Sunday, December 14, 2008

Actual conversation at work yesterday:

An older gentleman (okay, gentleman may or may not be the best way to describe him) comes to the register and orders "a cup of the blackest coffee" we've got.

Me: "Okay, sir, that'll be $1.34."
Him: "Hmm, all I've got is a five."
Me: "I think we can work with that."
Him: "Yeah, I'll probably need those ones later tonight."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

FOX's Secret Millionaire

I just watched an episode of FOX's new show, "Secret Millionaire," in which Myles Kovaks, a self-made millionaire, lives for a week in undercover poverty with his wife, Cynthia, in Watts, Calif., one of the more infamous cities in the state.

The Kovaks were required to live on a "welfare" budget of $110. If anyone asked why there were cameras, they were told by the film crew that Miles and Cynthia were the subject of a documentary about Watts.

After the week is over, Miles and Cynthia dress up in their millionaire finery and present $50,000 checks to three of the people they decided were most deserving (a church, a home for women recently out of prison, and an extra-curricular horseback riding program designed to keep kids off the streets.)

As you might expect, tears flowed over the money, and the Kovaks' dishonesty was essentially forgotten when the checkbook appeared. To be sure, 50 large is no small donation (especially out of their own pockets), but the whole thing left me with some lingering questions about what happened to those people after the show and about reality television in general.

The whole thing had a contrived vibe. Is the viewer really supposed to believe that, on their own, Miles and Cynthia immediately created lasting friendships with the people of Watts that would have allowed them meaningful access into their lives?

Why did they need to lie at all? It seemed like an easy way to create a dramatic ending. When Miles was admitting the trickery, there were real feelings of betrayal in the eyes of their new friends--brief glimmers that, despite skillful editing, weren't missed by the camera. Furthermore, what happened to the people after they received the money? How were they treated by the other members of their community who weren't so lucky? How has this affected their lives, their perceptions of the rich and famous?

I think it would be interesting from a journalistic perspective to tag along and see exactly how much of the "reality" is helped along by bureaucratic film crews. Maybe provide a detailed account of the inner-workings of a program like this, breaking down what's facilitated and what's real. Hmm, story idea?