Desperate Citizens and
Good Samaritans
Neoliberalism and Makeover Reality TV

by John McMurria (DePaul University)

This article considers the emergence of makeover reality TV, including Extreme
Makeover: Home Edition (EMHE), within the cultural and political economic context
of neoliberalism, which advocates corporate benevolence, individual volunteerism, and
personal responsibility as principle means for solving serious social issues. Four con-
texts include (a) the integration of corporate philanthropy and product marketing since
the 1980s; (b) the proliferation of goodwill reality TV in a post-9/11 reality television
economy; (c) home improvement reality TV’s connections to the housing boom, shifting
domestic gender roles, and the neoliberal ideals of an “ownership society”; and (d) EMHE’s
representational engagement with neoliberal frameworks for addressing social inequal-
ities with particular attention to race and the Katrina disaster. The article concludes
with thoughts on how noncommercial reality TV might broaden the frameworks for
addressing social problems beyond commercial TV’s neoliberalism.(download)