Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Is HGTV Tragedy-Pimping?

HGTV is one of those channels you are mostly likely to find blaring on our TV any time you walk into our house. It's probably that way for a lot of home owners. I generally enjoy their programming--when I have time to watch TV--but I was a bit jarred by this week's episode of "Dream House" ("Dream House" documents the stories of various people who set out to build their--you guessed it--"dream house.")

Well, this week they were in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans to document the damage and destruction to a family's "dream house," which was in the construction process before the hurricane hit. The Lower 9th Ward has not even dried out yet, and HGTV is rushing into the Big Easy to make big bucks off of other people's tragedy, but it's a middle class tragedy; that's pretty much the bulk of HGTV's audience share. The producers are virtual pimps, converting middle-class distress to dollars. We feel their pain and pay for it.

As much as this is tragedy-pimping, it is also evidence of how quickly the national debate on the plight of the American lower class and underclass has all but died. That discussion ramped up right after we saw the pictures of the immediate aftermath, but it didn't seem to survive but a couple of weeks at the most. Rather than dissipating, Katrina has been transformed into entertainment value, which gives it a part of a market share for networks, and makes the audience forget about the displaced and the impoverished. Now we're either focused on something else or training our eyes on middle class families who wonder how they can rebuild their dream home even as many New Orleaneans in the background can't even dream of a home.

Chris Wage, taking a different tack, isn't one to let the debate die. He asks why at this late date FEMA has only spent 1/4 of the congressionally allotted Katrina relief on New Orleans. Good question.

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