A recent article in New York magazine by Caitlin Flanagan—”The Ugliness Behind HGTV’s Never-Ending Fantasy Loop“—argues that HGTV is ruining the country by foisting a whitewashed, unrealistic, chauvinistic, tacky version of American life on an unwitting public that is unwittingly marching toward another housing bubble. Norman Rockwell, meet Noam Chomsky:
HGTV was the third-most-popular network on cable television in 2016, a 24/7 testament to the powers of Target chic, the open-plan kitchen, and social conservatism. It unspools with the same bland cheerfulness as Leave It to Beaver, and its heart is in the same place.
The piece continues:
HGTV depends on the dream that has been with us since the saltboxes of New England and the Spanish bungalows of Southern California and the Leisuramas of Montauk: that if you can just get the right house—the one that looks like your friends’ houses look, only a little bit better—your family will pour into it, like thick cream into a pitcher: smooth, fluid, pleasing. Who could get a divorce in a house with so many lush towels rolled up in the master bathroom? Who could raise a sullen teen when there is a “great room” where the family can gather for nachos and football on the big screen?
Perhaps Flanagan and I are operating on different wavelengths, but I seemed to have missed this subtext during the most recent episode of Beach Bargain Hunt.
One of the easiest things in the world is to be a snarky critic of something popular—especially if “those people” from “Red State” America bolster that popularity. Duck Dynasty. Country Music. NASCAR. The list goes on. One of the hardest things to do in our on-demand, streaming, niche-driven culture is to create something popular that folks from all walks of life actually enjoy watching.
HGTV has its flaws. I had never watched a single minute of the network’s programming until two things happened: I got married and my wife and I finally gave in and got cable. Before that, I had indulged some of the same suspicions about HGTV that Flanagan describes, namely, that the network preyed upon stay-at-home moms and gave them unrealistic expectations of what their homes ought to look like.
But then I actually started watching some of the shows. Property Brothers. Fixer Upper. Flip or Flop. All of the big ones. And what I found was a pleasant hour or so of programming with (mostly) likable hosts and interesting home renovation projects. I did not feel manipulated. I did not feel pressure to run out and buy a home that I could not afford. My wife and I used it as a fun wind-down for our day, something we could watch knowing we wouldn’t have to contend with depressing storylines or vulgar content.
Is HGTV addictive? Of course. All television is. As with any form of entertainment, if it’s all you watch, you would be driven crazy and likely become obsessed with back-splashes and farmhouse sinks. But to lump “social conservatism” and “the worshipping of the nuclear family” into a list of complaints alongside “misleading Americans to make the same type of decisions that led to the Great Recession of 2008” is not only factually untrue, it reveals that the only agenda in need of examination is that of the person writing the article in question.
Fixer Upper is the program that takes the most hits in the piece, primarily because Chip and Joanna Gaines’ success and happiness makes other people jealous and angry. The Gaines’ are also Christians, and when that fact became widely known, HGTV became a punching bag for progressive bloggers everywhere. It’s as predictable as it is disappointing. It’s the same close-minded mentality that the Left accuses practitioners of “social conservatism” of promulgating.
However, this doesn’t mean New York magazine is entirely wrong about HGTV. If the critique had been limited to the unhealthy way in which we’re all turning into gawkers of other peoples’ “better” lives—and things like Instagram, Facebook and HGTV are all part of this disturbing trend—I would have been in full agreement with Flanagan’s critique. But the overall tone of the attack on HGTV amounts to, “A lot of delusional white people from certain states watch these shows and therefore those shows must be bad (and may bankrupt our nation if they aren’t stopped).”
If you see HGTV as being our biggest problem in the country, I suggest getting out more.