August 01, 2010

D. I. Whine

Because I like to take on home improvement projects, people sometimes ask me how I know how to do stuff. The short answer is, I usually don't. So I read books, ask my dad, do a Google search, post questions to relevant message boards, and dive in.

Notice what's not in that list? Home improvement TV, namely the cable network known as DIY. Now, I'll admit, I watch a lot of DIY ... but let's face it, it's not about doing it yourself. In fact, the point of the network is largely about NOT doing it yourself. Most of the shows fall into one or more of the following categories:

1. Stuff you can buy (e.g. Cool Tools, one of my favorite shows, because yeah, I like to buy stuff, and because Chris Grundy is funny);

2. Houses that are too cool for you (e.g. Blog Cabin or the new This New House) ... okay, you can have it if you're the one who wins it, but you see what I'm saying;

3. The terrible things that can happen if you try to engage in home improvement (e.g. Renovation Realities) ... okay, I watch this one, because I'm all about the Schadenfreude, baby. On this show, couples take on absurdly difficult projects with impossible deadlines and very limited experience or knowledge, and none of what I'll talk about below in point 4. Their experiences are edited together and sprinkled--dare I say festooned--with snotty little comments about their mistakes that don't shed any instructive light on them but instead gloat about the victim's ignorance and direct viewers to the network's website;

4. Experts that come to your house and lead you through the home improvement project of your choice (e.g. Man Caves, Desperate Landscapes). Ostensibly these shows are about experts like Amy Matthews showing you how to do stuff for yourself, but in fact they're pretty much the opposite. The pros come in with their crews and wind up giving the homeowners some low-stakes project to keep them out of the way, just as my grandpa would hand me a piece of worn-out sandpaper.

This last model of home improvement show is the most insidious, because it reinforces the idea that you can't do anything. I guess it shouldn't surprise me that a generation raised on Barney will apparently sit around idly staring at the wall until the big purple dinosaur (or attractive licensed contractor) shows up to tell them whether or not it's load-bearing. "Tell us how to have fun, tell us how to paint a wall, because we're utterly helpless and devoid of imagination! Tell us what to do, whatever you do."

I guess instructional TV isn't entertaining enough to be lucrative ... if it were, there'd be something else on the History Channel besides how the world is going to end in 2012. Still, I don't think it would kill them to put some honest to garsh how-to on every now and then.

Guess I shouldn't complain. When the zombie apocalypse happens, maybe I'll be able to trade attractive and comfortable handmade furniture to my fellow survivors for ... I don't know, vegetables?

1 comment:

Rosemary said...

Sounds like the hardware version of the Food Network, where it's really more about the result than the process...or the taste. Hardware porn to the Food Network's "food porn," as Anthony Bourdain calls it?

It seems to me, too, that home-improvement shows should be festooned with a lot more swear words, too...that is, if they're attempting to be remotely realistic.