“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,” begins Caitlin Flanagan’s Vulture tell-all about the TV genre that many of us are irresistibly drawn to, though maybe we should know better. “It unspools with the same bland cheerfulness as Leave It to Beaver, and its heart is in the same place.”
The article discusses the conceits these TV shows use to sell us the notion that if only we had “a house that looks like your friends’ houses look, only a little better,” that life will be grand–and buying a clunker and fixing it up is easy and fun! All the shows riff on this, but the piece of the article that illustrates it best is the embedded mashup of Fixer-Upper‘s Chip Gaines, “The Best of Chip Gaines Not Working”:
Chip horses around with a machete, a floor sander, a two-by-four, and so on, while his wife Joanna rolls her eyes–but cheerfully.
Other than this video clip, the article is illustrated only with stills of each of the HGTV home-flipping couples. I wanted more video, since the story is a critique of a genre of television. Also, I found the placement of the photos and video confusing: they do not appear in the order of the article’s narrative. I couldn’t figure out why they were placed as they were.
It’s a long article, and text-heavy, with no pull quotes or design variations to break it up. The one exception is a turquoise bar that appears above and to the left of some (but not all) of the photos, attractively mirroring the color of the links in the article:
The lack of sustained visual interest in the piece was a letdown after the banner across the top of the page. It’s a terrific photo, and I like that it takes up the whole screen. To get to the article’s title, the reader must scroll down and take in the image of a rolling billboard of a modest one-level bungalow being pulled away to reveal a bright new two-story Southern California-style McMansion behind it, with a happy couple beholding their new home and a cameraman capturing all of it.
As a critical essay, I really enjoyed the Vulture article. But as a piece of online journalism, I don’t think they did enough to pull in video clips to demonstrate their points, nor did they choose interesting still photos or place them appropriately. The reading experience was too static. Except for the one video, I may as well have been reading a print magazine.