Hgtv Essay Contest

A man in the desert touches flame to a snaking trail of gasoline, and as fire whips across a blasted stretch of earth, coming dangerously close to his parked monster truck, he leans back, extends his open arms to the sky, and calls out, “I am all that is man!”

Moments earlier, we have seen a dead cockroach lying boots up on a patch of white carpet, provoking the high-pitched screech of a woman.

Who are these gendered stereotypes of yesteryear, the muscle-bound dumdum and the easily terrified screamer? They are Man and Woman, irreducible and impervious to the political or sexual fashions of an era. Or, as HGTV calls the two halves of the binary: They are General Contractor and Designer, and this particular pair have come to Las Vegas to make a quick buck by flipping foreclosures.

Bristol and Aubrey Marunde are the stars of Flip or Flop Vegas, and they have brought the HGTV formula — an endless loop of television in which the dreams of women are made manifest by the swinging sledgehammers of men — to the quivering edge of reductio ad absurdum. They love one another; they never quarrel; they worship together at the Church of Home Depot in the Parish of Lowe’s.

HGTV was the third-most-popular network on cable television in 2016, a 24/7 testament to the powers of Target chic, the open-plan kitchen, and social conservatism. It unspools with the same bland cheerfulness as Leave It to Beaver, and its heart is in the same place. Many viewers — in red states and blue cities, in rent-controlled studio apartments and 6,000-square-foot McMansions — confess it’s a bedtime ritual, prelude to a night spent dreaming of ceramic-tile backsplashes and double-sink vanities. Over the past two years, it has become such a ratings and advertising sensation that it is largely responsible for the recent sale, this summer, of its parent company, Scripps Networks Interactive, to Discovery Communications for $11.9 billion.

The Best of Chip Gaines Not Working

HGTV depends on the dream that has been with us since the saltboxes of New England and the Spanish bungalows of Southern California and the Leisuramas of Montauk: that if you can just get the right house — the one that looks like your friends’ houses look, only a little bit better — your family will pour into it, like thick cream into a pitcher: smooth, fluid, pleasing. Who could get a divorce in a house with so many lush towels rolled up in the master bathroom? Who could raise a sullen teen when there is a “great room” where the family can gather for nachos and football on the big screen?

We are supposed to be in rehab from our housing binge of ten years ago, the one that nearly bankrupted the country. We are supposed to be in a state of contrition. But our national love of HGTV suggests that the dream won’t die. The longing it addresses is impervious to market corrections, or personal financial realities, and as economists continue to explore the true causes of the 2008 financial crisis, they are beginning to suspect that some speculative Americans acting on that longing got us into that mess as much as — or more than — unscrupulous bankers or Wall Street. In fact, the network may now be tempting its millions of fans to dip their toes back into the most dangerous waters of the past crisis: flipping.

HGTV came on the air in 1994, not to the trumpet blast of self-confidence associated with a future billion-dollar brand but to a little kazoo squeak of uncertainty. The shows were homey, centered on thrift, and they often starred regional celebrities making crafts or minor house repairs. A nice lady from Minnesota taught viewers how to decorate cheaply on Decorating Cents. (Why not spray-paint some silk flowers and then glue-gun them to your bathroom wall?) The hosts of Room by Room might invite their friend Bob — “from Bob and Pete’s Floors” — to explain how to choose something affordable and attractive for the kitchen floor.

But it was in 1999 that the network found its audience with a new show called House Hunters, of which there are now an astounding 1,772 episodes. This wasn’t about people dicking around with their bathrooms or dithering over a few feet of floor tile. This was about going all the way. This was about buying a house. The first few seasons were heavily influenced by hit shows on another network, TLC, where A Wedding Story and A Baby Story had found a large audience, composed mostly of young women, who were eager to watch 30-minute documentaries about couples making huge steps in their lives. HGTV beat them to the punch with a show about the next step in a dream couple’s life.

The early episodes are very different from what the show has become; they were full of the pitfalls of buying a house for the first time. One couple had to delay the process for a year so that they could improve their credit; they each cashed out money from their retirement funds. The husband said, “It’s a scary decision. It’s the most expensive thing and the biggest purchase we’re gonna make.” (As viewers later learned about the series, all of this was a re-creation — you can’t be on the show unless you’ve already closed on a house — but no one’s looking for the Meisner technique on reality television, and they sold it well enough.)

The houses in the couple’s price range were strewn with the evidence of human occupation and other bits of nastiness. “That could be a pet stain,” the real-estate agent says nonjudgmentally as the couple look glumly at a spot on the dining-room floor, “or coulda been a plant there.” A house with a small kitchen and battered cupboards is out, the host tells us, because “money is tight, and this family would rather prefer to put all of their money toward a down payment instead of renovation.” It was like what buying a house is really like, but it was also kind of a bummer. On A Wedding Story, you got a beautiful dress and a church full of flowers; on House Hunters, you got pet stains and problems with your credit. Soon enough, that all changed.

Today, House Hunters, like all HGTV shows, follows a formula as inflexible as the Latin Mass. You meet the buyers (usually a couple), learn where they live and what their budget is, and watch as they describe marriage-busting differences of opinion in a way that makes them look like they’re choosing what to watch on Netflix. He’s the breadwinner who wants to live close to work; she’s an at-home mom who wants to live in a far-off suburb. She’s a spender; he’s a saver. What they need is a post-nup; what they get is an expensive house an hour from his job, because HGTV women tend to win these quarrels, although he will usually get some concession — a north-facing patio so he won’t sweat like a dog when he’s out grilling; a three-car garage. By the time we bid them farewell, they’re in the great room, sipping white wine from giant, reality-TV wineglasses and purring like kittens.

The show has many spinoffs, such as House Hunters International, which ought to be named “God Bless the USA.” On an episode called “Oh No Okinawa” an American military couple who want a big kitchen and a view of the ocean get neither, while their crestfallen teenage son looks at his small Japanese bedroom and talks wistfully about missing his senior year back home. There’s Tiny House Hunters (about tiny houses, not tiny hunters), Beachfront Bargain Hunt,Lakefront Bargain Hunt, House Hunters Off the Grid — for when HGTV finds a successful show, it turns it into a genre and the audience happily follows along. The shows don’t really have hosts; there’s a narrator and sometimes a real-estate agent — but for the most part it’s the buyers and the houses who are the stars.

But just as the mild stimulant of Decorating Cents made way for the Adderall of House Hunters, so did the latter prepare viewer and network for the speedball of flipping, which is now the core of the network’s most successful shows and which may be the most dangerous part of a national obsession that has caused us all great grief in the past and possibly even spurred that global financial crisis. It all began with Property Brothers.

Jonathan and Drew Scott are a pair of metrosexual, gaga-handsome, Canadian identical-twin brothers whose early quests for fame were unsuccessful, perhaps owing to the decline of evil-twin narratives in daytime television. They had both wanted to be actors, but no luck. Drew spent $100,000 trying to break into the acting world. Jonathan wanted to be a magician with a big, David Copperfield type of show until someone stole all his props and he had to file for bankruptcy. In 2004, they opened a real-estate-services company — Jonathan had become a general contractor and Drew a real-estate broker — to support them in their pursuits. While the company was successful, the entertainment thing never panned out. And then, as in one of those career seminars in which you are encouraged to write down all of your strengths and combine them into one ideal job, the break: They would use their skills choosing and renovating houses and their cheerful, hammy acting abilities to star in a reality-television show. It was an immediate hit and has had several iterations, but it has now settled on a format: The twins show the buyers the house of their dreams and then tell them it’s way over their budget. They persuade them to choose a so-so house, and then Drew — whose work consists merely of a day driving the buyers to properties — lounges around in his flat-front trousers and skinny ties making such catty comments about his brother’s grunty physical labor that they seem more like a couple than twins.

On a recent episode, all of the players delivered their lines with dinner-theater enthusiasm. A fed-up working mom looked up from her cramped home office — really just a corner of the dining-room table — and demanded, “We need the brothers to find our dream home now.”

Her husband, an at-home parent and susceptible to the whims that can accompany that calling, announces that he wants “all top-of-the-line appliances.”

The twins tell the couple that they can’t afford what they really want, and the couple pretend to freak out. They say they’re uncomfortable about having to make renovations, so Drew scares them with fancy talk about finance. “What’s worse: getting your hands dirty with a fixer-upper or having to overleverage and get tied up in a mortgage for a hundred years?”

With the thought of a century of mortgage payments to motivate them, the couple go for the renovation. Anyone who has watched HGTV for more than a week knows what this will involve, because all of the makeovers on all of the shows are the same: blow out the walls around the kitchen so you can see the big screen from the center island; put some large furniture in the living room so that it looks grand; install hardwood floors or laminate that looks like hardwood; dress up the bathrooms with ceramic tile and walk-in showers; run some sod in the backyard and add some plants; and then quickly film the whole thing before the blossoms fall off $800 worth of annuals. The couple and their two sons love it.

The Property Brothers don’t flip houses; they remodel for individual clients. But viewers found that they loved watching the process of a butt-ugly house getting transformed into an open-plan showplace. Soon, a new HGTV genre was born: shows about married couples (he’s a contractor, she’s a designer) who buy and flip houses together. A golden formula was at hand. Created to compete with A Wedding Story and A Baby Story, HGTV has always had its roots in a quiet social conservatism, a world where houses are containers for families and where the center of a family is a marriage. Moreover, it cannot be denied that the recent HGTV parody on South Park had an apt title: “White People Renovating Houses.” Once the network started putting a married couple with star power on a show — and featuring not just the houses they were flipping but also their own homes and their children and happy moments from their daily lives — it jump-started the ratings streak that has made it so successful.

The upswing began with Christina and Tarek El Moussa, stars of Flip or Flop. A pair of blandly good-looking Orange County real-estate agents, they had taken a bath during the Great Recession and had to downsize from a McMansion to a small apartment. After the housing bust, Orange County had one of the highest numbers of foreclosures in the country, which made life as a broker there especially grim. But a few years passed, and that huge inventory of abandoned, slightly outdated houses began to present a business opportunity. The couple decided to become speculators, buying some of the houses on the cheap, tarting them up (the same open-plan kitchen/luxurious bathrooms as The Property Brothers, but with an OC bent: cheap surfaces that look polished and high-end).

Tarek is often concerned about a property’s condition, but Christina knows what to do. She was born and raised in the OC and understands what buyers want. She’ll praise a small Anaheim bungalow for being “mid-century modern” (the new real-estate term for every rattrap built after 1945) and then dress it up with cheap chandeliers, marble floors, shiny white cabinets, and stark color schemes in the black-white-silver palette. With her French manicure, straight-ironed blonde hair, amazing figure, and willingness to make cutting remarks, she was born for reality television. Tarek’s job is to keep the workmen on task; as with all of the host husbands, he’s a bit of a supernumerary to much of the process, which is the problem with the supposedly traditional unions the network promotes: The women tend to be much smarter and more powerful than the men.

The couple soon became aspirational-lifestyle celebrities, and their marriage and family life were regularly featured in People magazine and on morning television. Yet while Christina seemed to become more confident on each episode, Tarek often appeared wan and anxious. In 2013, a viewer wrote that a lump on his neck looked suspicious, and it turned out to be thyroid cancer. A month after beginning treatment, he learned he also had testicular cancer. He had to get surgery for “multiple herniated discs” in the middle of filming an episode in which he had winced in pain every time he’d tried to lift something; sitting in an orthopedic chair, he called Christina to praise her for handling everything on her own — but she clearly had it all under control. Last fall, the world learned that their off-camera home life was a bit of a flop. After months of secret trouble, police rushed to their place after receiving a call about a “possibly suicidal male with a gun.” Tarek had run to the hiking trails near their house with a loaded gun, and it took 11 cops and a helicopter to locate him, and get him to drop the weapon. He’s since been linked in the tabloids to their former nanny.

The couple are divorcing. They are, amazingly enough, also continuing to film a new season, but viewers who love the show have plenty of other married flippers to fall in love with: There are now Flip or Flops set in Atlanta, Fort Worth, and Chicago.

But if you want a stable, heartfelt married couple to fix your dreams to, the place to look is far away from any of these big cities. You need to go to Waco, Texas, where Joanna and Chip Gaines — stars of Fixer Upper— are creating not just a hit show but a home-remodeling empire of their own.

To call Chip and Joanna Gaines telegenic is an understatement. He’s a sunny, redheaded country boy who evinces no interest in fancy learnin’ but has a heart of gold. On one episode, he divided his time between remodeling a house and preparing for his flight on an F-16; the Air Force had chosen him as one of its Hometown Heroes, “ ’cause I renovated a bunch of houses for some families who were really, you know, in need of a pick-me-up at that time in their lives.” The subtitle of his upcoming business book, Capital Gaines, is “Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff.” She is his devoted opposite: thoughtful, artistic, and sensitive to beauty. She has long black hair, an oval face, and an olive complexion, facts that — combined with her Texan accent and affinity for the land — lead many viewers to assume that she is Native American and that theirs is some sort of Ur-Texan pairing. In fact, she is half-Korean and a quarter Lebanese. They are Evangelical Christians, and she has spoken often about the importance of their marriage and the central role Chip plays in her life. That said, he is something of a Lucy to her Ricky, and — like all HGTV wives — you can see her biting her lip in quiet frustration when she’s trying to get important work done and he’s yukking it up.

On Fixer Upper, Chip and Joanna help home buyers on limited budgets get the most out of their investments by choosing “the worst house in the best neighborhood.” That’s an old real-estate canard that has long been dismissed, but no matter — when Joanna starts describing all the wonderful things she can do to it, thoughts about resale value melt away into dreams of sliding barn doors, over-tufted sofas, and newly built “mud rooms” where the kids can stash their backpacks and soccer gear. Once the buyers have chosen their new house, they’re whisked away and the work begins.

It is as though Chip has spent all of Act One in a quivering agony of self-control, but at last he is free. He grabs a sledgehammer and, with Joanna’s permission, starts bashing away at the first wall she has marked for destruction. SLAM! CRASH! BANG! Chip is finally in concert with his true nature. This banging away at walls is the centerpiece of every HGTV show that involves renovation — as do all of its most popular programs — and there is something profoundly satisfying about it, even though it’s a preposterous way to go about the task. Taking out a single wall when you want to leave the rest of a room intact involves carefully cutting the drywall, teasing it off, and then taking down the framing behind it. But the reckless bashing makes for good television, and it dramatizes the signal design imperative of HGTV: Whether you live in Burbank or Barcelona, you absolutely must have an open kitchen.

While Chip knocks down the walls, Joanna paints the new rooms in a pleasing light color, usually in a sophisticated palette that is based on a combination of gray and beige sometimes called “greige.” Her style owes much to the muted good taste that Martha Stewart made available to the masses. Martha is generous about the long reach of her shadow, although this summer she sent out a credit-taking tweet: “I cannot believe that ‘greige’ is trending as a paint color! All my homes are based on grey/beige.”

Joanna has beautiful white cabinets installed in the kitchen and recessed lighting that illuminates them like saints in their niches. There will be miles of countertops and dark-wood floors for a contrast to all the white. Sometime during the process, the Gaineses’ carpenter friend Clint may show up to get a brief on some wood feature Joanna has designed, and he will cheerfully trot off to execute her desires. Often the cameras give us quick glimpses of workmen who labor away under Chip’s direction, all of these men — laborers, artisans, foreman, husband — making manifest a woman’s exacting vision.

Colorado Review

Nelligan Prize

Cash Prize: $2,000

Entry Fee: $15

Application Deadline: 3/14/18

Genre: Fiction

A prize of $2,000 and publication in Colorado Review is given annually for a short story. Margot Livesey will judge. Submit a story of any length with a $15 entry fee...

read more

Prairie Schooner

Book Prizes

Cash Prize: $3,000

Entry Fee: $25

Application Deadline: 3/15/18

Genre: Poetry, Fiction

Two prizes of $3,000 each and publication by University of Nebraska Press are given annually for a poetry collection and a short story collection. An editorial board will...

read more

James Jones Literary Society

First Novel Fellowship

Cash Prize: $10,000

Entry Fee: $30

Application Deadline: 3/15/18

Genre: Fiction

A prize of $10,000 is given annually for a novel-in-progress by a U.S. writer who has not published a novel. A selection from the winning work will be published in ...

read more

Sonora Review

Annual Contests

Cash Prize: $1,000

Entry Fee: $15

Application Deadline: 3/15/18

Genre: Poetry, Fiction, Creative Nonfiction

Three prizes of $1,000 each and publication in Sonora Review are given annually for a poem or group of poems, a short story, and an essay. The 2018 contest theme is "...

read more

The Pinch

Literary Awards

Cash Prize: $1,000

Entry Fee: $20

Application Deadline: 3/15/18

Genre: Poetry, Fiction, Creative Nonfiction

Three prizes of $1,000 each and publication in the Pinch are given annually for a poem, a short story, and an essay. Maggie Smith will judge in poetry, Carmen Maria...

read more

Bellingham Review

Literary Awards

Cash Prize: $1,000

Entry Fee: $20

Application Deadline: 3/15/18

Genre: Poetry, Fiction, Creative Nonfiction

Three prizes of $1,000 each and publication in Bellingham Review are given annually for works of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. The 49th Parallel Award for...

read more

The Word Works

Washington Prize

Cash Prize: $1,500

Entry Fee: $25

Application Deadline: 3/15/18

Genre: Poetry

A prize of $1,500 and publication by the Word Works is given annually to a U.S. or Canadian poet for a poetry collection. Submit a manuscript of 48 to 80 pages with a $25 entry...

read more

Southampton Review

Frank McCourt Memoir Prize

Cash Prize: $1,000

Entry Fee: $15

Application Deadline: 3/15/18

Genre: Creative Nonfiction

A prize of $1,000 and publication in Southampton Review is given annually for a personal essay. Using the online submission system, submit an essay of up to 4,500...

read more

Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation

Poetry Prize

Cash Prize: $1,000

Entry Fee: $10

Application Deadline: 3/15/18

Genre: Poetry

A prize of $1,000 is given annually for an unpublished poem. Richard Blanco will judge. Submit up to three poems of no more than three pages each with a $10 entry fee by March...

read more

The Writer's Center

McLaughlin-Esstman-Stearns First Novel Prize

Cash Prize: $500

Entry Fee: $0

Application Deadline: 3/15/18

Genre: Fiction

A prize of $500 is given annually for a first novel by a U.S. author published during the previous year. Authors, publishers, and agents may submit three copies of a novel...

read more

Kundiman/Tupelo Press

Kundiman Poetry Prize

Cash Prize: $1,000

Entry Fee: $28

Application Deadline: 3/15/18

Genre: Poetry

A prize of $1,000 and publication by Tupelo Press is given annually for a poetry collection by an Asian American poet. The board members of Kundiman and Tupelo Press will judge...

read more

Sarabande Books

Morton and McCarthy Prizes

Cash Prize: $2,000

Entry Fee: $29

Application Deadline: 3/15/18

Genre: Poetry, Fiction

Two prizes of $2,000 each and publication by Sarabande Books are given annually for collections of poetry and fiction. For the Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry, submit a...

read more

Hunger Mountain

Literary Prizes

Cash Prize: $1,000

Entry Fee: $20

Application Deadline: 3/15/18

Genre: Poetry, Fiction, Creative Nonfiction

Three prizes of $1,000 each and publication in Ephemeral Artery, Hunger Mountain's online publication, are given annually for a poem, a short story, and an...

read more

Slope Editions

Book Prize

Cash Prize: $1,000

Entry Fee: $22

Application Deadline: 3/15/18

Genre: Poetry

A prize of $1,000 and publication by Slope Editions is given annually for a poetry collection. Ocean Vuong will judge. Submit a manuscript of 40 to 90 pages with a $22 entry...

read more

Hidden River Arts

Eludia Award

Cash Prize: $1,000

Entry Fee: $30

Application Deadline: 3/15/18

Genre: Fiction

A prize of $1,000 and publication by Sowilo Press is given annually for a novel or story collection by a woman writer over the age of 40. Using the online submission system,...

read more

Cave Canem Foundation

Poetry Prize

Cash Prize: $1,000

Entry Fee: $20

Application Deadline: 3/16/18

Genre: Poetry

A prize of $1,000 and publication by Graywolf Press is given annually for a first book of poetry by a black poet of African descent. Chris Abani will judge. Using the online...

read more

Dayton Literary Peace Prize Foundation

Literary Awards

Cash Prize: $10,000

Entry Fee: $100

Application Deadline: 3/16/18

Genre: Fiction, Creative Nonfiction

Two prizes of $10,000 each are given annually for a book of fiction and a book of nonfiction (including creative nonfiction) published in the previous year that "foster peace,...

read more

Fourth Genre

Steinberg Essay Prize

Cash Prize: $1,000

Entry Fee: $20

Application Deadline: 3/20/18

Genre: Creative Nonfiction

A prize of $1,000 and publication in Fourth Genre is given annually for an essay. Using the online submission system, submit an essay of up to 6,000 words with a $20...

read more

New South

Writing Contest

Cash Prize: $1,000

Entry Fee: $15

Application Deadline: 3/21/18

Genre: Poetry, Fiction, Creative Nonfiction

Two prizes of $1,000 each and publication in New South are given annually for a poem and a story or essay. Safiya Sinclair will judge in poetry, and Alissa Nutting...

read more

Enizagam

Literary Awards

Cash Prize: $1,000

Entry Fee: $20

Application Deadline: 3/23/18

Genre: Poetry, Fiction

Two prizes of $1,000 each and publication in Enizagam are given annually for a group of poems and a short story. Jesse Nathan will judge in poetry, and Rachel Khong...

read more

Trustees of the Robert Frost Farm

Frost Farm Prize

Cash Prize: $1,000

Entry Fee: $6

Application Deadline: 3/30/18

Genre: Poetry

A prize of $1,000 is given annually for a poem written in metrical verse. The winner also receives a scholarship and honorarium to give a reading at the Frost Farm Poetry...

read more

Florida Review

Editors’ Awards

Cash Prize: $1,000

Entry Fee: $20

Application Deadline: 3/31/18

Genre: Poetry, Fiction, Creative Nonfiction

Three prizes of $1,000 each and publication in Florida Review are given annually for a group of poems, a short story, and an essay. The editors will judge. Submit...

read more

Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing

Poetry and Prose Prizes

Cash Prize: $1,600

Entry Fee: $25

Application Deadline: 3/31/18

Genre: Poetry, Fiction, Creative Nonfiction

Two prizes valued at $1,600 each will be given annually to a poet and fiction writer to attend a weeklong seminar at the Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing Summer...

read more

Pages

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *