One television network that has gained a great deal of popularity within the past few years is the Home and Garden Network, more commonly known as HGTV. This network features shows centered on buying, selling, and renovating homes in locations across the globe. Some of the most notable shows include House Hunters (and its spin-offs like House Hunters: International), Property Brothers, Flip or Flop, Love It or List It, and Fixer Upper. I would argue that House Hunters is the most recognizable program that HGTV offers, and this is most likely due to its simplicity. The show centers on a person, couple, or family who is seeking out a new place to live. They are guided through 3 homes by a real estate agent, weigh out the pros and cons of each property, and then come to a conclusion on which home they’d like to purchase. While House Hunters may seem innocent on the surface, this show is a perfect example of how media socializes the general public on issues of race, gender, class, and sexuality.
It’s pretty much impossible to argue that in our current society, those individuals who identify as white, heterosexual, upper/middle-class, and male have the most advantages or “privilege” in their lives. While this privilege is not so obvious to those who possess it, it does in fact heavily influence their ability to succeed, and how they view success itself. These dominant identities have more options and opportunities afforded to them, and are thus more capable of being successful. However, since they are so used to being favored by the system, they attribute success to their own hard work; those who fail do so because of their lack of effort. This neoliberal perspective places emphasis on individual actions instead of systematic advantages/disadvantages.
While I think that the messages on House Hunters do more to socialize people on the basis of gender and sexuality, there is also a race aspect as well. For starters, most of the people seen on this show are white, and while HGTV actually has a pretty good reputation for racial inclusivity, there is still a lot to be desired. Namely, shows like House Hunters seem to completely erase the culture behind those on their show. All participants, regardless of race, seem to desire similar features of their homes, and their personal cultures fall to the back burner. There is a “whitening” of the families on the show that erases the cultural aspects of their race. Why? Well, it makes them easier to market for the network’s primarily white audience. For viewers though, this masking of culture only continues the socialization process. The public sees these people speaking and behaving in a certain way, and it makes them internalize these actions as “normal” or “correct.” Then, if they are exposed to different cultures in real life, they are automatically predisposed to thinking of them as “less than” or “wrong”.
While I cannot say for sure that this has never happened on House Hunters, I would venture a guess that there has never been, or that is is rare to see, an African American person or family that speaks with an Ebonics dialect. This form of speech has its origins in the African American community, and is a completely valid form of language. However, because of socialization through media and other outlets, Ebonics is often considered “ghetto” or “uneducated”. Thus, those Black families that do speak with Ebonics are rarely shown on TV unless it is as a character that fits the stereotype. If they were to be shown on a program like House Hunters, it would help normalize this speech as part of Black culture. Instead, because it is not associated with dominant White culture, Ebonics is kept off the network.
Representation matters. If media only exposes viewers to dominant identities (white, male, middle-class, heterosexual), then these become the baseline for “normal”; anything that differs is now seen as wrong. Showing people of differing identities only helps though if they are allowed to express aspects of their culture beyond the normalized “whiteness”. If not, it’s only putting a flimsy band-aid on a much more serious issue. A temporary fix that gives the illusion of progress without actually addressing the real problem.