21 February 2010

Don't Believe Everything You See: Disney's EXTREME MAKEOVER of Marvel Comics

People don't read comic book stories 'for closure', and they sure don't expect it - foreclosure - from being on the receiving end of an Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves...

Since its premiere in 2005, each episode of the Disney-owned ABC show is a masterful illusion on par with those Disney creates inside its theme parks.  Despite costumes and characters, Disneyland surrounds its guests with a fantasy they quickly and easily believe because they want to believe in the  make-believe world of show. Makeover's no different; instead of Mickey Mouse and friends, Ty Pennington and his crew literally build a four-walled fantasy for his show's guests, a process which also elicits investment from Makeover's subscribing public.  Ironically, each week's lucky, unfortunate family is whisked away for a Walt Disney World vacation while their new dream home is being built; they're indoctrinated by Disney fantasy long before their rented limo returns them to Ty. It's a brilliant metaphor not just for their experience, but for Makeover's home audience's as well.

Extreme Makeover does its sleight-of-hand job so well that it's easy to dismiss, overlook, or even forget that not one episode would be possible without the direct hand of  its corporate sponsors -- all of which, from Disney to Sears, are mentioned throughout. In essence, Makeover serves as an hour-long commercial and tax write-off for these corporations and their charitable works.

Good deed done and witnessed by millions, none of the Makeover's corporate sponsors provide much if any follow-up to the families whose lives they just renovated.  For as much as both sponsor and audience invest in the show and its beneficiaries every week, neither invests much in them once the cameras stop rolling.  The result: the fantastic bubble busts.

A comic book's story with superhero characters is necessarily open-ended, and the closure it offers is limited and fleeting; a hyper-benevolent reality show's story with desperate or overwhelmed characters is necessarily closed, and the closure it offers is often permanent and prefixed by fore.  If you haven't heard about the dozen or so families that, once profiled on Makeover, have since been unable to financially manage or afford their new dream homes and thus faced foreclosure, well, the information abounds. The most recent report - from last December - is HERE; The Huffington Post reports HERE; The Washington Post HERE; and yet another detailed report HERE.

It's into this at best misguided and at worst irresponsible and contrived PR vehicle of Deus ex Machina TV that ABC/Disney brings its newest acquisition, Marvel Entertainment.  While comic book fans have been split about whether or not the 2009 Disney buy-out of Marvel Comics was a good thing, those for as well as against have been keeping a watchful eye out to see just how the new ownership will impact the once-rebellious House of Ideas.

That vigilance comes to an end at 8pm (7pm Central) tonight, when Extreme Makeover's Ty and team (assisted by members of the rock band, KISS) rebuild a home for the Wagstaff's,  a Gainesville, Florida, family who started a nonprofit music school for the community.  Disney enlisted Marvel Entertainment to help them out with tonight's episode; they'll be designing  TJ Wagstaff's bedroom in all-things Marvel, filling it with merchandise, even featuring TJ  alongside Marvel's famous Avengers characters on the cover (designed by artist Todd Nauck) of a forthcoming comic book (below).
We'll be the first to mention that TJ's in for an awesome treat; there won't be one Marvelite watching who won't be happy for the kid, and just a little bit envious of him, too. But the bigger picture is what Marvel fans should paying to attention to, and it's a picture much larger than the front of a comic book.

Disney's move is ingenious, actually. That Marvel's involved - a boon for them, certainly - is also certain because Disney's their Dad.  Yet their participation isn't directly related to their parent; Marvel's equated as a sponsor, like Sears.  Moreover, Marvel  -and more importantly, its superhero characters - becomes associated with the charity and benevolence that Extreme Makeover oozes.  If anyone watching has any objections to superheroes or their kids reading comic books or playing with action figures, Disney's countering those tonight. 

There are other, more subtle connections being made by Marvel's participation, too. Establishing a superhero theme through will surely cast Ty and his team as the figurative superheroes they are.  And the KISS cameo, while slightly obscure, also carries the theme along quite well; for the last three or more decades, KISS has been a one of the few rock bands to be consistently portrayed as being 'superheroes' in comic books. There's a KISS Comics imprint, several iterations of KISS action figures over the years, and even Marvel Comics published a KISS comic book (or two) back in 1977 (below). 
Aside from a few reports of Disney's plans for developing minor Marvel characters into movie properties, the Disney-Marvel connection and its ramifications hasn't yet been played out.  Tonight, as far as we know, is Disney's first move with their Marvel piece - and, on the surface, its nearly invisible and to the extent it is visible, it looks pretty good.

The again, so do the quasi-mansions Extreme Makeover leaves for its weekly recipients.  In too many cases, the dream structure's left standing, but its much-changed occupants no longer are. We can only hope that a similar fate won't be shared by Marvel, although, as the saying goes, the writing may already be on the (newly remodeled kid's bedroom) wall.
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If you'd like to nominate your family or a family you know to be on ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, online applications can be found HERE and HERE. Good luck!!

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