By now, we all know the format. We are presented with a family in crisis; the children are sick or orphaned, the parent is disabled or disfigured in some horrible way. Their story is told to maximum effect on the heartstrings at the start of the show, and we are worked up into a state of pity for these folks. ‘Someone should do something!’ we think to ourselves.

Then in come the Home Makeover crew, headed by Ty Pennington, to save the day! They announce to the audience that help has arrived. A new house will be built where the old one stands now (or stood, in some cases). Care will be taken to ensure that even the smallest details will be accounted for. Special rooms are built to meet special needs, wether illness or injury. After an hour of air time, a palace is created from scratch, and everyone lives happily ever after.

We should be clear about what is really happening here; our impulse to help those who need it is being manipulated. At the start of the hour, we sit, sometimes near tears, as the family is interviewed to tell their stories. I have seen people break into tears over some of these families. Don’t get me wrong; they do need help, and usually much more than just a new house will provide. More than once families have been evicted from their homes. Foreclosed on for inability to pay the mortgage or taxes.

What is happening is called the Narcotizing Effect. We watch as the problem, explained so painstakingly at the start, is solved right before our eyes. We feel better as the show ends, as if we’ve done our part to help. We then wash our hands of the situation believing it to be solved. In neighborhoods where these houses have been built and then foreclosed on, the neighbors have been unwilling to offer any further assistance to the families, thinking they have had all the help they need. Problem solved, right?

Shows like this can lead us to believe that broader social issues do not need to be addressed since all the solutions are so obvious, and someone is working on it. Our impulse to help can be satisfied by watching these families get help, and be so thankful at the end. We need to remember that families in crisis need much more assistance than one physical object can provide. Yes; a house is a big thing, and can be a huge help, but many families have issues that are deeper than just shelter. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition lets us feel good about ourselves without having to worry about the larger issues.

The original story that promted this is here: