13 April 2007

Proxy Love.

Rob Long today on Opinion Journal: Feeling good about doing good while actually doing nothing -

Call it the "Thighmaster Paradox": Watching people do things on TV--fight it out on a desert island, say, or sweat themselves into shapelier thighs--often replaces the need to do those things ourselves. After a few hours vegetating in slack-jawed stupor in front of the Food Network, do we really end up in the kitchen, whipping up a wholesome meal? Or do we drag the family to Outback Steakhouse?

The Thighmaster Paradox, as it will come to be known, is never more apparent than when it comes to reality television. Right now one of the biggest reality shows is "Dancing With the Stars," but its popularity hasn't ushered in a ballroom-dancing craze, if the past few weddings I've attended are any indication. And for all of the creepy, aggressive ambition on display in an episode of "The Apprentice," do people really watch that show and suddenly get all fired up to outperform their co-workers? Or do they waste a lot of time the next day rehashing the previous night's episode and laughing around the water cooler, as the phone rings and the work piles up and the invoices don't get mailed?

There is reason to believe the Thighmaster Paradox will apply just as much to a new round of shows, in which we're supposed to watch nice people doing nice things. It started with ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" in which a family--often parentless--struck hard by bad luck, weather, medical bills or something else suitably Dickensian, is suddenly beset by remodeling do-gooders who swarm around their house, fixing it up, upgrading the appliances, and showering the family with gifts and cash and the camera's attention. Basically it's the last scene in "A Christmas Carol"--but just the spray of food, stuff and good cheer, without all of the tiresome character development and fear of damnation. In the "Extreme Makeover" universe, Ebenezer Scrooge has been replaced by generous product-placement sponsors such as Home Depot and Sears, and the rest of us are blubbery Tiny Tims.

It's a hugely affecting show, of course. There's something riveting about watching people who deserve stuff get it, in abundance, and it's hard not to watch a whole hour of "Extreme Makeover" without getting a slightly lumpy throat.

See also this related rumination from First thing's Ryan Anderson about Bono-style hipster "charity," especially the "Red" and "One" campaigns:

It reminded me of one of Bono’s earlier endeavors: the ONE Campaign. Bono titled this “the campaign to make poverty history.” Its strategy was simply to rally Americans to call upon President Bush to allocate one additional percentage point of the U.S. budget to fighting extreme poverty across the globe.

Surprisingly, they never ask for any direct contributions: “ONE isn’t asking for your money, we’re asking for your voice. ONE does not accept donations. Instead, we hope that you’ll take action with ONE by contacting Congress, the President and other elected officials and ask them to do even more to fight global AIDS and extreme poverty. We encourage you to sign the ONE declaration and help by spreading the word about the ONE Campaign by talking about it with your friends, family and co-workers. Additionally, you can show your community that you support ONE by purchasing ONE merchandise on our website.”

Just sign our petition! Just call President Bush! Wear our wristband! That’s all it takes to make poverty history! You don’t even need to give a dime!

What a bizarre method. Why not appeal to our consciences directly and ask every American to donate 1 percent of our personal budget to the poverty-fighting charity of our choice? The ONE Campaign made significant inroads with the religious communities—having them demand more from the government. Why not ask for a tithe? Why not call for personal contributions instead of political noise-making?

But that would require sacrifice. And that wouldn’t sell. Nor would it be trendy. It’s so much easier to say we can fight AIDS by buying Armani and Gap. It’s so much easier to say we’ll end world poverty by telling Congress to do something about it. My “good-looking” “fine self” sleeps so much better at night knowing that my (RED) purchase has bought pills for someone in Africa, that my signature on the ONE declaration means I’ve done my part.



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