Tag Archives: HGTV

Unreal Estate: A Reading List About Our Shifting Vision of Home

Does anyone still remember Unhappy Hipsters, a Tumblr blog born in 2010, just months after the Great Recession officially ended? The concept was simple and irresistible. Each post contained a photo of a domestic interior from a Dwell-like magazine (or, just as often, from Dwell itself), and the photo had to include a person: a teenager lounging with a book on a nordic-looking wooden bed, a couple having a silent breakfast in a vast, concrete-floor kitchen. A caption accompanied each image, projecting a mix of smugness and existential angst onto the people occupying these impossibly streamlined spaces (“So focused on erecting a structure that would be impervious to atmospheric whims, he’d forgotten the obvious: an exit,” read a caption below an image of a man standing on a balcony of a glass-and-steel stilt house).

There’s nothing new about wanting to catch a glimpse of other people’s (nicer-than-yours) houses; what Unhappy Hipsters deftly added was an extra layer of vindictiveness to an otherwise common, aspirational voyeurism. Revisiting some of these old posts today, they feel at once naive and prophetic. In the intervening years, owning a house and designing one’s own space haven’t lost their allure as class markers and so-called #lifegoals. But they’ve also acquired a tinge of bitterness: you either can’t afford it (millennials, meet avocado toast!), can’t do it right (unlike everyone on Pinterest, Instagram, et al.), or risk trying too hard (at which point: surprise! You’re the Unhappy Hipster — in 2017, when both “unhappiness” and “hipsterism” have lost just about all meaning).

The way we organize and reshape our living quarters has always reflected, in some way, desires, hopes, and anxieties that transcended individuals. It was true when married couples started sharing the same bedroom and outhouses began to disappear in favor of indoor plumbing; it’s true today when we buy a vintage lamp or encounter a luxury bathroom almost the size of the bedroom it adjoins. Where does the current unease around the spaces we inhabit come from? What is unique about our attitude toward a supposedly universal concept like “home”? Here are four recent reads that try to address these questions.

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We Watch HGTV for the Destruction, Not the Makeovers

Chip and Joanna Gaines
Joanna Gaines and Chip Gaines, hosts of home-improvement show, Fixer Upper. (Photo by Brian Ach/Invision/AP)

It’s fitting that my experience of HGTV programs like Fixer Upper is limited to visits to my dentist (I don’t own a TV). There, lying horizontally on the dental chair, I watch drywall being torn down and linoleum floors uprooted just as restorative violence is performed on my teeth. In her recent Vulture piece on the strange, persistent allure of HGTV, Caitlin Flanagan exposes several truths. One is the deep connection between these shows and real-estate speculation — a link so powerful that not even the 2008 financial meltdown could break it. Another is that we might think we’re watching HGTV for the dramatic, post-makeover reveals, but the real source of pleasure lies in the (highly gendered) celebration of destruction. Fixer Upper might be ending after its upcoming fifth season — HGTV announced it this week — but the spectacle of temporary annihilation is bound to go on.

On Fixer Upper, Chip and Joanna help home buyers on limited budgets get the most out of their investments by choosing “the worst house in the best neighborhood.” That’s an old real-estate canard that has long been dismissed, but no matter — when Joanna starts describing all the wonderful things she can do to it, thoughts about resale value melt away into dreams of sliding barn doors, over-tufted sofas, and newly built “mud rooms” where the kids can stash their backpacks and soccer gear. Once the buyers have chosen their new house, they’re whisked away and the work begins.

It is as though Chip has spent all of Act One in a quivering agony of self-control, but at last he is free. He grabs a sledgehammer and, with Joanna’s permission, starts bashing away at the first wall she has marked for destruction. SLAM! CRASH! BANG! Chip is finally in concert with his true nature. This banging away at walls is the centerpiece of every HGTV show that involves renovation — as do all of its most popular programs — and there is something profoundly satisfying about it, even though it’s a preposterous way to go about the task. Taking out a single wall when you want to leave the rest of a room intact involves carefully cutting the drywall, teasing it off, and then taking down the framing behind it. But the reckless bashing makes for good television, and it dramatizes the signal design imperative of HGTV: Whether you live in Burbank or Barcelona, you absolutely must have an open kitchen.

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How Did HGTV ‘Stars’ Become Celebrities?

Chip and Joanna Gaines (Photo by Mireya Acierto/FilmMagic)

Home and Garden Television, better known as HGTV, has forged a reputation as a television ratings giant in the past couple of years, more than two decades after the channel launched in 1994. Late last year, Kate Wagner noted the timeliness of the channel’s launch, given its niche — real estate as reality television programming: it surfaced amid the Clinton administration’s push for “huge mortgage reforms in order to stimulate growth in the home-building sector and provide more housing for lower-income Americans.” As home sales spiked, HGTV offered a glimpse into “the national home-buying and home-selling fervor,” Wagner wrote.

And interest in the channel’s offerings has not waned. Last year, an academic design journal devoted an entire issue to “Learning from HGTV.” An academic paper in American Quarterly in 2012 noted that HGTV briefly “became the object of public scorn” in the wake of the collapse of the housing market, as Americans found the programming “complicit” for its tendency to depict homes as “investments.” But it survived, and even thrived, as the players in its shows land celebrity magazine cover after cover.

Brooks Barnes, in his monthly “Scene Stealers” column for the New York Times Style section this weekend, noted that Tarek and Christina El Moussa, the couple in one of its hit shows, Flip or Flop, were featured on the cover of In Touch Weekly at least 14 times, with more than 90 articles on them.

“Puzzled, I asked a few Hollywood publicists if they could explain why the celebrity news media cared so much about the El Moussas. The head of publicity for one big studio responded, ‘Is that a fragrance?’” Barnes wrote.

Barnes sees the El Moussas as “fascinating — not as newsmakers, but as a window into the evolving celebrity news business.” A former US Weekly and Hollywood Reporter editor tells him the evolution is due to “the effects of a culturally divided America.”

Barnes explains President Donald Trump is divisive; tabloid magazines catch heat for putting him or his relations on their covers. The Kardashians’ ratings “have plummeted,” and “most movie stars have little tabloid tread left on them,” he adds, noting that Jennifer Aniston is still not pregnant. Plus, there’s the hunger for clicks in our age of digital news: “If there is no news, just glom onto something tiny. In Touch recently did an entire article about a basic Instagram post by Mr. El Moussa. (See it here!’),” Barnes wrote.

Over on The Ringer, Amanda Dobbins wrote late last year, in a piece titled “The End of Celebrity As We Know It,” that more than three million people regularly watch Flip or Flop, “which is more than the number of people who saw Will Smith’s most recent movie or bought Lady Gaga’s album.” She interviewed Lindsey Weber of the podcast Who Weekly, which regular discusses HGTV stars: “Anyone can do anything on the internet now. So now we have all these people that just exist because we have a democratic platform where anyone can do something that makes them notable,” Weber told her. Dobbins concluded, “If you are looking for a career change right now, you could do worse than midlevel celebrity; the market has never been more open.”

But is the rise of HGTV celebrities a window into, or a reprieve from, a “culturally divided America”? Read more…

America’s HGTV Obsession: A Reading List

Let’s get this out of the way: I can binge-watch House Hunters for hours. In the past, I’ve devoured episodes of House Hunters International and Tiny House Hunters as well, but the original House Hunters gives me the most satisfying fix: its predictable formula has never felt stale, even after many seasons.

America’s most popular home renovation and real estate network, HGTV—the home of House Hunters, its spinoffs, and a growing network of lifestyle porn—succeeds because of its consistent programming in useful escapism. In a single episode, I might learn how to refresh the color palette of my bathroom or see how much space $800K will buy me in the vacation rental market in Maui. In a half-hour dose, I can experience that strangely pleasurable thing called House Hunters rage: I’m inspired, enlightened, and incensed in equal measure, my voyeuristic side piqued by the entitled and pointless arguments over whether the kitchen countertop is the right shade of granite or whether an older house has enough “character.”

Regardless of what you think of its shows, HGTV knows the formula for successful programming. Here are six reads that touch on why this network can dish out exactly what its audience wants, hour after hour. Read more…