When Home Improvement Is Self-Improvement – The Atlantic

Dry Wall Contractor

These are times of primal screams. Sociologists talk about the widespread loneliness that has settled into the fragile spaces of Americans’ lives; the winter of 2022, with its compounding crises, has brought a new acuity to the isolation. Burnouts and breaking points are now part of journalism’s vernacular, the frustrations they’ve brought sharpened by the sense of what might have been in their place. Where there might have been solidarity, there is solitude. Where there might have been people coming together to help one another, there is instead, for many, an empty echo: You’re on your own.

Pop culture, always ready to alchemize anxiety into entertainment, has been weaving that sense of abandonment into its stories. Scripted TV series—Station Eleven, Yellowjackets, Squid Game, and many others—are telling timely tales of people forced to fend for themselves. But reality TV, too, is grappling with this moment of ambient isolation. Take, for example, a new crop of shows from HGTV, the network that has spent years flipping real estate into breezy escapism. Unfinished Business stars a “home-renovation coach” who helps people fix both their house and their mindset. Holmes Family Rescue has a similar premise; so does Help! I Wrecked My House. Tough Love With Hilary Farr finds the celebrity designer swooping in, godmother-like, to aid clients whose problems, as she puts it, “are way bigger than bad floorplans.”

The home in America has long functioned as a metaphor—for private life; for individual aspiration; for, above all, control. These shows stridently reverse that symbolism. In them, homes are sites of disorder. Their featured clients, some seeking new renovations and others facing DIY gone SOS, have all reached their own breaking point. And they are saved, episode after episode, by professionals who promise that most basic and yet most controversial of commodities: a helping hand. The new home makeovers, in that sense, are offering not escapism, but catharsis. They are taking that old standby, conspicuous consumption, and giving it a timely new twist. They are selling conspicuous collaboration.

The typical home-renovation show is formulaic in its fantasies. Over the course of an hour or so, a house deemed unworkable—by its residents, and by the strict commercial standards of HGTV—is transformed: an outdated duckling remade into a curb-appealed, open-concept swan. The formula usually acknowledges the homeowners while also shooing them away until, in an episode’s final moments, they’re brought back to witness their new home’s assorted amazements. On Tough Love With Hilary Farr, though, a different kind of transaction emerges. Here, it’s the residents of the houses who are renovated, …….


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