In my latest column, I identify the mini-trend of benevolent millionaire TV, defined by “Undercover Boss” and now ABC’s “Secret Millionaire,” where the rich want nothing more than to give their wealth and award benefits to the less fortunate.
Bill Maher noticed the same thing, and savaged it more viciously than I ever could during the latest edition of his HBO show, “Real Time With Bill Maher.”
Networks, Maher said during his closing “New Rules” segment, “have to stop making shows that try to put a happy ending on America’s enormous wealth disparity and instead make a show called ‘Shine My Shoes Fuckface.'”
Some more excerpts from Maher’s rant:
“America’s rich aren’t giving you money. They’re taking your money.”
“It’s like ‘Pretty Woman,’ if you were the whore.”
And finally, this on the inherent fantasy and trickle-down economics in these shows:
“It does reinforce the stupid idea people have that rich people would love us and share with us if only they got to walk a mile in our cheap plastic shoes. But they’re the reason the shoe factory moved to China. We have this fantasy that our interests and the interests of the super-rich are the same — like somehow the rich will eventually get so full that they’ll explode, and the candy will rain down on the rest of us. Like they’re some kind of piñata of benevolence. But here’s the thing about a piñata: It doesn’t open on its own. You have to beat it with a stick.”
And yet, as Maher says, “People watch this shit and find it inspirational.” It does provide some insight regarding the strength of the Horatio Alger impulse in America and why drawing class distinctions is often such a political nonstarter — the assumption that everyone can make it given the chance, that there’s a common generosity of spirit in the American psyche, and that good things have a way of coming to deserving folks.
Then again, if I had a million bucks for every time people turned out in big numbers to watch manipulative reality TV shows, I’d be the one in a position to happily give away gobs of money while heartwarming music played in the background.