By Marie Sherlock
(Note: I wrote this a few year’s back. But I’m fairly confident that the “lessons” one learns from HGTV haven’t changed. While on vacation recently – those motel cable packages always include that channel, it seems – I checked out HGTV and, if anything, it’s only gotten worse. The real lesson here: Avoid HGTV – and ANY message that says you should put your time/money/energy/soul into THINGS. You’ll be happier!)
My husband and I have been among the cable-free for most of our lives. We banned even broadcast TV when the kids were little – and then went with the whatever-you-can-get-with-an-antenna approach as they left the nest. It is only in the past three (?) years that we’ve had basic cable – and ONLY because our superfast internet provider – yes, that’s (BAD WORD) Comcast – charged less if you had the basic cable package. Soooo devious.
Anyway, through a series of truly unfortunate events, I have had the questionable privilege of watching a buttload of HGTV (the Home and Garden network) over the past month or so. (I want my time back!) Here’s what I learned: My kitchen is apparently a gut job. I have WHITE (how gauche!) appliances; my countertops are NOT GRANITE; the floor is (I am SO embarrassed) LINOLEUM. Apparently this cozy sanctuary with its warm cherry cabinets and corner booth (which matches the cherry cabinets and took eons to find on craigslist) is unacceptable, even un-American.
My housing faux pas do not end in the kitchen. My bathrooms are also clearly atrocious – again, no granite, no “rain showers”, no updated faucet fixtures and definitely no separate-from-the-shower jetted tubs – and (mea culpa, again) there are those offensive tile counters in the upstairs w.c. Oh and we have no actual “master” bedroom and certainly no en-suite. All housing infractions that must be remedied.
It goes on from there – Knock that wall out! Refinish/replace the hardwoods! OMG, where are the walk-in, 300-square-foot closets? This basement qualifies as a cave but not a MAN cave! – but you get the picture.
The conclusion that I’ve drawn from my month-long experiment is not news, at least to me. I’ve always known that advertising often (always?) works on the premise that you can sell stuff to people by making them feel “less than” without your product/service.
So it is with the entire HGTV cable network. In the guise of what is trendy, “attractive” and only very occasionally more functional, the content of these programs works at making house hunters and renovators (their prime targets) feel that their current digs aren’t good enough and must be completely gutted or that they must (are entitled to? There’s a really strange psychological vibe going on here) have a home with certain de rigeur “updated” amenities. I’ve cringed repeatedly watching young home buyers declare that a perfectly functional kitchen (like mine!) must go because it lacks the latest fill-in-the-blank (countertops, appliance types, cabinets, fixtures…). Bathrooms are the second most offensive rooms, according to these (no other word applies here) brainwashed consumers. So they gut. (Where does all of that stuff go? Is it ever recycled? Most of it is perfectly good. Sigh.).
(There is also the issue of the sizes of the houses being sought. Most often it’s a couple with maybe a child or two – but they’re looking for a 3,500-square-foot, five bedroom/four bath MegaHome. I grew up in a family of seven and we thought our four bedroom, 1.5 bath house was the Taj Mahal. I’ll save that rant for later.)
In exchange these folks take on significantly more debt while substantially increasing their ecological footprint. There’s a likelihood that they take the same approach in other areas of their lives: their cars, their clothes, their furniture, their TVs, their phones, their hair, even their fingernails and eyebrows (!). All at a great economic and psychological cost to themselves and the environment.
And, truly, to the entire culture. Because this constant striving to “keep up with the Joneses” ends up as a requisite part of the zeitgeist. We become, first and foremost, consumers: spending and spending, always “improving,” always “progressing.” In the worship and pursuit of form (fashion/trends), substance and authenticity are left in the dust.
And that’s just wrong.