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Higgins: Foreclosure reveals TV show’s ugly materialism

The four-bedroom, three-car garage house built for the the Harper family of Lake City, Ga., is now in foreclosure.

The four-bedroom, three-car garage house built for the the Harper family of Lake City, Ga., is now in foreclosure.

Last week The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that a home in Lake City, Ga., was in foreclosure. That four-bedroom, three-car garage house was built in January 2005 by the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” team, that teary-eyed crew led by man-child Ty Pennington.

And while foreclosures are happening across the U.S., this $450,000 mini mansion in Georgia highlights the gross commercialism and materialism of the ABC show.

Milton and Patricia Harper of Lake City just needed a house with a working septic system – the one in their old home, according to the Journal-Constitution story, backed up post-rainstorms. What the Harpers got, however, was more than a flushable toilet: a turreted house with four fireplaces, a solarium and a porte-cochere leading into an office. The heating and cooling bills would be enough to put the structure into foreclosure.

The hook of “EM:HE” is that the families are deserving, Sears banners chasing after them like crooked lawyers behind ambulances. There’s a weekly parade of community members pounding the pavement to the original home holding signs for the multinational corporation, led by Sears hawker Pennington.

Head to abc.com and you can see short videos – “Sears moments” – of crew members wandering the store. “Sears Gives to the Turner Family!” follows “EM:HE” carpenter Ed Sanders frolicking about the entertainment section, passing by TV after TV until he finds the largest one. He bows before it, an actor so grateful for reality TV.

Of course, Sears is savvy, super-sizing a long-standing tradition of product placement in an attempt to make some noise in the Tivo-lution. You could fast forward by the lovely Electrolux appliances, but then you’d miss Ty’s gelled hair and wrinkles of concern.

But besides being a giant advertisement for Ty’s sugar daddy and an assortment of construction companies, “Extreme Makeover” pushes an extreme notion of consumerism. A recently re-aired January episode featuring the Woodhouse family – so in debt because of their daughter’s medical bills they didn’t even have their own home – resulted in a two-story house with a bowling lane and ice cream parlor in the basement and a free truck. Courtesy of Ford.

Home improvement shows hammer their way throughout the cable box, from creaky grandpa “This Old House” to perky Gen Y-ers like TLC’s “Date My House.” The hosts offer decorating advice, low-budget fixes, a survey of a city’s real estate market, etc. They hold our hands as we go to The Home Depot and Crate & Barrel, smart consumers who make bad choices and just need to speed date for the right credenza.

The centerfold of “EM:HE” certainly includes that ginormous house, but every room is draped in the recipients’ sad story. No one would argue that the families aren’t deserving but Ty, ABC and the underwriters are the real heroes, armed with superpowers of charm and deep pockets.

The obscene materialism thrown at the families repositions their suffering as a lottery ticket, a means to getting a home that dwarfs every other in the neighborhood, as that house in Lake City reportedly does. Clearly it’s a Band-Aid that will get ripped off when the maintenance fund provided dries up or, in the case of the Harpers, when the business that used the house as collateral fails.

I miss the original, plastic surgery-focused “Extreme Makeover,” when the construction was done to bodies that later bore scars and bruises. The impact was immediate and raw and clearly self-destructive. Ty and company are more insidious, pushing a version of the American Dream that creates real-life stresses not seen on camera. Just ask the Harpers.

As of Aug. 5, according to the Journal-Constitution, they were in negotiations with their bank to be able to remain in the home. It had been listed for sale at $950,000 until recently.

Ty Pennington

Ty Pennington

The product placement on the show is less than subtle.

The product placement on the show is less than subtle.

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

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