Sunday, December 03, 2006

Philanthropy as the new reality series?

Thanks to a post on Tactical Philanthropy, I have learned that a new reality show is about to air in the UK where five wealthy individuals will live "undercover" for 10 days living in the most deprived areas of Britain. At the end of the 10 days, each of the "contestants" will give £50,000 to the family that they each believe is the most deserving of their generosity.

This idea is fraught with problems. We all know that "reality television" is as produced as fictional reality. Even with "undercover" cameras, it's unlikely that these people will earn enough credibility or find their way within a community in 10 days. Add the producers' desire to package the show so as to maximize viewers, you have a stylized version of homelessness which is conveyed and then accepted as reality.

I find the following quote from the Guardian laden with irony: "Mr Elliott says his motivation is not a desire to appear on television but a means to redistribute a slice of his £60m fortune: "I don't think charities are good at it. They don't tend to pick out the most deserving cases. They tend to pick out the sexy ones and the politically correct ones." And yet this man will decide who is the most deserving person in 10 days?

I hope to all hope that any participant will receive a generous appearance fee otherwise, it's impossible for me not to see this show as exploiting poverty for financial gain, whatever the producers' and participants' stated motivations.

I watch more TV than I should and for the most part (except for the Unit, Prison Break and 24), it's mostly junk that I love. When Jess gets her way and we watch an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, I'm almost always teary at the time of the grand reveal. I want to believe that there is a television concept that could be massively popular in raising awareness for important issues. I want to find that vehicle!!! I've been pitched several and always, the problem has been I've found that the concept is always more exploitative and doesn't hold enough respect and regard for its subject.

I still think that YouTube content like the Free Hugs video is far more engaging and can lead to far than a slick reality show. Guys like my Web of Change buddy Nipun Metha who has created KarmaTube which marries viral video with suggestions on how to act if you're inspired by the video clip you're seeing are enabling grass-roots content to drive action.

It's only a matter of time before someone pitches WorldVision and the other big TV advertisers a new format to deliver their infomercials. I wonder what would happen if one of the big guys were to embrace a different concept that uses a mix of Western volunteers and their own field workers in their television informercials.

Hmm.. I'd be interested to see what that show looks like.

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