My wife watches a TV program called Extreme Makeover. Perhaps you have seen it. They take unattractive people and improve
their looks, sometimes dramatically. Most contestants are not really bad looking to start with, but they usually lack fashion
sense, or they need a diet or new hairstyle- but that would be too easy. Instead, the program strives to evoke a certain pathos
and involves the contestant in a process of ameliorating the ancient problem of a flawed, unwanted self. The makeover team
builds the drama by first showing the participants in unfulfilled, somewhat empty lives. All of which drives the process toward
its culmination: the nervously anticipated presentation of the contestant to an exuberant crowd of approving family and friends,
a ritual initiation of inclusion into the waiting world of "beautiful people." (Another myth; Look at the next ten
people you see on the street and chances are that at least nine will be palin, old or plug ugly.) My wife reminds me that
there is nothing wrong with people aspiring to look their best. She is right of course. But given the American proclivity
for excess and commercial exploitation, this quest exhibits its own quirks and peculiarities; Personally, I find the program
Each time I watch it, I hear an inner voice ask, "What if..." What if people redirected part of that energy
to developing their minds? What if the audience applauded her emotional growth, her spiritual advancement, or even her newfound
My version of Extreme Makeover unfolds this way: Instead of the contestant starting out as a wallflower, later to become
beautiful, she is beautiful before she becomes a contestant, but she is dumb, unconscious and superficial.
In my pilot show, a young woman named "Jane Doe" transforms herself through rigorous study, discipline and self
reflection. After the months-long process, the day arrives for her presentation. Her family and friends are in the studio
audience anticipating the unveiling of Jane's new "self." A nervous buzz pervades the air. Finally, the stage is
set, the curtain opens for all to behold the transformation.
On a stage, dressed in jeans and a black turtle neck sweater, Jane is seated at a conference table surrounded by Bulgarian
art students, anarchists and homosexual poets. She is shapely, slightly plump; but somehow more attractive than the skinny,
tense person she had once been. Her face is relaxed, shows more character and- can this be said in America?- she is more womanly,
radiating a mature, but earthy feminine essence. She looks up, faces the camera. "Just think, I used to be a slave, oriented
toward mindless consumption of fashion and beauty products; preoccupied with my looks and status. It's no wonder I needed
antidepressants. And of course the only guys I attracted were either cruel, self-absorbed, or both. And I blamed all men for
my malaise because it was easier that way. The crowd applauds politely. It is clear that so far, they approve.
The camera moves in closer: "I have read 41 books in the past year and developed my intellect, my world view, and
my political consciousness! She presses on. "I used to blow hundreds of dollars on clothes each month trying to fill
my existential emptiness. I affected an attitude of cool detachment, while being eaten up by feelings of inadequacy. I wore
the mask of false confidence, but I was an impostor. Never seeing the suffering in the world, I actually thought that old
age, sickness, loss and death were not my lot in life; that these only happened to others. And that they deserved it- unlike
the beautiful people I was a part of." The audience is applauding, this time more loudly. She has touched them. Her parents
are weeping with happiness.
Now the MC is interviewing Jane's Mom. "We were always worried that our Janey would become just another mindless
pyramid builder in the New World Order. But now that she is emerging as an autonomus, self reflective person that shows solidarity
for the proletariat... Well, my husband Ted and I are just so pleased..."She dabs a tear from her cheek.
The camera returns to Jane, who is smoking an unfiltered French cigarette. "Now that I am self reflective, I'm reading
Spengler's Decline of the West; next month I am tackling Proust and Genet. I am questioning my teachers, my government, and
most of all, myself. I am even planning a trip to Cancun, not just to lie on the beach, have anonymous sex, and drink in clubs,
but to immerse myself in the folklore and culture of Mexico, where I'll actually stay sober and visit the pyramids!
The studio audience rises from their seats. Some men whoop and stamp their feet. Women swoon. Other men stare in amazement
- as if in the presence of the sacred or profane. The resounding applause shakes the very rafters.
What a makeover. Jesus, Mary and Joseph! A young soul has bloomed: and a provincial girl has become a self reflective
woman... Homeland Security has already been notified.