Monday, March 24, 2008

Oprah's Big Give & Giving w/ Strings Attached

While channel surfing, I stumbled upon something that turned my stomach. There a lot of irritating shows out there, but I shortly discovered I was watching Oprah's Big Give. Now, I'm pretty ambivalent about Oprah. I don't watch her talk show and know only the obvious things about her. When I heard about her Big Give show, I didn't think much about it one way or another. I did think it might draw some attention to philanthropy in general, but I knew it would be very commercial and very self-promoting for everybody involved so I wasn't too interested. But I didn't know it would be as tacky and demeaning as what I saw.

I went to the web later to find out the rules of what I had been watching. Each person was given $100,000 and 24 hrs to give it all away. The contestants had to "dream up most dramatic, most exciting,most creative way" of spreading their wealth. The catch was that they couldn't give away cash, couldn't spend more than $500 on any one person, and couldn't spend more than $10,000 in any one place. I tuned in to see one of the contestants go to Target, find a bunch of people and tell them they had 5 min (or was it 10?) to run around the store and spend $500. People were running, sweating, being yelled at by the Big Give contestant and generally acting really desperate in front of the camera. Then, the contestant and the Big Give crew found the most down on their luck family to interview. It was a family living in a shelter who seemed to truly need the break and were very appreciative. I have no beef with the actions of the family. It was the fact that the contestant set up these stupid rules which made the family scramble around for the amusement of the masses. The dad was literally drenched in sweat from having to run all over the place and trying to give his daughter some life advice about being in the right place at the right time. But in the process of helping people, was it necessary to make them scramble around in a maze of limitations to find basic necessities when their lives are probably rather like that metaphor all the time? Sure, it's nice to give people a boost, but wouldn't those people be able to be more thoughtful about getting what they really need without a ridiculous time constraint? The editors chose a lot of pictures of babies to get viewers worked up about their needs that would be met. But any mother with a child about to melt down can tell you from experience that you cannot thoughtfully spend $500 to fulfill your baby's needs in 5 or 10 minutes. Yes, it is a kindness to give to people, but it should not be with attached strings that unduly impose more stress and hardship on those whose lives might already seem like a futile race to artificial deadlines.