Friday, January 30, 2009

My Myers-Briggs Analysis of HGTV

Ever since we switched from cable to satellite TV, our service has been patchy at best. The channel guide works maybe 50% of the time, the picture goes wonky whenever we switch back from a gaming console, and the whole system needs to be reset periodically (often during Survivor). But even by those standards, the television's behaviour over the Christmas holidays seemed odd. Whenever I sat down to watch some Home and Garden Television, the channel would spontaneously switch, halfway through a show, to a football game or Spike TV. It was like I was in that stereotypical battle for the remote, but not even with my own husband - with the TV itself.

Eventually it was hubby's secretary who solved the problem. Her daughter is dating our new next-door-neighbour, a young single guy who owns a local restaurant. "Are you having any trouble with your TV?" she asked hubby one day. It turns out our satellite was on the same channel as Joel's. Joel's mother works at the library, and she filled me in on the details: "Whenever he tried to watch a show," she explained, "it kept switching over to HGTV!"

I find it amusing to think of poor Joel next door, trying to enjoy a beer and a football game but forced repeatedly to watch the Sarah's House marathon. It all makes sense now - those times I would repeatedly hit "channel return," only to find myself switched back again to TSN. HGTV is, by definition, girl TV. It's not quite as openly girly as the W network, but almost.

It has been a bit surprising to me, then, that so many of the shows focus on a central male figure. There are the gay designers, of course, but there is also a host of macho men of the kind featured in Canadian Tire Christmas commercials, the ones who go to sleep on Christmas Eve with visions of power tools dancing in their heads. Mike Holmes, for instance, is shown in the opening credits of Holmes on Homes wielding what I would be inclined to call a pneumatic drill (though it may be something else entirely). "Judge ... jury ... and trusted contractor," the commercials call him, as he scours the country looking for examples of shoddy workmanship so he can make it right.

Mike Holmes is the macho sentimentalist, that staple of Super Bowl locker rooms. I'm not sure that athletes in any sport other than football are ever quite so nakedly emotional, possibly because none of them get to wear those giant shoulder pads. The same principle applies to home-renovation shows: only the men wielding the biggest power tools get to wallow in sentimental feel-good plotlines about helping hapless homeowners with their renovation nightmares. (Ty Pennington is another prime example, for you Americans out there.) At the end of each episode, Mike enjoys a long hug from the lady of the house he has just cleansed of mould and damp, followed by a closing reflection on how good it feels to help people in need.

There's nothing especially ground-breaking about this particular blend of macho masculinity and emotional sentimentality, but what fascinates me about Mike Holmes is that he is so classic an SJ. In Myers-Briggs terms, SJs are detail-oriented, concrete thinkers who embrace rules, regulations, and black-and-white thinking. This is exactly what you want in a contractor: someone who pays close attention to detail, firmly believes that there is one right way to do everything, and takes pride in doing a job properly. "Proper" is in fact Mike's favourite word. "That's proper, isn't it?" he'll say appreciatively at the end of a job, admiring his own work not so much for its aesthetic value as for its strict adherence to the One Right Way.

If Mike Holmes is a classic SJ male, Peter Fallico of Home to Flip is a not-quite-so classic SP. A flipper is, by definition almost, an opportunist, someone looking to make a quick buck, comfortable with risk but with an eye on the bottom line. SPs, according to Myers-Briggs, are practical rather than idealistic, but unlike the SJs they are spontaneous risk-takers, and they are most comfortable working for themselves rather than taking orders from authority figures. Flipping a house requires considerable organizational skills, so Peter does not run quite so true to the MBTI stereotype as Mike, but there's something ever-so-slightly crooked about him that shouts SP to me.

Much like Mike Holmes, however, Peter Fallico is both macho and unexpectedly feminine. He is the purest kind of capitalist, stereotypically masculine not in the power-tool-wielding sense but rather in his unabashed focus on making money. At the same time, when he clashes with his designer Ulya, it's often because his taste is more girly than hers: on the episode where he redesigned his front porch, his brainchild was to sew and install curtain panels. Ulya wrinkled her nose and made reference to Little House on the Prairie, but Peter, undeterred, purchased the fabric and offered viewers a quick how-to on sewing your own curtains.

There is some kind of lesson buried in here, I'm sure, about how heterosexual masculinity is constructed in our culture as a kind of smorgasbord where so long as you heap enough roast beef on your plate you're allowed to help yourself to a serving of strawberry shortcake. This seems like maybe it's something everybody but me already knew, and perhaps I'm only discovering it now because the men in my life have chosen so differently, taking a main course of stoicism and logic rather than sports and power tools. It turns out that masculinity is like one of those set menus restaurants offer on New Year's Eve, where if you order logic as a main course you don't get to have emotion for dessert.


Mad said...

Yes, but stoical logic is so much easier to digest than the standard manly fare of roast beef. Plus, it makes for a more sustainable eco-system. As a masculinity vegetarian, it's not the emo-dessert I miss so much as the lack of opportunities to heap on the horse-radish of idle conversation. Conversational condiments are what I long for most. Otherwise, I'm content with a sliver of cake once every other year or so.

Bon said...

Mad's hilarious and clever comment just intimidated me into utter silence.

this is unusual. i AM a conversational condiment, after all. i think.

and what i live with might best be described as a man pizza. an extraverted veg man pizza with a closet case of logic.

i suck at metaphor. back to silence.

kate w said...

Ok, Mad's comment should cement, once and for all, that she is not an SJ (if the messy house posts didn't already do that). NF through and through.

NF's can be very structured and I know an INFP who is VERY drawn to library science, and whose principles of structure and internal coherence are way at odds with the SJs' deadline-driven, external rule-following approach.

And I didn't even get to say that I LOVED this post, and laughed most of the way through. What a great pick-me-up today. Thanks! And I think you hit the nail on the head with two different menus of masculinity.

Veronica Mitchell said...

Husband loved the roast beef metaphor. Also, I read this aloud to him during dinner. Fitting.

Gavin said...

We had the same problem with the channels took us a bit to figure it out, but we always "won" so some poor guy kept ending up with shows like The Backyardigans and Diego instead of his sports or also affected our DVR. We don't know who in the neighborhood it was, but they most likely didn't like getting Diego instead of the game, hehe.

No Mother Earth said...

Something I realized while reading your post..

I am an avid HGTV watcher. It relaxes me like nothing else. And yet, I can't stand most of the shows with men as the central figure. (Ty Pennington being the worst offender). Why do you suppose that is? All the shows you mentioned are ones that I turn off immediately. The only male central figures I like, seem to be the ones that are extravagantly, flamboyantly homosexual.

What could this mean?

Bea said...

NoMo - I can't watch Extreme Home Makeover. That and Around the World in Eighty Gardens are just about the only shows on HGTV from which I will always click away. In the first case it's the nauseating sentiment (and it takes a LOT of sentiment to make me nauseous), and in the second it's sheer boredom. I can see why Holmes on Homes isn't for anyone: almost the only reason to watch it is Mike Holmes' personality - the renos are really not all that visually interesting. I do enjoy Flip This House for its design elements, but I can see how Peter's personality could be a turn-off to some viewers.

Beck said...

The cleverness of this post is a bit intimidating!
But Mike Holmes is total candy - a toothsome combination of working class manliness - not the groomed New Age noodley man we're told that we should want, but an actual bulky man AND NOW WITH FEELINGS! Should anything - God forbid - happen to my husband, Mike Holmes would fill the role of Husband #2 NICELY. And then all of the renovations around here might finally get done, too.

Hannah said...

What Beck said. I love me some Mike Holmes. A handsome piece of beefcake who cares enough to put heated floors in the bathrooms he builds, and likes to use high-end finishes? Sign me up.

Isaac loves Holmes on Homes too. We often watch it together.

Extreme Makeover I always hated, for the same cloying sentimentality you mention. And then (long story) we were slightly involved in an episode taped a couple of years ago, through my job. You know the whole driving around in the bus sequence at the beginning, and then the big arrival scene at the house of the lucky family? Did you know that there are THREE OTHER FAMILIES sitting in their houses waiting on the same day, because they've been shortlisted... and told they might be chosen... and there they sit, waiting and watching the clock and then... nothing.

Sickening. All for the sake of feel-good-about-yourself TV.

I tell this story because I can't come up with a food metaphor, or anything intelligent to add. I'm not worthy. A la Wayne's World. ;)

No Mother Earth said...

Well, that just makes me hate Extreme Home Makeover all the more. How awful.

Nora said...

I wish I had cable OR satellite! So I could know what you are talking about with HGTV. But we rented a vacation house with satellite once and it crapped out during a storm--just when we wanted to watch TV the most.

Mimi said...

I am in awe of this post, btw. Brililant.

Also, you might be interested to know that Peter Fallico was persuaded by HGTV to buy a house to flip--they pitched it to him. So it might work against his inclinations. Did you see the (you did!) the master bedroom / ensuite redo? Where he was all 'soaker tub whirlpool bath yada yad' and his contractor jsut looked at him: NO. I think the Rob / Peter / Ulya triangle is really fascinating.

And the curtains on the porch looked great, actually, don't you thin?

Anonymous said...

We need to talk HGTV. I got it probably at the same time you did (w/o the interruptions, ha!). Now I see why all the fuss about Sarah and Mike!

kgirl said...

There should be a Myers-Briggs Analysis of hair. Peter Fallico's would be a DP - delusional pansy.

Kimberly said...

Ok, delurking to say that this was the funniest thing I have read in a long time! My husband actually likes to watch Holmes. Funny.

kittenpie said...

Ha - I'm not sure Misterpie would agree with any of this - for starters, he watches a lot of hgtv of his own choosing! But he's a curious mix of tool-wielder, logic lover, and, well, the side of him that gave up the big salary to teach kindergarten. Where do you peg all that? We both did the M-B test while he was in school, though, and came out curiously the same, which surprised us both. The differencs occurred in the degree to which we matched different categories within the for letter label. Sitting back, it somehow works, though, because I like power tools and logic puzzles, too, even if Im not so into hgtv.