Oprah opens "Angel Lane" in Houston, TX Wednesday on her show. The first 12 families are shown their homes that are full of goodies from show sponsors all coordinated by Oprah's supper designer Nate Berkus. I guess I missed the show where she explained how the first 65 families were selected for homes. I think that's an important piece of information. No one person or organization can help everyone affected by hurricane Katrina but the question will always be asked how do you determine who gets help and who has to wait.
It's also interesting to examine how much of this effort is about Oprah, her personality brand and her TV show and how much is true compassion for fellow Americans. Sure there is plenty of compassion from Oprah and her viewers through her registry. But what will the experience be for the 65th family to receive a house? Will there be food in the pantry and sheets on the bed? If the TV cameras aren't there will the yards have sod? Will the napkins have napkin rings? Does it matter? In a world where home makeover shows spend millions of dollars on individual families to create product placement filled ratings grabs for Television what has become of compassion for the sake of compassion?
Oprah talks a lot about how many have suffered and continue to suffer. That was Tuesday's show. So is the help she's providing with her viewers, sponsors and Habitat for Humanity significant or are there better uses for the resources she can raise? Do you provide a lot of help to a few or a bit of help for many? Does TV make that decision?
A landscaped cul-de-sac subdivision of 12 landscaped homes looks good on TV but would a village of 20 or 25 Katrina Cottages be a greater help to those profiled on yesterday's show who are in greater need. Could it be that the toasters from Target have something to do with it?
An alternative to the camper like FEMA trailers, Katrina Cottages are small semi permanent structures that acknowledge the architecture of the region while being transportable and able to be factory fabricated. At scale the cottages are reported to cost the same as the standard FEMA trailers. In five years are we still seeing FEMA trailers dotting regenerating communities or are we seeing clusters of Katrina Cottages and larger homes growing from the seeds of these modest cottages? Good alternatives and ideas abound for areas devastated by the storm. Perhaps more help could be provided by Oprah's viewers and charity organization if it weren't so much about Oprah herself and product placements.
Many will say that whatever Oprah does to help is worthwhile and I would agree that something is more than nothing and it all adds up but the greater question of what compassion looks like in America is worth asking. Is compassion for those that need a hand up only good for ratings and TV cameras or is their still room for human to human compassion that's more about truly helping people.
Oprah sent reporters to sit with those in tent camps and mold filled dirty devastated apartment buildings without roofs and plumbing but she sure was front and center on site when it's time to give out the spiffy new homes.
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