Thursday, June 23, 2005

Trouble in the ''Neighborhood''

I received a call the other day from a woman concerned about ''Welcome to the Neighborhood,'' a new ABC reality series. She had not seen the show, which premieres July 10; in fact, she said she did not watch much TV, nor did she read the TV section of the Beacon Journal. But she had heard that fair-housing advocates were dismayed by the show and wanted to urge me to watch it (and, by extension, to criticize it).
Well, I did look at two episodes ABC sent out for preview. And I can understand the dismay. But there's often a difference between what we hear about a TV show and what we actually see on the air, and ''Neighborhood'' has a positive message to deliver, too.
''Welcome to the Neighborhood'' has three families deciding who will move into their Austin, Texas, cul de sac. Right there, you can see where people could be bothered. And I was uncomfortable with the show because I did not like the idea of people getting to vote on where I could reside.
But the show also aimed to make things uncomfortable for the people doing the choosing. The three white families -- who seem blissfully unafraid to speak their minds on camera -- have to choose a neighbor from seven families that include three of different ethnicities, a gay couple, a family with a witch, another with heavily tattooed adults and one that has a secret revealed in the second episode which should not surprise anyone paying close attention.
In sum, the couples are not the mirror images of the people living in the neighborhood, so the current residents have to decide what they will and will not accept.
They also learn, based on the first two episodes and some scenes going beyond that, that their first impressions are not the best, and that prejudices are hard to hold onto when you get to know the people embodying your fears.
In that way, ''Welcome to the Neighborhood'' actually suggests that people should be more open to diversity in their neighborhoods -- and therefore, fair-housing policies should be encouraged.
That's not to say that justice will somehow triumph at the end of the show, any more than it does in real life. But ''Welcome to the Neighborhood'' is provocatively entertaining. It shouldn't be ignored or banned; it should be watched, discussed, argued about.

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