A few weeks ago, my phone and I woke up to a frenzy of emoji tears and “my life is over” tweets in the light of some soul-shattering news: “Fixer Upper” is coming to an end after five seasons. For those unfamiliar with “Fixer Upper,” it’s an HGTV classic following home-renovators Chip and Joanna Gaines on their adventures in discovering the cheapest, nastiest on-the-market houses in Waco, Texas and transforming them into the dreamiest, chicest family homes. Now, if you haven’t seen the show, you’re missing out on a whole lot of “goals” moments between the couple, cuteness overload from their crew of kids and breathtaking scenic shots of their personal farm, but still, it’s unexpected for a young crowd to feel such a connection toward that concept. That got me thinking: Why are teens and 20-somethings, including myself, suddenly so infatuated with HGTV? After all, it’s a network targeted toward 30+ professionals, or, you know, people who actually own their homes.
My personal affinity for home and interior design TV most definitely stems from the charismatic personalities of the hosts. Watching the childlike banter between the seemingly flawless Joanna and witty Chip warms my angst-filled heart and overwhelms me with aspirations for a relationship as idealized and genuine as theirs. Then there’s the clever one-liners between the epigrammatic, and not to mention strikingly handsome, Drew and Jonathan Scott from “Property Brothers,” which leave me shamelessly binging episode after episode of their dazzling home renovations. These humble personalities, authentic, non-scripted interactions and episodes of realism act as the origin of the appeal. Feeling like you are the close friend of the host portrays them as less like celebrities and more like normal people, and their subsequent invitation to stay, catch up, and relax for a while is often overly-embraced for a couple (sometimes four) hours. One minute you’re doing your laundry and simply listening to HGTV as background noise, and soon enough its 7 p.m. and you’re wildly cheering because you correctly predicted which house the newlyweds were going to choose on “House Hunters.” Now that’s captivation at its finest.
Additionally, I find HGTV shows to be incredibly visually and emotionally satisfying, as the aesthetics of the houses somehow impeccably match what the future owners envisioned, and the undertakings are always completed on time and on budget. Watching the professionals pick out the paint colors, tile textures, and interior furnishings for their latest project never gets old, and makes me believe that I’m actually gaining some knowledge in the realm of interior decorating. I mean, after a few episodes of “Flip or Flop” I have the sudden urge to repaint my bedroom walls, move around (very) heavy pieces of furniture by myself, and critique every design choice my mother made for our kitchen — “Seriously Nancy, those cabinets with that backsplash?”
Each episode of each individual show follows its own formulaic schedule, which while predictable, is comforting in its sense of familiarity and assuredness. There is a very distinct before and after to a project and episode, and while real-life home renovations are often messy, stressful, and time-consuming, with the help of the HGTV hosts, the process becomes worry-free and is completed in a precise and tidy one-hour timeslot.
The HGTV world is a fantasy one, where you rarely worry about what money, time or effort is necessary to create the house of your dreams. I sit in front of my screen wondering how Joe, the bicycle salesman, and Linda, the dog groomer, somehow make a big enough combined salary to provide for four kids and invest in a beach house in Maui. While it makes no logistical sense, in the HGTV world, anything is possible. I feel as though young adults often become obsessed with this ideal, and the more they feed into the shows, the more they believe that the reality of TV is equivalent to the reality of everyday life. A major part of the draw to HGTV is the draw to the ideals of aspiration, perfection and success that are attached to home-ownership, especially for young adults where seeing it is believing it and whose lives are just taking off.
This concept is, in a way, dually dangerous and motivating. It becomes common nature for particular homemaker details and lifestyles to be fetishized, and thought to bring about fantastical qualities of harmony and sociality into our humdrum lives. While in the same way, desiring a romanticized and content lifestyle encourages working harder and smarter, so that one day, the dream-able is truly achievable. Ultimately, home-renovation TV is just an encapsulating web of emotions, dreams and instant-gratification, but until the time comes that I can purchase and decorate a two-story, open-concept lake house, I’ll just kick-back, turn on HGTV and keep imagining.