Extreme Makeover: New Orleans The votes are in. is America's best TV show. The premise is universal: men and women with good intentions and lots of money swoop down from Hollywood on the ugly and the hopeless and transform them through surgery and advice into beauties to die for. Or is that the Swan? No matter, the concept is in play. Huge billboards in Arkansas display side by side a normal-looking teenager and a hideously deformed and prematurely aged woman. The caption: "Extreme Makeover: Meth." In Iraq, sci-fi American soldiers are transforming that country from a nest of intrigue and terror into a brand-new gas station. Extreme Makeover: Iraq. Sleepy Chinese hamlets are waking to find themselves transformed overnight into humming producers of chachkas and putrid air: Extreme Makeover: Wal-Mart, China. Extreme Makeover: Wal-Mart (name a country here) will be coming soon to a country near you. Extreme Makeover: Mexico has already transformed that country from a dusty nightmare of siesta-takers into a dynamic hive of supermercado shoppers.
The "Extreme Makeover" concept has been around for thousands of years under diverse names such as "imperialism," (we are coming to your place to clean up), or "urban planning," (we'll fix your city), or "no urban planning, but we'll make you over (extremely) anyway." For at least a century, the concept was integral to the functioning of the Mafia where it was known as "re-arranging da face." Those forms of extreme makeover were but the beginning of possibilities for the TV version that has begun, modestly enough, with individuals. The problem with the extreme makeovers of the past is that the results were often unseemly. A Mafia makeover, for instance, couldn't be shown on television because a "mob re-arranged face" made people throw up. Better leave the business of making someone or something over to the professionals of beauty.
In the future, entities wishing to be made over should appeal directly to the TV show's producers and insist until they are given a shot, like the teenager who importuned them until the maimed in her trailer were changed into cover girls. Even the U.S. government could benefit from the show's expertise. Let's say we want to make over another Middle Eastern country: the show will produce a clear "before" and "after." There will be no confusion, and there will be ratings. I suggest that New Orleans get on the waiting list as quickly as possible. If we leave our future to the current planners, we'll come out looking like a cross between Kabul and Detroit. What we want is to look like New Orleans, Las Vegas, and only Extreme Makeover can do that for us.
Andrei Codrescu will sign copies of his latest book, New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writing From the City, at Garden District Bookshop, at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28.