One of the hardest things in life is finding out that so many things you believe in, are not true. The Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, Pro Wrestling, God…
But this one hits especially close to home. One of my guilty pleasures for the past year or so has been watching the show House Hunters International with Kelly. It’s a great way to see awesome architecture in remote and exotic parts of the world. But I can’t say that this story was much of a surprise:
Earlier this week on the website Hooked on Houses, former House Hunters participant Bobi Jensen called the show a sham. Jensen writes that the HGTV producers found her family’s plan to turn their current home into a rental property “boring and overdone,” and therefore crafted a narrative about their desperation for more square footage. What’s more, producers only agreed to feature Jensen’s family after they had bought their new house, forcing them to “tour” friends’ houses that weren’t even for sale to accommodate the trope of “Which one will they choose?”
Obviously HGTV wants ratings and wants to create suspense. We have noticed several common ploys that they use in the formula for the show. Most notably, you watch a couple look at 3 houses and constantly point to one aspect (example: an “open floor plan”, which at this point seems to be the stock answer for every couple in the world) as their paramount concern. then at the end of the show they pick a house because it had a great yard, or some other attribute that went curiously unmentioned for the first 28 minutes of the show. Anyways, why does it matter?:
By now, the onus is on the viewer to consume all “reality television” with a chuckle and a grain of salt. The genre’s underlying appeal is often rooted in its escapist, aspirational qualities (or, at other end of the spectrum, its indulgence of our basest schadenfreude). But House Hunters was always much more about showing us an attainable reality than a fantasy. The show (and its many iterations), in which people just like us (juggling budgets, worried about school districts, pulled between city and suburb), go shopping for the best home their money can buy, not only glorifies the dream of home ownership, but makes it seem achievable. (If that IT guy and his elementary school teacher wife can successfully get out of their dingy apartment and into a new home with the requisite granite countertops, “marriage-saving” double vanities, and bedroom-sized walk-in closets, so can I!) This plays right into our inexplicably unwavering attachment to home ownership: Despite the collapse of the housing market, polling continues to demonstrate that we regard owning a home as the cornerstone of the American Dream—a perception that undoubtedly played a role in the home-buying craze prior to the bubble’s burst.
I don’t know that I would put so much emphasis on HGTV, but I will say that the American obsession with home “ownership” as being the quintessential element of the American Dream, is evidence of a huge marketing campaign that the government has sold us on for decades, with a fair amount of support from the construction, real-estate and banking industries. And it certainly played a large role in the economic mess we find ourselves in today. –Uncle Eb/John