Thursday, February 03, 2005

Casualties of Capitalism (and Fashion)
As I mentioned at the time, a few months ago my organization co-published a report on low-income working families in New York state, which was pretty well received by the policy community, local and state officials, and the media with significant coverage in the New York Times, Albany Times-Union and other outlets around the state. Bob Herbert also prominently cited the report in the first column he wrote after Thanksgiving, even quoting from the intro I wrote for it. On the other side of the political spectrum, business groups and even some Pataki administration officials had praise for the report as well.

What I didn't know was that apparently the report caught the attention of a different, probably far more influential class of opinion-shaper. God help me, I'm sitting at my desk this afternoon and the phone rings.

It's a woman calling from Bravo, the TV network. "We were wondering if you could put us in touch with some of the working poor families you talk about in the report."

For what, I ask? "I work for a show called 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.' We're interested in doing something like an extreme lifestyle makeover with them."

I resisted the urge to ask if this was a joke and referred her along to one of my colleagues who did a lot of the interviewing for the report (and is a socialist. I was hoping she would react with outrage).

She fielded the call, evidently handling it in a disappointingly professional way, and then came in and we laughed about it, with that sort of mix of humor and outrage you get watching "The Daily Show."

But according to her--she apparently has watched some reality shows, which I generally avoid like the plague--the whole theme of class conflict has become a big part of the appeal of some of these shows. So I guess it's not surprising that in an industry where derivation is the rule, like television, everybody is looking for their own piece of the phenomenon. Apparently there's some plan to have Paris Hilton's mother do a show in which she tries to "impart some high society class" to poor people. Which sounds just too repulsive for words. (Of course, Annie's idea for re-imagining "Survivor"--make it literal--probably would turn some people off, too, though I've always held that the Fox executive's dream has to be televising public executions a la "Natural Born Killers".)

I had no idea that this has become part of the entertainment landscape, and I wonder how it's affecting politics. Poverty-as-spectacle/entertainment strikes me as pretty disgusting, but maybe that's not how it comes across on the Idiot Box.

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