Oh the In-"Humanity Plaza"

I turned on my televison this morning and saw Joan Rivers swinging a hammer. Her face looked like it was made of nothing more than putty and bronzer or a stylist had taken an eraser and removed all the details. She was wearing a a blazer, cropped and salmon-colored, black satin pants and showing Cynthia Nixon the proper hammering technique. And I thought to myself, is this what helping others has become?

As a way to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, NBC is staging a mass barn raising. Dubbed no doubt by marketing executives "Humanity Plaza," New York's Rockefeller Plaza is home to hundreds of volunteers who are building dozens of houses in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity. Never mind the questionable logic of building these structures a thousand miles away from their intended sites and the fossil fuels (which our government would like each and every one of us to generally conserve) necessary to transport them home, there is another troubling trend beginning to plague on-air benevolence.

Although I can't be certain, I would be willing to bet the decision to build homes in Rockefeller Plaza was not out of convenience for the victims. It so happens that the plaza is a fully equipped outdoor television studio, with nary a corner that can't be broadcast. And it doesn't hurt that there is a morning show presented from that locale live each and every morning.

So line up the celebrities and the commercial endorsements. Stevie Nicks and Josh Groban rallied the troops with their voices. Jessica Alba stopped by to lend a hand and to pitch her latest movie...

Wait a minute...all the stars who are lending a hand coincidentally have a movie, television show or album recently out or forthcoming. Huh. And as the camera pans of the crowd large hand-painted signs for "Citicorp Volunteers" are held over heads.

I fear we have moved past the original selfless acts of benevolence that were so widespread among stars and regular folks. And what we are left with doesn't seem much like helping. If you have to publicize your charity, is it still charity?

Heather, Sep 28 2005 1:29PM

Great commentary... I haven't seen any of this on TV, but I can totally picture it given your description.

What did they call this same plaza during the 2004 election... democracy plaza? I remember well the spectacle they made of that.

paul, Sep 28 2005 3:16PM

i heard about this i haven't seen it yet though. but i find it funny that they have to ship them out by 18 wheelers. if they can't get publicity from it they won't do it.

mark, Sep 28 2005 4:40PM

found out a little more about habitat for humanity's "home in a box". take a look at this link for more info.

sure seems like this would be easier done in a factory but i guess that isn't as marketable an image as humanity plaza. also, building these kit homes sounds like the perfect thing for someone to do who has no job because their city was obliterated. i digress.

alice marie, Sep 29 2005 9:47AM

Hey Mark,

Yes, definitely great commentary, and I have never read a more apt (or horrifying) description of Joan Rivers. The mind creaks under the weight of it all...

sandie, Sep 29 2005 12:20PM

This project would be much more successful if NBC/Habitat for Humanity built the homes in the Gulf coast region. The future owners of these homes must be depressed by their losses and the cathartic act of swinging a hammer may be beneficial to them. I'm sure some folks would not want to or could not take part, but an offer of builidng supplies and labor to those who want it would be a truly charitable donation.

Heather, Sep 30 2005 10:42AM

You are not alone, Mark. Here's an article from the LA Times echoing your sentiment: Something Crass Lurks Behind the Do-Gooder Smile