A new Fox reality show called Secret Millionaire is in the works, in which rich folks infiltrate poor neighborhoods undercover, see what it's like to live as the other half, and at the end give out at least $100,000. Well isn't that nice! Charity is on an upswing. Oprah's Big Give, American Idol Gives Back, and even that new MTV show Exiled (where some brats from My Super Sweet 16 travel to impoverished places and learn life lessons), are all about "selflessly" doing penance for one's own privilege. What's going on here? Why are these types of shows suddenly so ubiquitous?
Well one could say that it has to do with our troubling times; the products of a population that has begun to huddle together while economic downturns, wars, and impending environmental doom swat at us. I'm sure some historian fifty or a hundred years from now will come up with a clear and concise political and social analysis of why reality TV suddenly started giving back. But really, in the here and now, I think it just has to do with simple programming. Those "look how rich we are!" shows, like My Super Sweet 16, certainly had (and arguably are still having) their day. But trends change and evolve, and I think this is just the next phase. From laughing at people being bad to laughing at people doing good. Sure the Real Housewives are still smearing their largess all over our television screens, and the girls from The Hills try to pass off sitting around and blinking as work, but I think they too will dwindle. Perhaps we'll soon see Countess LuAnn muddling through an African landfill, trying to do her part. Or Heidi Montag building habitats for humanity. It will still be self-involved and self-serving, sure, but the audience will get to breathe deep and pretend that truly good things are happening in a truly awful world.