Sunday, October 25, 2009

Reality, Not TV

I confess I don't watch much reality television. I watched one season of American Idol, and that was mainly because I was overseas at the time and my options for English language programming were slim. My main impression was that it reminded me far too much of the popularity contests I remembered from high school (also known as choosing the Homecoming Queen or King or whatever). It also seemed, like most reality television, to be an exercise in personal vanity more so then anything else. When "Survivor" goes "Lord of the Flies" - or at least Bart Simpson at Kamp Krusty - that will be the season I watch. Otherwise I tune out.

The exception to this is the home makeover show. You know the one, it's on ABC, SEARS gets major publicity out of it, and all the guy designers seem ... well, like the stereotypical designers except they can also wield a hammer. I make no claims to regularly watch it by any means, but on those times when I have watched it, aside from giving me ideas what I would and would not do with my own home were money not an obstacle, it never fails to strike a chord.

Mostly this is not because of the donations of the corporate sponsors. I have no doubt SEARS is motivated by more cynical, market-driven concerns than any real desire for charity. (I may be wrong about that, but like I said, it's cynical.) Granted, they are donating, which they don't have to do, but it's the real volunteers, the ones making the biggest donations, that move me. These are the ordinary local people who show up to help, including the local building contractors.

(My cynicism about them is tempered by the knowledge that, being local, simply being on television isn't going to make a big difference in their bottom line. It may be free advertising, but let's face it, local homebuilders don't do a lot of advertising for the general public. Think about it. When was the last time you saw such an advertisement? I used to, but I grew up in that industry.)

The sheer outpouring of volunteers from the local community when these things happen is always staggering. Putting up a house in a week is no small feat anyway, but that they can do it - and do it with the numbers they do, is nothing short of remarkable. And it proves to me at least that no matter how jaded, how cynical, how simply misanthropic I am inclined to be about my fellow human beings on average, we are capable of extraordinary acts.

It doesn't have to be on television, either. Habitat for Humanity builds homes all over for people who couldn't otherwise afford them, all with volunteer labor. People volunteer their time in soup kitchens and shelters, and various other enterprises that, as winter sets in, become even more important to those in need. These volunteers remind that no matter how out of touch the average American might be with the reality of life on the streets (which is an issue for another blog), there are still many people in each and every community willing to give of their time and energy to help.

That's something to be cheerful about, even if there isn't much cause for cheer elsewhere at the moment. It's also something that everyone could be a part of. So I'm going to do something I don't normally do here and urge those few readers I have to consider finding a way to make a difference this holiday season. It doesn't take much, not really, and no matter what your circumstances I think we can all make time to help out somewhere, even if it's just through donations to the Salvation Army, the Food Pantry, or other organizations. I think that, if you do, you'll find you have something in common with all those people on television, week after week, community after community.

And it's not something you can get from just watching television.

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