Volume 191, Summer 2022, pp. 20-24

This article explores the complex appeal of home-buying and renovation shows on the cable channel HGTV. While their popularity is clear, their political implications are murkier. Some media studies scholars accuse the genre of fostering consumerism, conformity, and neo-liberal nationhood. Others admire its inclusion and “non-special treatment” of queer and racially diverse participants. My own feminist reading notes the limits as well as merits of the diversity defense and offers to appreciate the shows’ contribution in somewhat different terms. Focusing specifically on House Hunters (1999-present), I credit this home-buying series with asserting the primacy of domestic life in conjunction with a host of related values conventionally coded and subordinated as ‘feminine.’ In the hegemonic scheme of things, qualities coded as ‘masculine’ (the aggressive, historic, large-scale, public-sphere, self-reliant, and individualist) occupy a superior position. House Hunters challenges this gendered hierarchy by reveling in the modest, everyday, small-scale, private-sphere, interdependent, and relational. It does so, moreover, in a gender-neutral way: no longer written off and relegated to women, the little things that happen in houses are made paramount for male and female viewers alike. Adding a further twist, I close with an episode whose homebuyers have histories of social marginality and economic insecurity. In this context, the desire for domestic ‘coziness’ is less about conformity to bourgeois norms and more about feelings of safety and belonging in relation to place.