for release Friday January 23, 2004
by Melodie Davis
The Simple Life
Television has stooped to a lot of lows in recent months, (like funding a lavish, gorgeous, four million dollar wedding for “Trista and Ryan.”) But one of the lowest lows was the “The Simple Life” reality show with those two mega-rich young women I refuse to name who toughed it out on a farm in Arkansas for five weeks.
The concept intrigued me, actually, and so I watched it with my daughter one evening. I had seen one of the girls on a morning news program and she seemed almost like a down-to-earth girl I would like to know, who just happens to be rich.
The concept for “The Simple Life” could have made for an interesting, rewarding, learning experience, to transport two girls from “how the other half lives” to “life as most of us know it.” Indeed, there probably wasn’t a more jaw-dropping moment on television last fall than the moment that Girl One, when the Arkansas family mentioned shopping at Wal-Mart, responded innocently, “What is Wal-Mart? Do they sell walls?”
Not only does Girl One not shop where most of us have to shop, but she must not read newspapers, listen to radio, watch TV or anything, if such a retailing phenomenon has escaped her attention. Perhaps she was pulling our leg, but it didn’t look like it.
But the producers of “The Simple Life” must have thought that to make the show interesting television, these girls would have to be absolute terrors to their Arkansas host family, such as filling milk bottles with water, and borrowing the family truck without asking for a midnight run to clubs because they were “bored.” They behaved like spoiled rich girls. Who needs to see that? Rich girls should object to the stereotyping. Everyone else is already jealous of the rich. Maybe the target audience is guys who want to watch good-looking women in occasionally skimpy costumes.
Maybe by the end there was some bonding, some warm and endearing moment between the host family and the girls, some moral, some point to it all. I couldn’t stand to watch. Maybe some people discovered the truth that the simple life and its values are usually far more fulfilling than a shallow life of chasing wealth, looks and hook ups. (Allow me to hasten to add that wealth is not the problem here: many wealthy people are world-class givers—in their hearts and from their wealth. They do not seek to flaunt their gifts and truly put money to work for worthwhile causes.) Rather, it is television’s penchant for somehow succumbing to the lowest common denominator of programming, which ends up demeaning us all. Television can be an amazing medium bringing moving, quality, life-changing productions to the masses. So why do we so often settle for crap?
It does boil down to money. TV Networks have to make money, too, to stay in business. But quality can sell too, and attract audiences.
But we can’t just blame the networks. Most of us are wrapped up in a never-ending search for more goods and material possessions. A recent article in Washington Post Magazine highlighted the purchases of a Washington, D.C. hair colorist. As a single mom, she made good money at her job (often working 9-11 hour days) so she could splurge on adorable designer handbags costing $500-900, stylish shoes costing $1200, and other “little” luxuries.
Thirty years ago a book came out with the same title as the reality show I’ve been talking about, The Simple Life, by Vernard Eller (Eerdmans, 1973). Eller, a professor of religion at LaVerne College, Calif., espouses the extreme opposite of the television show, and points us to the original author of “simple living,” Jesus. But you know, if we look at Jesus’ own commentary on wealth and riches we are reminded that people have always chased after money, possessions, status, position. It is nothing new. And we can’t blame it on the TV producers and Madison Avenue.
Jesus clearly outlined a different path. Probably one of the best statements on wealth comes in Jesus’ famed and pithy “Sermon on the Mount” where he says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where it grows rusty and moth-eaten, and thieves break in to steal it. Store up treasure in heaven. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6: 19-21).
There is no value in “the simple life” just for the sake of simple living. I don’t care if you shop at Wal-Mart or Macy’s, or live in Hogback, Arkansas or 100 Pennsylvania Avenue. The question I’d leave with you is, “What is my real treasure? What do I value most?”
What do you think? Post your comments on our website at http://www.thirdway.com/aw/conversation.asp or send comments to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 811 words; end material = 105 words
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