It is always easier to fix other people's problems than it is to fix one's own. Joan Rivers gets paid to critique the appearance of celebrities even though she herself looks like a gargoyle with a Dillard's card. Ellen Fein co-wrote "The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Making Your Marriage Work" while filing for divorce. We all do these things. It's easier to kibitz than it is to play a hand.
Which may be part of the fun of "Trading Spaces," a Learning Channel home-design show that has become enough of a hit to have marathons (the TV equivalent of the unlimited free refill). In this show, two sets of neighbors swap houses and redecorate a designated room in the other's home. Each has two days, a $1,000 budget and the aid of clever designers to help them fix someone else's interior-design problem. The best part of the show is when the makeover is unveiled. Will they love it? Will they hate it?
Inevitably they love it -- well, on all the shows I've seen they do. I've never seen someone hurl a carefully chosen candle holder at the neighbor who chose it, but I've heard it happens and I enjoy the tension of waiting for it to happen again. In the meantime, it's fun to watch them squabble over whether the Flare Squares are too "busy," and to make their rooms look nicer in two days than I've made one of mine look in 20 years.
"Trading Spaces" is fun to watch on its own merits. But it's such an ingenious concept that it should have spin-offs. Why limit the concept to home design? Plenty of people in different circumstances could volunteer to trade spaces with others, or be drafted to do so. Give them a couple of days, make them live on the other person's budget and do the other person's job, and just see if either one of them learns anything from the experience.
A few suggestions for "Trading Spaces: The Next Generation":
Athletes and the tubby, soft guys who yell at them from the stands through mouthfuls of beer-soaked chili dog about how they would have made that play. This experiment should last until the armchair athletes suffer from heatstroke, heart palpitations or at least a stitch; I give it five minutes before they learn to be more understanding. Should also apply to parents with potential to become "hockey dads."
Enron executives and former Enron employees. This switch should last until any crooked executives receive jail sentences, giving jilted employees just enough time to buy themselves retirement condos, boats and expensive trips on the executive dime.
The children of politicians and the children of regular people. If politicians' kids suddenly were to attend public schools instead of pricey, private institutions, I bet that only the best teachers would be hired for public schools and would be paid well for it; that money would flow like wine at a wedding to buy better books, computers and actual buildings instead of trailers. I also suspect that, if you lived in the governor's school district, Stephen Hawking might become your kid's science teacher. This experiment shouldn't last just two days; it should last 12 years.
Circus elephants and people who run circuses. Are kids and adults not entertained enough by digital animation, theme-park rides and boybands that we need to keep having wild animals around for their amusement? I've heard that elephants are very emotional and intuitive creatures, and so there's probably a reason they stampede once in awhile: It's called karma.
George W. Bush and Martha Stewart. Martha wasn't carried to fame by a rich family, is a tireless workaholic, doesn't tolerate screw-ups and is a genius at the ultimate display of diplomacy: party-throwing. I also suspect, as a well-mannered entertainer, that she never mixes religion and politics. W recently was left on his own for a few minutes and was nearly felled by a pretzel. Let's let him take over her show for a week, especially if it's an episode about beekeeping or carmelizing the crème brûlée with a blow torch?
My pillows and Ashton Kutcher. I want to rest my head on Ashton Kutcher. So?
Chris Matthews and any golf announcer. Enliven that game, for god's sake. Let's see people throw clubs.
Jerry Falwell and Jerry Springer. I'd just like to see Falwell use his smug, smiling judgmentalism on aggressively crazy freaks. I predict that after one hour he'll be so filled with disgust for the human race that he'll figure we can all go to hell and he'll quit his job.
But far be it from me to give advice about giving advice ... or maybe I should try walking in Oprah's wise-woman shoes for a day. Or even less. I could retire on what she makes in an hour and never feel a need to give advice about anything to anyone ever again.