CityLab: I hate-watch ‘House Hunters’ to understand segregation

CityLab, July 2, 2018: I hate-watch ‘House Hunters’ to understand segregation

Confession: Until I started watching “House Hunters” on HGTV, I had no idea what a “Craftsman-style” house was. I also didn’t know that white kitchens were all the rage, or that “en suite” was a phrase that normal people might use. Indeed, until I picked up my “House Hunters” habit—a mindless routine at night as I get ready for bed—I didn’t truly understand that one must always have an open concept floor plan; any spouse desiring separate spaces is just as stuffy as an old Victorian.

The show, a longtime cable favorite among fans of shelter-TV programming, has a familiar paint-by-numbers formula. Usually, but not always, we watch a straight couple search for a home sweet home. They visit three places, all very different spaces. She wants rustic. He craves mid-century modern. Everyone swears they entertain all the time and need an outdoor deck to guzzle wine in the summer. The show quickly drifts into absurd complaints. The neighbors are too close. This paint is ugly. They go way over budget. Finally, someone acquiesces and they choose a home. (There’s also a spinoff show, “Island Hunters,” which is like a crash course in colonialism, with people buying actual islands.)

With its relentless appetite for scenes of spousal bickering, “House Hunters” makes good pop culture fodder for armchair sociologists to study the state of the American marriage. (Seriously, how can some of these people be married to each other?) But the more I watch the show, the more I understand that it’s also a study of how race and housing play out in American cities, usually unbeknownst to the purchasers whose biggest cares are closet size.

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