Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Philanthropist

I'm absolutely fascinated by an NBC summer replacement series called The Philanthropist. It's mostly about a guy who is a partner in a huge corporation, Maidstone Rist. He was married, he and his wife lost their son and divorced, and he's been a playboy. But things conspire to awaken a social conscience in him, and as he goes around the world for business he sees the dire situation in so many countries and does what he can to alleviate the situation, along with his partner, Philip Maidstone.

What fascinates me is the gritty reality of the situations shown... poverty and disease in Africa, a ruby mine in Burma where children and the elderly are being worked to death, girls brought from Eastern Europe to Paris to be prostitutes, child slavery and children eating dirt cookies in Haiti. Admittedly, too often Rist manages to create fairy-tale endings that aren't very true to life. However, I've kind of become convinced that the purpose of the show is to educate Americans to the realities of the world, and awaken compassion and a willingness to help. And if so, that is taking on a responsibility that television, outside of the public stations, doesn't accept in general.

Just saw the Haiti episode today. It ends with a dinner for the Maidstone Rist Foundation to raise money. At the dinner Teddy tells his tale of child slavery, and that he was able to save 2 children, two out of 300,000. The dinner consists of four ounces of rice, the usual dinner for so many Haitians. And, at the end, Teddy challenges the diners. He says it is not only Haiti... there are such problems worldwide. Please, do any of you have ideas of what we can do to create change? And the episode ends with a single raised hand. I thought it was brilliant. It brought out a very important point to me, that money alone isn't the answer, but money allied with creative ideas may be, and that while not everyone has money, many people have innovative ideas. It reminds me of some things that are changing the world that I've blogged about... the water pump powered by a kids' merry-go-round that is being used in Africa. The whole concept of microfinance, including Kava, the web site where people can band together to loan money for the disadvantaged of the world to make their ideas and dreams come true.

Two further ideas it brings to mind. One is that in the short run, the show may increase people's sense of being overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems in the world, the feeling of not knowing where to start. I think that's a real danger. And I suspect the show won't last long. I doubt if it has or will get a large audience, though I don't have any data either way as to their ratings.

It also converges with my earlier post called "A Raspberry to Good Morning, America". In that post I talked about what a bad example GMA set by seeming to say that men and women can't be friends. See the whole post for that discussion. But combined with my thoughts on The Philanthropist, it brings more clearly into my mind that while television primarily exists to entertain, it also teaches, whether it intends to or not or accepts that responsibility or not. It models human behavior to its audience. And when it models immature, selfish behavior, as it does persistently, it helps create a more immature and selfish culture. The Philanthropist shows that it can choose something better.

The show's website has lots of goodies, more background on the issues and chances to get involved.

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