Shiplap, Lots of Shiplap: On Politics, Comedy, and HGTV

A few months ago, talented, cherubic-faced comedian Tina Fey treated college-educated women like me to yet another celebrity lecture on voting for Trump. Speaking about reproductive rights at an ACLU event, Fey said, “A lot of [the 2016] election was turned by white, college-educated women who now would maybe like to forget about this election and go back to watching HGTV…and I would want to urge them, you can’t look away.”

I would think that if anybody desired to “look away” from anything, Fey would want to avert her eyes from the train wreck that passes for comedy these days because it’s become so boring, preachy, and predictable. Recently, Stephen Colbert sparked controversy because he made a joke about Donald Trump’s mouth serving as Vladimir Putin’s “c**k holster.” Another late-night comic who hates POTUS and insults him with crude humor, playing to an audience that agrees with his political ideology? How edgy.

To be fair, though, Colbert can be funny— especially when he’s the punchline. Conservatives thought he was absolutely hysterical in the “Trump Can’t Win” Youtube post-election montages featuring smug progressives who laughed and declared in no uncertain terms that Trump would lose in a landslide. Here’s Colbert in his own words:

“And so, right now, Mr. Trump, to answer your call for political honesty, I just wanted to say…You’re not going to be president. All right? It’s been fun. It’s been great! I love you! But (laughing) Come on! Come on, buddy! All, let’s say, cow poo-poo aside, there is zero chance we’ll be seeing you sworn in on the capitol steps with your hand on a giant golden bible.”

Speaking of “cow poo-poo,” Kathy Griffin was busy stepping in it last week after posing with a bloody Donald Trump severed head, then apologizing, then lawyering up, then calling a press conference to claim the Trump family was bullying her. Then on Friday, Bill Maher apologized after referring to himself as a “house n***er” during a conversation with Republican Senator Ben Sasse. It was a difficult week for those who earn their livings making people….laugh, is it?

I actually hope we see more of this sort of behavior from celebrity progressives. The more angry, provocative, and obsessed, the better the odds for Republicans in the 2018 mid-terms (for what it’s worth). Even former comedian and Minnesota Senator Al Franken, who initially defended Griffin and said he would still appear publicly with her, has reversed himself and said the following:

“After hearing from many Minnesotans who were rightfully offended, I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be best for her not to participate in the event we had previously scheduled. I understand why Minnesotans were upset by this, and I take that very seriously.”

If residents of Minnesota—a blue state—found Griffin’s behavior offensive, then the Democrats might want to consider whether their “resist” campaign is having the intended effect. Strategically, they should probably check their anger and righteous indignation, unless it leads to some serious reforms within their own party.  But if they don’t,  the joke just might be on them.

That said, free speech is a beautiful and revealing thing. Let comedians regale us with their fiery didacticism and offer their progressive viewers salve for their damaged post-election psyches. If watching Colbert and company makes them feel better, more power to them. Likewise, the rest of us have every right to turn the channel or not tune in at all. Or, with all due respect to Fey, watch all the damned HGTV we want.

Personally, I’m not a late-night television viewer because I’ve always been an early riser.  Rarely can I even stay awake past 10:30 p.m.  I am a regular HGTV viewer, however, so Tina Fey’s  scolding made me laugh out loud.  Just like that feminist icon Hillary Clinton, who insulted half the women in America long ago with the “I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas” snark, Fey betrays that she’s an out-of-touch elitist.

If we were all as wealthy as Clinton and Fey, perhaps we could hire chefs, event planners, interior designers, and architects and not be bothered to bake things ourselves or seek ideas to make our own lives and living spaces as aesthetically pleasing as possible. Fey is precisely the kind of person who would advocate for creative/decorative arts, yet she demeans the general population for showing an interest in those same things when they watch HGTV.

Fey and other arrogant arbiters of political and cultural aesthetics try to dictate our preferences: Fox News? Bad. Late-night talk shows? Good. Watching Fey’s own “classic” comedic art like Baby Mama  and 30 Rock? Awesome! Watching HGTV? Dumb! Her political preferences: reasoned and logical. Our political preferences (unless they mirror her own): stoopid.

I started tuning in to HGTV regularly during the first Obama administration.  I never made the connection before Fey brought up the topic, but now that I think about it, could I have been trying to block out his distressing condescension and snotty caricatures of the white working class? I don’t know…and it really doesn’t matter to me. HGTV is a lot of escapist fun and periodically offers some valuable information for people who must live with their home improvement/décor choices for many years. This is just a small list of the important home decorating/cultural issues of our era that HGTV grapples with on a daily basis.

The Great Carpet vs. Hardwood Debate: The 2016 presidential candidates should have been asked where they stand on the issue. In the 1970s, plush, wall-to-wall carpeting was a status symbol. Now the popular trend is to rip up carpets and install hardwood floors. In fact, carpet now has the reputation of being “dirty” and “disgusting.” People complain that all the dust and dirt gets trapped deep within the fibers and can cause allergies. The pro-hardwood folks say that pets are even a bigger problem because their hair, dander, and potty accidents can never be fully eradicated from carpeting, even with professional steam cleaning every few weeks.

Granted, polished hardwood floors are beautiful. However, I’m still a carpet person. From what I’ve observed, rarely do people keep hardwoods as pristine and beautiful as they appear in decorating magazines. All the dust bunnies, dirt, and grime are clearly visible in the corners. (Seriously, how many working men and women sweep the kitchen floor every single day?) When I was in college, I lived in an older home with beautiful oak hardwood floors, but I hated the grainy, dirty feel when I walked around barefooted. The visual evidence of the filth was clearly evident on the bottoms of my socked feet as well.

I also like the soft, warm feel of carpet. Sure, it may be dirty deep within, but out of sight, out of mind (most of the time). When my husband and I installed new carpeting several years ago, we got a browinish/gold color that sort of matches and camouflages golden retriever fur.  I’d give our housekeeping a B- or a C+, so we aren’t grossed out by carpeting.

The pet issue is another factor. Dogs’ toenails tend to scratch beautiful hardwoods to pieces. We are planning to install a hickory laminate in our kitchen that looks like real wood but that Darcy can’t scratch. However, in our living room and bedroom, we prefer carpeting. It’s warm and cuts down on noise. Granted, some people put beautiful area rugs on the hardwoods, but those who do are facing many of the same grime problems they were concerned about with carpeting.

To Paint or Not to Paint Interior and Exterior Brick and Stone White?: Another trend I’m not exactly keen on is the tendency to paint interior and exterior brick and stone surfaces white. Whether it’s the outside facade or an inside fireplace,  I’m old fashioned and like the look of the brick as it came out of the kiln. Perhaps “natural” isn’t quite the right word to describe brick since brickmakers do tint the clay, but putting a coat of white paint on brick and stone seems superfluous and artificial to me–sort of like spraying that canned fake snow on a Christmas tree. I’m a laissez-faire person when it comes to brick and stone. I can’t imagine painting Highclere Castle (the Downton Abbey House) a bright white, but how do I know that Lady Mary wouldn’t find it appealing?

 The Expression “Dated” as a Critique of American Materialism: At least with painting brick and stone, though, renovators are still making use of the original structure. Unfortunately, one criticism I have of some of the design shows is they decree that perfectly good cabinets and fixtures are “dated” or out of style. Then they proceed to demolish them. Do you have honey oak cabinets from the 1980s? The couples on House Hunters want them torn out and replaced before they move into their new three bedroom, two bath starter home.  A lot of young professionals are glomming on to more “contemporary” styles, which, at least to me, look “dated” and more like some of the furnishings from the 1950s and 1960s. So, to sum up, 1980s cabinetry: Dated. Cabinetry that looks like it was manufactured in 1962: Stylish!

It’s probably a legitimate point that Americans are a little too willing to throw out or change perfectly good furniture, cabinetry and so on. Even rich, Old World aristocrats probably weren’t even that wasteful.  I do remember a Downton Abbey episode when one of Mary’s fiancés, a wealthy, self-made newspaper man, was showing her a new home and talking about how they could buy brand-new furnishings for the house. Clearly unimpressed, Lady Mary said, “That’s the difference between us. Your lot buys furniture. My lot inherits it.” Shopping for new furnishings struck her as a incredibly nouveau riche.

Forget the Glass Ceiling–The Marginalization of the Popcorn Ceiling: What has the popcorn ceiling ever done wrong except discreetly cover sheet rock seams?  Like the mockingbird discussed in Harper Lee’s famous novel, the popcorn ceiling simply served a helpful purpose. Now everyone is hatin’ on its bubbly texture. Sure, visually, it may look a little like someone spackled cottage cheese above our heads, but I ask,  is that any reason to disrespect the popcorn?

Wholesome Families Who Help People: I don’t want to sound like a complete sap, but I do enjoy watching Fixer Upper with Chip and Joanna Gaines, a married couple with cute kids who renovate old homes for people moving into the Waco, Texas, area. My favorite show, though, is Hometown, with Erin and Ben Napier, a couple who remodel homes in their small Mississippi town. These two couples actually seem….kind.  Granted, if Chip, Joanna, Erin, and Ben are too bubblegum for people’s tastes, there’s a Flip or Flop show franchise, where couples renovate and sell (“flip”) homes in happening markets like Las Vegas.

I’ll confess that I’ve always had a soft spot for feel-good shows like Little House on the Prairie and old-fashioned romantic comedies, which are increasingly hard to find in our era of darker, more pessimistic television, like Breaking Bad of a few years ago, and its spinoff, Better Call Saul. That said, I’m sort of a fan of The Americans and was crestfallen when Justified ended and Raylan Givens tipped his Stetson and sauntered off into the television sunset for the final time. Still, sometimes the grittiness of these shows can be overwhelming.

Maybe that’s the reason I like HGTV. We see a few happy endings once in a while. I suppose I’m getting to the point that I think all the cynicism, anger, and rhetorical  sniping of our era is getting a little…dated conceptually, whether it’s in politics, television, or comedy. I’m probably as guilty as everybody else, though.  If only we could all come up with a different shtick. Some self-deprecating humor and humility would be a start. And shiplap. Lots of shiplap.