The show comes from Morgan Spurlock, who brought us the award-winning documentary, “Supersize Me!” If you’ll remember, the premise of that film was that Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald’s food for 30 straight days to see just what, if any, affects it would have on his body and health.
If you saw the film, you know that the results were shocking.
Spurlock takes that same basic premise –that 30 days is long enough to really challenge someone’s beliefs– and applies it to many life situations. Every episode takes on one of the dichotomies of modern life in America:
A Christian spends 30 days living with a Muslim family…
An Atheist spends 30 days living with a Christian family…
A border-patrolling “Minuteman” spends 30 days living with a family of immigrants…
Spurlock (and his now wife) spend 30 days trying to live on minimum wage…
A pro-choice woman spends 30 days living in a pro-life-run maternity home…
You get the idea.
The results are varied. Sometimes, during the hour-long dramas, the rethinking of moral and social views are dramatic. Sometimes, everybody goes home with much the same opinions they came with. But it’s never dull.
In an effort to give the show a ratings boost, FX featured a “30 Days Marathon” today. So, we TiVoed a couple of episodes we’d missed. One that captured both of our hearts –and brought tears to both our eyes– featured an immigrant family and a “Minuteman” who is staunchly opposed to immigration. In an added twist to the plot the Minuteman, Frank, is himself an immigrant: having come legally with his family from Cuba when he was just a boy. But although he speaks the language, and shares a cultural heritage with this family, he is staunchly opposed to them.
However, after a month of living with them, walking in their shoes, and understanding their life, he finds himself unable to hold his old, hard-line positions. The hour drama was gripping to us, not only for the heartfelt stories of real-life human beings trying to make their way in the world, but also because of the specific issue of immigration. (Which I have written about before)
It’s an episode everyone should see. So if you have TiVo, make every effort to record it, because I’m sure it will be on again.
What’s fascinating about this show to me is that it has a very anti-TV premise. Every character, every show (even a reality show), has some kind of “slant” to it.
Jessica Rabbit once said, “I’m not bad….I’m just drawn that way.”
If nothing else, there is at least the way the TV stories are edited. We, the viewer, are not able to see the REAL people on the shows. We’re encouraged to see in a kind of character-shorthand. We’re encouraged to see the symbols, stereotypes and myths that the characters represent.
Paradoxically, as we sit in our own small family units, in front of the glowing screens, we don’t so much get our minds changed about anything, as we get our own preconceptions confirmed.
This show, however –while it still offers up characters that represent various moral/social stereotypes– also challenges us to get behind those assumptions and stereotypes…to get behind what we’ve learned in schools, churches, from parents, (And yes, even from TV…) and to try to see other human beings as they really are, and not just as our prejudices (pre-judging) would have us see them.
The show’s executive producer, RJ Cutler, says this about it:
“The topics for this season of 30 Days are the most pressing social issues facing our country. While the media covers them in broad strokes, 30 Days presents these issues in real terms with real people living well outside of their comfort zones. As with last season, we hope the series leads to discussion among viewers, who are sure to learn more about themselves.”
Along these lines, the 30 Days website not only features a page where people can write in their own future story ideas, but also a message board where passionate contributors offer up their own views on the hot moral issues discussed on each episode. How many TV shows do you know with a website that inspires that kind of response?
Watching several of the episodes, I was reminded of my own experiences in Russia.
I got the chance to go to Russia nine times over about an eight year period. Several of the early trips, I had the high honor of staying with an actual family in their home. We ate, slept, shopped, and visited with them about politics, religion, the Cold War, family life, music, art…etc…etc…
It was a powerful thing –in the early 1990s– to spend a 10-day stretch with folks who had, once-upon-a-time, been our enemies. It certainly changed the way I saw them.
This show does the same thing for many of the folks who are on it.
And, just maybe, it will challenge you to grow in your own human empathy and compassion for other people. Maybe it will challenge you to consider what another person’s shoes feel like.
But even if it does none of this, it’s still better than the junk that makes up 99.9 percent of the rest of the TV schedule.
So why not give it a shot?