I wouldn’t call myself particularly design-oriented. I appreciate good design and good aesthetics, but I’m not oft-inspired to do anything I would call “design” at my home beyond being sure that I can see my alarm clock from my side of the bed. That said, I love HGTV. That’s Home and Garden Television if you are not familiar. I came to HGTV slowly. As a teen, my mother occasionally watched their shows, but I was resistant to the appeal. I would never make my own headboard---why should I watch someone else do it? Never mind that I will never be a 1960s ad man nor a police detective and I happily watch shows about those enterprises.
At some point in the last decade, it all changed. Was it that I matured, became an adult, and suddenly had an interest in the aesthetics of my abode? Absolutely not. What changed was the introduction of House Hunters to the channel. House Hunters is addictive and infuriating. It has a simple rhythm, not unlike Law and Order, that is soothing and anesthetic. House Hunters allows me, from the comfort of my couch, to judge the interiors of stranger’s homes. I find this remarkably relaxing.
Each episode is structured in the exact same way. Viewers accompany potential house buyers on visits to three different potential homes. The prospective buyers walk around the homes, commenting on what they like and don’t like. Sometimes the prospective buyers affect the episode minimally. They want granite countertops and open concepts and are pretty bland. On other occasions the prospective buyers can be absurdly demanding, and it can be fun watching their dreams of finding a four-bedroom house for under two hundred thousand dollars dissolve. Schadenfreude is a key component of watching House Hunters. Aristotle said that good tragedy must have spectacle, and the best episodes include the spectacle of dreams dashed or the buyers being shown a short sale house that was clearly trashed by some combination of frat boys and rabid beavers.
On occasion, the prospective buyers are people I want to root for. They seem friendly and intelligent and just want a place where they can grow some plants or have a baby. Or, they realize that they will have to pay more for the neighborhood they really want to live in and they accept it and take the plunge. This can be satisfying as well, but not necessarily cathartic for the viewer.
Often there’s a semi-manufactured conflict in the episode. It might be a conflict between spouses, an adult child house hunting with parents who aren’t ready for their child to grow up, or a newly-divorced middle aged woman looking to start over. I accompanied my wife to a professional conference once and we saw a gentleman there whom we recognized. We saw him from afar and couldn’t remember his name and then we realized, “Oh, right, it’s that guy from House Hunters who lived in Knoxville who mocked his wife’s interest in Feng Shui!”
Regardless of the manufactured conflict of the episode, the viewer is led through three homes. Sometimes there are murals. Sometimes there are dolls. Sometimes there are words on the wall (you know what I mean, things like “The food here is seasoned with love” in the kitchen. I loathe words on the wall). On every third episode, there’s a man demanding space for a “man cave” where he can watch football and not have to interact with his family, and everyone around him treats him like this is appropriate, totally ignoring the fact that “man cave” is just “cave man” backwards. All of these are targets for disdain. I know that when I have stored up disdain from a rough week at work, I can simply spend twenty-two minutes with House Hunters to release it upon unwitting strangers.
There are HGTV purists who decry the fact that the network’s programming consists mainly of real estate-related shows, including many House Hunters copycats. They miss the emphasis on design and home improvement. I’ll admit, the joys of House Hunters are only tangentially related to the concepts of “home and garden.” Not unlike MTV forgoing music videos in favor of teen mothers, and the History Channel forgoing history in favor of pawn shop proprietors, HGTV knows where the ratings lie, and it’s with They Who Love to Judge (while often in pajama pants). I am not necessarily proud of being a part of that demographic, but at least I know I am not alone.