Post a Comment

<< Home