Neighbors before strangers; charity begins at home

“Move that bus!” chants the cheering crowd as the music swells and a bus pulls away to reveal an imposing house to a family reduced to racking sobs.

This is the climax to another “life-changing hour” of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” as ABC likes to promote its popular reality show.

About 14 million viewers tune in every week to watch heartthrob Ty Pennington from “Trading Spaces” and a crew of builders and designers rally to remodel the home of a tragedy-stricken family. Pennington and his team watch a video clip of the family explaining their situation, usually a medical malady that afflicts one or more of the family members, as the poignant piano of woe plinks away in the background.

The show follows a formula that never fails to tug at one’s heartstrings: The mother dissolves into tears in the arms of her husband while Pennington and company stand at the other end of the screen looking like someone ran over their puppy. The team takes a tour of the run-down home and tries to get acquainted with the tastes of the family as the teammates work on individual projects that focus on each family member.

In this week’s episode, the camera zooms in on the father’s tear-streaked face and then back to Pennington in what can only be described as the pingpong of misery.

“Hang on, man,” Pennington tells him and pulls him into a hug – a Kodak moment that was obviously staged.

The family is then shipped off to a week-long vacation during which Pennington and company will rebuild the house.

My tear ducts are dry.

I once read that if you don’t like this show, then you don’t have a heart. Well, I would like to dispute that theory.

I refuse to be called heartless on account of not liking a show that exploits a family’s suffering to boost a network’s ratings. It is not my intention to mock or negate the plight of these families, but reality TV shows like ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” degrade their experience to trite lines and saccharine scenes that lack authenticity.

Shows like this one are attempts in poor taste to make the audience feel warm and fuzzy inside by broadcasting grief and flaunting the “good deed” that is supposed to make everything better.

If you want to feel good about the world, then get off that couch and do something. Help out someone in your community, and make things happen yourself. The effects of your actions will last longer than the fleeting stupor of any TV show.

Reach out to your neighbor – not the screen.

Your tears aren’t doing anyone any favors.

Julieta Chiquillo is a sophomore news-editorial journalism major from San Salvador, El Salvador. Her column appears Tuesdays.