Article: Speak Easy

Why Do We Watch  Ourselves  Renovating  Homes? with Michael BoturWhy Do We Watch Ourselves Renovating Homes? with Michael Botur

Available for you to watch on TV this month are dozens of home renovation shows. 
Each of the columns I write for PropertyPlus is supposed to be maximum 600 words. There are so many home renovation makeover shows that listing them would consume my entire words count – I’m talking over 100 shows. The American series This Old House is likely the original home renovation reality TV show. That debuted in the 1970s.

Today, some of the shows on TV in NZ alone include The Block NZ, Marae DIY, Grand Designs, Creative Living, Selling Houses Australia, Location, Location, Location, Extreme Makeovers: Home Edition, Our First Home, Homes Under the Hammer, Fixer Upper, Flip or Flop… Then, if you want to meet the people inside these reality homes, there’s always The Real Housewives of Auckland.

It’s phenomenal, but it’s a phenomenon not as new as you might think.

Heck, if that’s not enough, tune into HGTV (Home and Garden Television), a network which plays ONLY home and garden programmes.

Just before HGTV arrived in NZ, the NZ Herald called it ‘The TV channel no one asked for’.... except, we DID ask for it. Demand is responsible for the channel thriving here. To stop asking for such a channel would mean switching off the shows, which we do not do. Ratings show that.

BusinessWire quoted Julie Baylis of Choice TV saying “HGTV’s quality programming epitomises New Zealand’s love affair for DIY and home improvement.”

It’s true: swathes of Kiwis are in love with home renovation shows. It’s top-five rated stuff.

Ghazaleh Golbaksh, some Aucklander who wrote an opinion column in The Spinoff recently, called these shows “property porn” and said “It’s a form of capitalist escapism where, like an eager baby, you get to look at pretty and shiny things and it doesn’t matter whether you can ever afford them or not.”

I don’t disagree – but her interpretation isn’t the only way to interpret why we love such shows.

The finale of The Block NZ generated massive amounts of hype, emotion, news stories, and fans were so caught up in the dramatic season finale that thousands was pledged on GiveALittle pages to two couples. Ling and Zing had over $20,000 donated by almost 900 people thanks to a page set up by somebody calling himself a “disgruntled viewer.”

So what does it all say about our society? Why is it that we’ll let our garden overgrow, let our paint flake and let water damage occur while we’re watching this stuff for hours a week?

A University of Arizona study called ‘Reality-Based Television Programming and the Psychology of Its Appeal’ identified that ‘downward social comparison’ is a motivation for following reality TV, ie. People reported “I feel better about myself after watching the people on that show” and “My problems don’t seem so bad after I see what happens in the lives of the people on that show.” The study found it is older viewers who engage in such social comparison, whereas younger viewers reported becoming more self-aware from watching this stuff.

Back to the original question, though, of why we watch – well, that’s up to you. Whether you watch home reno shows to feel better about your own home reno dramas, to get tips and hints, to see money being spent without feeling the dent, whatever it is – that’s up to you.

Michael Botur has published journalism in NZ Herald, Herald on Sunday, Sunday Star-Times and Mana and he writes a lot of fiction. He moved to Whangarei in 2015 and was ecstatic to be able to afford a house here.

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