Morgan Spurlock's TV show, 30 Days, has just started its second season. On an upcoming episode, airing August 9 at 10 PM on the FX channel, an atheist will move in with a Christian family for 30 days.
I actually heard about this episode last year through the ACA and sent an audition tape, but didn't get the part. They wanted an atheist to go live with a Christian family for 30 days. The money sounded pretty good. However -- and here's my sour grapes rationale -- it would also have been my first semester of college, so I don't know how difficult it would have been for me to keep up with my first couple of months of classes.
I know atheists are probably feeling burned by reality TV after the Infidel Guy episode of WifeSwap, but I got a pretty good vibe from the producers of this show. I did, however, question their motive in having an atheist live with a Christian family rather than the other way around. It seemed to me from the episode I watched on the DVD they sent (a straight, uptight Christian lived with a gay San Franciscan for 30 days) that the show usually puts "normal" people in unusual living arrangements.
They assured me that they weren't looking for an atheist revelation and conversion, and they were hoping to get a very insulated fundamentalist family and give a wider perspective. I think part of the reason they didn't reverse the situation was because they didn't think they would be able to showcase a "typical" atheist lifestyle.
In the meantime, I watched the season premiere on Thursday. It was only the second episode I've ever seen, but I'm now officially hooked.
In this episode, a Cuban-American, anti-immigration Minuteman volunteer went to live with an undocumented Mexican family in Los Angeles for 30 days. When he arrived, there was a definite undercurrent of hostility, and they got into some real table-pounding arguments. By the end of the month, he had truly come to think of them as some of his best friends. He actually visited their former home in Mexico and brought back videos of their family, whom they could not visit themselves, because they would not be able to return. Some of their kids were young enough that they had never met their own grandparents.
As a general rule, I don't like reality TV. Wait, let me qualify that. I like the first month or so of American Idol, when Simon Cowell is eloquently crushing the dreams of talentless hacks. But it's a guilty pleasure. Those shows don't uplift. Shows like Wife Swap are usually a freak show: we took one insane family and switched them around with another insane family, now let's watch the sparks fly! It reminds me of how Jerry Springer the radio host often says of Jerry Springer the TV show: "Don't watch my show. It's garbage."
But 30 Days seems different to me. They didn't dehumanize either the family or the minuteman. In fact, the minuteman got plenty of chances to air his opinions, and they weren't completely crazy. Immigration is one issue where I'm very ambiguous; I understand both sides. I do think, however, that tramping around the border toting guns is more about feeling manly than about accomplishing anything constructive.
But with this guy -- they put him in a new situation, and he learned something. They couldn't have given him a better character arc if it was scripted. The family came off as very sympathetic. They understand his arguments against immigration, although he angers them. But they don't feel like they have a choice, and this feeling is strongly backed up when you see what are the living conditions that they left in Mexico. There is also a side story about the teenage daughter trying to be the first in the family to go to college. The end of the show implies that she got accepted, but she'll have a hard time figuring out where the money will come from.
When I sent in an audition tape, I seem to remember that they were going to pay $15,000 to whomever they selected. That should help.
The show was very uplifting in the end, which is something I can't say about very many reality shows.
I'm still very anxious to see how the atheist episode plays. So far, in both shows that I've seen, the person who moves out of his own environment is the one who is the most sheltered and closed minded. I REALLY hope this isn't what they're trying to get from an atheist living with Christians.