Tuesday, July 19, 2016


I recently spent some time visiting with my family due to an illness. It was a somber time, but it was also life with the family, and there are certain things that are quite predictable. One of the most predictable things that's come up over the last few years is binge watching HGTV with my mother.

Have you seen this channel? No? Take a look some time. It doesn't matter when, just turn it on. The same thing is always on, namely a marginally formatted show featuring houses being torn apart and turned into magazine covers.

If you want to know about what the new American status quo looks like, just watch. Get past the gloss, and this is your society, right now.

The first thing you'll notice is that everyone is the same. On House Hunters International, you find out people from different countries are just like us, but with quirky ways of doing things that can be written off as "just culture", odd preferences you adapt to in order to be polite. The correct proportion of racial minorities are featured, along with a healthy dollop of homosexuals, sometimes with quirky personalities but never anything alienating. You won't notice any differences between young and old people, because there are basically no old people. And of course, everyone has the same goals: those quirky personalities are unimportant compared to what everyone has in common, namely an earnest desire for good life experiences and affection from each other, comfort and a strong sense of "personal, individual" style from their home, and a host of other attitudes fully in line with modern consumerism.

Really, it's remarkable how conservative all this is when you think about it, so long as you understand conservative to mean status quo and not a stronger definition of conservatism.

There's a veneer of empowerment feminism and equality, but it's really very much about nesting and the old-world women's role in the home. That consumerist impulse puts self-expression within the purview of a good shopping trip. Everyone is well-polished and earnest, and there are no extremes of anything. The entire channel is desexualized: women are attractive but never seductive, any masculinity is played down and usually takes on an established alpha/beta couple dynamic, and the "plots" are usually hard-nosed practical matters of finishing jobs and making Really Important Life Decisions about what to buy, sentiment and satisfaction at the forefront of busy but low-intensity lives where everything turns out for the best.

Did I mention this is "reality TV"? Okay it's barely reality TV. The arc of every episode of every show is formatted identically, the big moments probably never veering more than 90 seconds off of every other episode. It might as well be scripted, and I'm sure much of it is scripted, right down to the "dialogue". After all, the entire channel is basically a commercial for the home improvement industry. You can't have anything disconcerting or uncomfortable going on, lest people stop paying attention to the selling or change the channel.

The result of this amorphous blob of TV programming is interesting: the shows are watchable as hell, particularly when you're tired and just want something pleasant to kill a few hours with, something which requires very little personal investment. Seriously, you can blow through 3 straight hours of this stuff, and you will have the same mild interest you started with. There's little actual drama, so it is neither satisfying to watch nor exhausting. It just exists, and occupies enough attention to calm you down and create a little curiosity as to how this house is going to turn out. It's the opposite of serious drama and even pornography.

It finally struck me that watching all this reminds me of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

Hillary is, from a status quo standpoint, easily the most conservative politician in the race, a career bureaucratic player who has completely adapted to the system as it sits.

She likes family and tradition and entrepreneurialism and patriotism, but she would never compel anyone to adhere to them. Her detractors try to make her flexibility on those things into an absence of authenticity, make her out to be untrustworthy, but any sensible person can see she just doesn't care, and there's no reason to expect radicalism in any form out of her, ever.

The vision she relates, one of middle class wealth, nuclear family bound by emotion, the nonexistence of race, sexuality, culture, and gender as relevant factors in one's life, the internationalism, the establishment feminism, the unthinking adherence to consumerist values, the pleasantness and no-nonsense nuts-and-bolts competence she tries to reflect with her image and speech, all fit beautifully in the HGTV mold.

Of course it's not sexy - thank God - but because of this lack of focused anger, she's taken on more and more of Bernie Sanders' fire and brimstone message. She doesn't really mean it, of course.

Say hello to your new president, kids.

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