“I haven’t been entirely truthful with you…” says the young, well-dressed, middle-eastern man. The camera focuses in on the pained expressions on those he is speaking to in that shaky, fast cutaway style of those Jason Bourne flicks. Intense, dramatic music plays in the background. The editors let this cliff-hanger like suspense build for, well, seemingly forever. I guess, in reality, 10 seconds.
This is the Fox network, the network that, when drama doesn’t exist enough for the producers, they go ahead and make it up. Young married couples on an island with a bunch of hot singles. The screaming, shrieking Gordon Ramsey. The Fox network, God bless ‘em, takes decent ideas for shows and makes the dramatic effect linger like a sky-diver in mid-air. Then they find talent to pump that drama up. It’s all really unnecessary. The material is good, let it be.
But here we are. “I haven’t been entirely truthful with you…” “…” “…” “…” “…” “I’m really a multi-millionaire.” SHA-BANG! And, lo-and-behold, the victims of what Fox believes to be a cruel joke could give two shits. Who would? The lying millionaire has been a part of their lives for six whole days.
Okay, I guess I got a little ahead of myself. The Secret Millionaire is a show on Fox in which a millionaire pretends to be poor for less than a week then finds poor people to give one hundred grand to. In this instance, a young businessman goes to a battered women’s shelter. He’ll meet people, work with the volunteers, and decide how to split up the booty come day six.
I like the premise. It reminds me of that feel good show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” where Ty and company find some poor saps stuck in a home filled with mold or abestos and build them a new one in seven days. How can you not like this touchy feely stuff? I like that TV doesn’t have to be all guns and tits all the time. The idea that we can help people is kinda the premise of The Secret Millionaire, and I gotta give props to it, but something sits poorly with me.
First off, the six days. The idea is that these millionaires meet people and get involved in their lives. But six days? Really? Seems like a short period of time. No wonder no one cares when they’ve been lied to come the final five minutes of the program. There is no relationship invested, spiritual or otherwise.
And the gripping thing about the show is the people with whom the millionaire meets, though we, the viewers, only meet them once or twice during the show. The millionaire seems flustered, little more than a waiting wallet. How come we don’t get to know these unfortunate better? Isn’t the show supposed to be about them?
The money, while I guess it’s good that the rich dude coughs up some cash in the end, is $100,000. No more or less. And here I take issue as well. What is the financial need of, say, the battered women’s shelter? How will the money be used? Why not more? Why not less?
And, in reality, none of this begins to solve the most basic financial needs of the poor and the organizations that serve them. In the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad, the author says that the major difference between rich and poor is an understanding of money. How it works and how to make it grow. I explore this some on my blog (shameless plug). In the end, it’s just cash. It’s not meeting any needs. At least the aforementioned “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” is actually giving an item that meets, and often exceeds, people’s needs. Because of its time frame The Secret Millionaire is more akin to watching a suburbanite give $5 to a homeless guy on the corner. “Here’s your money. Nice to see you. Good luck.”
I don’t mean to trash the rich. The issue here, for me, is how does God want us to use our resources? I don’t believe, like some do, that God wants everyone to be wealthy and that the wealthy are somehow blessed by God. Nor do I believe that God loves the poor more than the wealthy and the wealthy are all damned to the umpteenth level of hell. The question is: “How should we, rich and poor, bless the kingdom of god with our wealth?”
The Fox show doesn’t even begin to delve into a secular version of such a question. Morgan Spurlock’s “30 Days” ventures into this kind of territory repeatedly. That’s what makes it great. TV is entertainment. And what’s entertaining is the characters, not the premise. That’s why we have 3 CSIs, 3 Law and Orders, NCIS, and 18 other cop shows. The material is worn thin but people still have something invested in the character’s emotional well-being. If we, as Christians, give, let us give because we do not merely want to make a financial investment, but a spiritual one as well.
For some time there have been Christian charities that have said: “Become a Christian and then we will help you.” That is not what I am talking about. I know people need their short and long term needs met. If a man is hungry you don’t give a seed and tell him raise crops, thus satisfying his long term needs while he starves in the present. Nor, is giving rice out to refugees a long term solution to any problem. Both are needed so people can be self sufficient.
As I look back at my many complaints about the show, my chief one is the mere six days spent inside a women’s shelter or a soup kitchen. Then I wonder, how many have even given that?
It’s nice to point fingers: “A mere 100k”, “6 short days”, “no spiritual investment in others”. But it’s an attempt at something good, I s’pose. I want to understand people’s needs and then, after some sort of relationship, begin to help. To offer services that help people understand their own finances. To offer a bed to the abused. To create spiritual healing whose spirit has been crushed.
It’s funny, only one of those affects the poor. Our giving must go beyond mere economic status. The gospel is a gospel for rich and poor. It’s about people responding to God in ways that glorify Him. We can help the poor overcome economic disparity while teaching the wealthy that God has resources, has allowed you to use them, and expects a humble spirit when doing so.
The Secret Millionaire isn’t this. Not even a bad photocopy of it. It’s like doing the dishes and telling someone you swam the English channel.