July 27, 2004
I'm a big fan of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. My friends and I watch it every Tuesday night. We love the way the Fab Five tailor their suggestions to each individual straight guy, and we enjoy the genuine affection that grows, each episode, between the straight guy and the Fab Five (who we call the "adulthood fairies"). It's heartwarming, plus it's snarky and fun: a perfect antidote to the news, and to most reality TV shows. Most reality TV strikes me as either annoying or exploitative; I favor shows where good things happen to nice people through the hard work of caring craftsmen, where houses are spiffed up or gardens are redesigned or hapless guys get new leases on life.
But this story in the Christian Science Monitor reminds me that reality television can be even more than this. It can genuinely make a difference in people's lives:
"Labor and Materials" is Iraq's...first reality TV show. In 15-minute episodes, broken windows are made whole again. Blasted walls slowly rise again. Fancy furniture and luxurious carpets appear without warning in the living rooms of poor families. Over six weeks, houses blasted by US bombs regenerate in a home-improvement show for a war-torn country.
"The main point isn't to rebuild the house, but to show the change in the psychology of the family during the rebuilding," says Ali Hanoon, the show's director. "The rebuilding has a psychological effect on the families -- their memories, their lives, are in these walls." (Read the whole story, which moved me to tears.)
Today is Tisha b'Av, when Jews around the world mourn the destruction of the Temple and the brokenness of the world. Surely this Iraqi television show is a rebuilding in the physical world of assiyah which manifests, engendering joy, in the world of atzilut. Our world is broken everywhere: may blessings rain down on those, like the creators of "Labor and Materials," working to mend it.