Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Big Take

Kat and I just caught a few minutes of Oprah's new show on ABC, The Big Give. And I'm a little unsettled.

To be quite honest, I'm not certain why. To all appearances, the premise of the show seems very selfless. It is surely a level above simple philanthropy, as the show claims that the contestants do not know that Oprah will give the winner - the last person left after all others are sent home - $1 million. I don't particularly think that people who realize that they are contestants, would be so naive as to believe that they weren't competing in a contest. And anyone who has seen or heard of Oprah's talk show (specifically when she decides to give away a car to every audience member) knows that something exciting (though, perhaps, somewhat materialistic) is scrawled noisily into the epilogue. But, let us leave that aside for the moment. We shall give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that the contestants were blissfully caught unawares by this minutest of details.

Perhaps what leaves me nonplussed is the brassy, dented trumpet-bell ring of the television tubes and speakers, parading the story of this giving into every home and hovel. It does not seem to walk the line of "not [letting] your left hand know what your right hand is doing." I have walked along with and been humble by the company of too many people that would fall under the Western-hued label "unsung heroes" to be wowed by giving that clanks loudly, a roll of quarters in the temple treasury. I am no longer inspired very much by the publication of thinly-spread selflessness. But let us leave this too aside.

What is starkly absent from the show is the wrestling. No, not the spandex-clad, testosterone-vomiting annals of WWE, but the wrestling of Good Samaritans. I am in awe of a giver who is deeply baptized in the muddy waters of a needy mans troubles. I am amazed at Jodi's husband, who married her even though she acquired AIDS at the hands of a rapist, and has been her caregiver as those around her have watched her earthly frame crumble (see Andrew Peterson's song Queen of Iowa for lyrical exposition). My world quakes when Tammy learns to speak to Fiona, who is blind and deaf, and Fiona's world of shimmering faith is opened to those of us who cannot grope past her muted English. "Love thy neighbor as thyself" becomes ineffably real in the playing out of these tales. But when a person races from gift to gift, a veritable bar-fly giver, the clink of cheap glass lets me know that this is not necessarily Waterford Crystal.

Oprah's show is undoubtedly one of the most popular things on television right now. Prime Time has brought us a great American story that goes down like a vitamin shrouded in cheesy mashed potatoes. But I don't know how well I can swallow the rape of every virtue, from sex to selflessness, by the One Enemy. I leave you with a lyric.

      "...but I knew you
only as I had dressed you up
in garments of philanthropy
and moralism,

but in the moonlight, I saw clearly..."

-Arthur Alligood, Letter to Grace


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