WSJ Op-Ed Piece Takes Blame-Shifting to a New [Three-Bedroom Split] Level

HGTV blamed for housing and credit crisis

When I first saw Jim Sollisch’s piece in The Wall Street Journal, I had to read it three times. The first time, I thought it was an Onion-type piece and was waiting for a punchline. The second time, I had to read it to make sure Sollisch was serious. The third time, realizing he was indeed serious, I read it for content.

Apparently, we’re blaming the housing and credit crisis on HGTV now. That’s right — HGTV.

Seeing that I have a wife and the cheap DirecTV bundle, I’ve seen my share of HGTV. I’ll even admit that I’m entranced by it’s anchor show, “House Hunters.” Seeing people ignore raw potential and lament an otherwise beautiful and affordable house because of some unfortunate paint color makes me yell at the television almost as loud as I yell at Harry Reid or Keith Olbermann. Just last night, in fact, when my wife and I were watching it, we debated whether or not we’d try to be on the show in 18 months when we make our move to Charleston, S.C.

“Do they pay people anything to have cameras follow them and show what fools they are?” my wife asked, after one particular couple on the TV managed to complain about everything, and thinking about how we’re going to need impeccable timing to sell this house, move almost 700 miles, and get me prepped for the South Carolina bar exam all at once. “If they do, I’m in.”

Blaming HGTV and the glut of housing-related television shows for the housing and credit crisis is akin to blaming ESPN and the “World’s Strongest Man” broadcasts for the time when I tweaked my back while heaving a large window air conditioning unit onto a shelf in my garage.

Oh, because Magnusson Van Der Noordenfjord can throw full beer kegs into a third-story window, I suddenly feel the need to toss this three-room Westinghouse unit up onto a chest-high shelf instead of putting it on the ground next to the workbench.

Sollisch’s whole premise is just as absurd. Somehow, because television viewers see other people improving their own homes or moving into other homes, they’re suddenly inspired to move into a place beyond their means, stock it full of stainless steel appliances, and wait for the creditors to call. By golly, if it weren’t on TV, nobody would do it! In reality, last time I checked, it takes a person to sign the loan application, to go out shopping for a new home or for new appliances. Similarly, I may see advertisement after advertisement for a dozen tasty-looking Chicken McNuggets, but I’ve still got to drive to McDonald’s, select them and pay for them before eating them (and paying for them again in the little boy’s room 30 to 45 minutes later).

Let’s stop placing blame where it doesn’t belong. Just as it takes a person with a spoon to eat that quart of Haagen-Dazs, just as it takes a person with a trigger finger to fire that .40-caliber Glock into somebody else’s chest (or into your own leg, if you’re a multi-millionaire wide receiver who chose not to get a permit or, at the very least, spend $50 on a holster), just as it takes a cowardly Hamas terrorist to hide behind civilians and fire rockets into Israel which warrant a response in kind, it takes a homebuyer to throw caution to the wind and buy too much house.

Of course, the banks and their recently relaxed lending standards were complicitous in all of this, but even with regard to those standards, blame must be placed where it belongs. Banks were forced, for the most part, by our federal government to relax those lending standards in the name of “social engineering” and class warfare. Despite warning after warning, including 18 separate warnings from the Bush White House, the congressional influence continued. Suddenly, jobless illegal aliens could secure bank loans so long as they could provide a utility bill or two to verify some sort of identification. Suddenly, people like my wife and I could not only buy too much house, but do so with zero money down.

But it still takes someone to make that bad decision. Believe me, I know. And to blame those bad decisions on prime-time cable television is just doggone ridiculous.

So, in 18 months or so, when you see my wife and I visiting homes in the Charleston area on HGTV’s “House Hunters,” hopefully (1) I’ll be thinner and (2) you won’t feel the need to yell at us and your television should we once again buy too much house.

And, if we do abandon all common sense and rationalize too much house, hopefully you won’t blame the television for making you do the same.

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Comments

  1. Seeks Truth says:

    Unfortunately, Sollisch is probably correct. People use TVs anymore much as they used to use their Bibles — it is their guide to life.

    In fact I think it is Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death who says that the TV is now the main object of public discourse much as the Bible once was.

    The TV is a dangerous thing in the wrong hands. Related to the New Years discussion, we are TV-free for nearly 5 years now! True confessions: I still miss HGTV, especially the Dream Home special. Oh, and I still watch HGTV when visiting the in-laws. :-)

  2. Anonymous says:

    Jeff -

    FYI, WSJ is now owned by that far left communist Rupert Murdoch. You know, the one that owns the ministry of propaganda (a.k.a. Fox News).

    For an analytical (i.e. fact-based or reality-based) view of the changes that rabid socialist has made since buying WSJ, check out this website:

    http://journalism.org/node/10769

    And yes, HGTV/Extreme Home Makeover/Martha Stewart’s whatever all contributed to the hyperinflation of home prices as they all glorified house-flipping as a viable career.

  3. Claudia says:

    Part of the problem is this current, and past generation(s) since the mid 60′s especially, is that with the advent of TV and Computers and Cell Phones, and all the other instant access objects that we all use now, no one has learned patience or the art of saving for something that they want, they just think that they are entitled to it (and of course in the equality to all theme, everyone is entitled to it by government standards) and go out and buy it, whether or not it was thought out or reasoned with for the need, they want it so they buy it. They don’t think about the payments that will make it theirs, they don’t think about how long it will take to pay it off, they want it, so they buy it and they get maxxxxxed out on that credit card so they get another one sent to them and then they max that one out and automatically have another one sent to them, and the cycle goes on and on until they find themselves drowning and they start crying about how someone else made them do it, that someone else is the TV, the Computer, the cell phone that sent them an instant ad, and God knows, they aren’t responsible for getting the ad on the puter, or seeing it on TV, or having their appetite seduced by those McNuggets, they suddenly want it, whether their butt grows or the debt to income ration grows, they always want more….. and are NOT used to being told NO by anyone.

    I used to know a woman who redecorated her house, top to bottom, about every other year, and threw everything out that was there before. Her husband had a total fit when he came home and it was deorating time and they had big blowout fights, but she continued to do that until she wass served with divorce papers and then because she only had her income, she had to make do with what she had, no new decorating every year, no new couches till the other one was worn out, no new curtains, new bedding outfits new carpeting, new flooring types, and now, she even leaves everything in the same place for more than just a few weeks. She used to move everything constantly, and one time her husband came home in the dark and there were no lights on, and he almost killed himself because the biggest lounge chair in the world was right in the middle of the walkway between the kitchen and the living room. He did break his leg on that chair, and it was shortly after that that the divorce papers came to the door a few months later.

    Sometimes it takes a catastrophe to wake a person up, on both sides of the doing. In the case of the USA and the average person and their debt, that catastrophe is happening right now, and a good wake up call it is, and about time…. we have been a generation of too many ME’s and I WANT’s and not enough waiting to save for that desired item.

  4. sneese says:

    Too funny Jeff! Hope to see you on House Hunters, hunting for a home in my favorite city in the whole wide world-Charleston. What an asset you will be to SC.

    As far as the blame game on HGTV?? The media has become such a joke that I hesitate to believe ANYTHING I read or see these days. Your site is growing so fast because you write exactly as we all feel.

  5. Nancy says:

    Jeff, Jeff, Jeff,
    Lord knows if HGTV contributes or not, but I DO know this (courtesy of my nit-picking grandmother)is not correct:
    "So, in 18 months or so, when you see my wife and I visiting homes in the Charleston…"
    It's "my wife & me…"
    My kids hate me for this, but I feel as if I need to do my part in helping the grammer police. I keep telling them that they'll thank me one day….

  6. George says:

    Hi Jeff

    My wife and I watch these folks put thousands of dollars into a house in order to sell it. That’s nuts. We put a few thousand dollars into our home to enjoy it. Now it’s worht more even with the drop in the housing market. Thanks HGTV. Just don’t let those oh-so-trendy designers get their hands on your house. Yikes!

  7. Jan says:

    Well….gotta blame someone or something. In todays reality there is no such thing as responsibility and accountability. Sure, stuff on tv, or adds in magazines, etc. can all have an influence but it still comes down to individual choice. Our courts are full of insane lawsuits where you can shift all blame to someone or something else and you can get rich doing so. Why then is it any surprise to witness the end result. Sad to say, this has been in the making for far too long.

  8. Marie says:

    Oh, I LOVE this! My husband and I are building our retirement home right now. Every time I even hint about going over budget on anything he has a fit. Finally, I have that mysterious, irresistible siren call of HGTV to blame! “But honey, when they said “Design on a Dime”, I thought they meant 10 cents!!” Of course, that means I’ll actually have to start watching HGTV in order to make my cover story believable! I’m glad we are just SO over personal responsibility!!

  9. Karen says:

    Although I have satellite t.v. service (which to me means, “395 channels and still nothing to watch,”) I have to admit that I’m not familiar with HGTV and I have never seen the program “House Hunters.” However, I have to laugh that anyone could possibly blame ANY kind of television program for ANY kind of national crisis. While a couple of the comments to the blog seem to agree that television programs have indeed contributed to today’s problems, I must respectfully disagree. It is television program VIEWERS (who “buy” the nonsense being “sold”) who have contributed to the problems we face today.

    As Jeff points out in his “McDonalds” analogy, in spite of what drivel we may be enticed into believing is the latest and greatest trend, the “must have item of the century,” WE must still make the choice to go out and acquire the the stuff.

    Jeff is right. We, as individuals, are ultimately responsible of ALL of our behaviors – right, wrong, heroic, or just plain stupid.

  10. RC_Akron says:

    Jeff, your take on the whole blame issue reminded me of a real experience that I felt I should share with you and your readers.

    I agree 100% that at the end of the day, each of us is responsible for our actions.
    And same goes for the complicit nature of lenders and marketers alike.

    My story: It’s all about setting expections.

    Back in the ealy ‘90’s I’d been promoted to manage a repair facility in the Detroit area, overseeing about a dozen (or so) technicians plus a group of shipping / receiving folks as well. For the most part this was their 1st or 2nd job out of a vocational school. (18 – 25 year olds mostly)

    Besides all the usual “the new manager has to learn the hard way” lessons, I came to realize how much time I was spending on these folk’s mental break-downs and nurturing them back to a more realistic approach to their lives and their expections (and back to doing their jobs…).

    The problem?

    Each of them had set such unrealistic expections of their leaving the family nest, starting their own life, that they liturally were driving themselves nuts. As well as beginning to ruin themselves financially.

    These folks had a recurring similar upbringing:
    – Parents were all baby boomers, working for one of the Big Three (or suppliers).
    – Solid middle class, comfortable living
    – Nice homes in the suburbs
    – Usually 1-2 late model cars in the drive (easy due to special employee incentives)
    – regular vacations and plenty of “toys”

    Now you and I can look back and see that we know those parents started at the bottom (like most of us) and over a period of 20 or so years were able to ride an unprecedented and FANTASTIC wave of industialization, economic growth and wealth building.
    – but these poor kids only see the end result.

    Do their parents own some of the responsibility of spoiling their kids and not preparing them for the real world? Sure. But the kids all took basic math classes too. Simple adding and subtracting here.

    Income – Spending >= 0 (going negitive is not allowed!)

    So here they are at their entry level jobs making $8 -$10/hr (think min wage was around $4/hr then), wondering why they couldn’t maintain the lifestyle they’d grown up in at Momma‘s house. They wanted to use Daddy’s A-plan discount to by a new Mustang, had to get a cool apartment, TV, stereo, vacations, etc.
    – then reality set in (along with the creditors)

    Some learned the lesson on setting goals and expections.

    But if we now look at today’s mess, one might be able to make the argument that this demographic was preyed upon by aggressive marketing hype and lose credit availability.
    – they could finally achieve their (unrealistic) goals!

    My house continues to grow in value? Really? You’ll let me borrow 110% of today’s value of my home?
    Where do I sign! Honey, going down to the Ford dealer!

    So people are now (maybe) coming back to the notion that they don’t need to move up houses every 3-5 yrs. Maybe that car and TV should last 8 – 10 yrs. Maybe realize that if you didn’t stand in line outside of Wal-Mart all night before “Black-Friday” to get the toy of the year, that 1. Your kid might start learning a real life lesson that you don’t get everything you want and 2. He’ll stop calling you an idiot. (that might still be wishful thinking)

    Look at your grandparents. My inlaws (in the rust belt) are still living in the same story and a half bungolow they bought in the ‘50’s, they raised 6 kids in that house. With only one full bath.
    And now comfortable empty nest with no mortgage!

    They are some of the happiest people I know. They know what is REALLY important.
    They set realistic goals, short and long term.

    More people – less stuff. Stuff you do get – get the real quality stuff. And it’s ok to wait for the hype and prices come down, by then the bugs are worked out.

    Time to get a reality check everyone.

    Jeff, keep up the good work.

    RC, Akron, OH

  11. PattyW says:

    I guess the guy who wrote that piece didn’t realize that not everyone watches HGTV. I would guess their ratings don’t surpass SpongeBob or ESPN! And besides, who hid the remote? There is an OFF button, you know!

  12. gailbullock says:

    Unbelievable! — Jeff, this is more than HGTV. Claudia has identified the problem. Think about it: Back when I was coming up, my mother had to purchase something on time, just to establish credit so that they could get the loan to build their home. My father objected mightily until Mama explained it to him (several times). They never had a car payment, nothing. Everything was paid for in cash up front.

    I was told that, if I wanted a car, I’d better start saving my money. They didn’t buy a car for my brother, either.

    Today, with all the advertising, new-fangled stuff, and doting parents who do not know how to tell a child “No,” it’s no wonder that we have “credited” ourselves into oblivion!

    It boggles my mind, the way the government is spending money. It’s like a kid gone wild in a candy store with someone else’s money, except that the government seems to want to buy the manufacturers. The D.C. spenders have just gone nuts. The sad thing is, it doesn’t seem to be just the government who is greedy.

    Follow the money and you’ll find the truth!

    (Nancy, click the button to email Jeff for grammatical corrections. He doesn’t mind at all.)

  13. Old Codger says:

    Well, you know folks, I’ve been mulling this over for a while and I have a little problem.

    Most of us were quick to heap it onto the media for their adoration of The One. Many of us felt that the election might have been swayed because of this adoration and the failure of the media to play fair with the candidates.

    People were caught up in the media hype. They weren’t aware of the downside — they were just in love with the product.

    Conversely, we were frustrated and even angry that the media wouldn’t cover any of the lawsuits against The One. A lot of us felt that honest and correct coverage of those issues could make a difference in how people voted.

    So I’m thinking we really can’t have it both ways. Either the media has an influence over attitudes — and ultimately over actions — or it doesn’t.

    Of course we’re all still responsible for our actions. But there’s no denying that the media does shape attitudes and, ultimately, actions.

  14. CortneyO says:

    This is so true- Well, I don’t know if HGTV should accept all the blame for this economic crisis, but HGTV does make a person feel their house is inadaquate. What’s their motto?- “Making every home better, one home at a time?” Something like that.
    We just remodeled and, yes, I used a lot of knowledge I learned from HGTV, but I’ve found I can’t hardly watch it anymore because I get to feeling like I should’ve done this or that… I loved the WSJ article- I really needed to read it- thanks Jeff. CortneyO

  15. Laurie says:

    Jeff,

    As ususal an outstanding summary. I must confess that I love HGTV and watch it regularly. I have gotten some good ideas (i.e. paint colors, removing clutter to make a room look bigger)but I do admit the program House Hunters has brought a laugh or two. The one that is the most ridiculous I think is “My House Is Worth What?” I wonder if these folks really believe that because their house is worth more than what they themselves think means they should move into something they feel is more grandious. Idiots!!

    Well, I wish you much success in your move to Charleston. It is beautiful. I live in NC and make visits there regularly just to take in the charm. As SNEESE said you will be a true asset to SC and I do believe you will like the weather much better than PA (I moved here from NJ) and the people are wonderful!!

  16. Anonymous says:

    It seems like the comment thread is agreeing with the article. I tend to agree that it isnt HGTV per se, however, the mindset of “I am entitled to everything on TV”. Obviously there were many factors that led to the housing crash, however, this tongue and check article has some merit.
    If you seen how overpriced homes are in Southren California then you would understand why this bubble would eventually pop. In fact I saw it on a billboard this week, “No money down homes, all time low interest rates.” The mindset has not gone away, just in hibernation.
    The problem is our country has capitalistic dreams and socialistic mindset. If you want something it takes hard work and patience. Nowdays, its gimmie, gimmie, gimmie until I get a bailout and make the responsible guy pay.
    All the way from the welfare single mother to the Billion banker boys, the mindset is the same. No personal responsibility.
    HGTV is the drug, homeowners were addicted to. Not so much HGTV, however the prevailing mindset that “I am entitled to everything everyone else has and fake it til you make it.”
    We might need a prolonged depression that will ultimately be good for our society to survive and be stronger.

  17. Ladalang says:

    I think it will be scarier when the stupid masses actually believe this article. Blame everyone except the guilty party.

    Entertainment doesn’t cause financial crisis or housing bubbles. Fiat money, out of control inflation, bad investments, high risk loans, Socialism with artificial constraints, and unethical lenders caused the crisis. A commodity backed currency and Constitutional money would never have this happen. We need to go back to Capitalism and a free market. This Socialism is killing us and blaming it on Capitalism, we haven’t had capitalism for over 75 years. We need to end the Fed and get them out of our monetary system.

    But I do have to admit the food network is responsible for my weight gain. Just Kidding!

  18. Carlyle says:

    Jeff -

    I sent you an email. It’s too big for a comment, but if you think some of your readers would find it beneficial, maybe you could run it as an article?

  19. I Beam says:

    Buy the first floor, get the top two free.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Heaven forbid we accept the concept of personal responsibility! We blame the tv for everything else, why not the housing crisis? I place more blame on our ever increasing entitlement culture. I grew up poor and was taught the way to change that was through education and hard work. These days people seem to think they are all entitled to 4,000 square foot homes even through they dropped out of high school and sit around all day watching Oprah and the rest of the daytime tv lineup. That my taxes support them makes me sick. I work hard to get what I have and don’t spend money I don’t have. I don’t think it is asking too much for everyone else who is able-bodied to do the same.

  21. Bodenzee says:

    As distasteful as Sollisch’s piece in the WSJ is I find it scary that he is on the board of trustees of a school. For him to, in any manner influence the minds of the future petrifies me.

    http://www.reachingheights.org/about/board/

  22. Jeff Schreiber says:

    Great to know on the grammar. I shudder to think of haw many times it appeared wrongly on these pages, and how many times I corrected folks over the years!!

    Yikes.

  23. Anonymous says:

    It’s “me and my wife…” Me, comes first when paired with another subject. I, comes after another subject when it’s use is appropriate.

  24. Koyaan says:

    I think a little Don Henley is in order here.

    I turn on the tube and what do I see?
    A whole lotta people cryin’ don’t blame me.
    They point their crooked little fingers at everybody else.
    Spend all their time feelin’ sorry for themselves.
    Your momma’s too thin, and your daddy’s too fat.

    Get over it.
    Get over it.
    All this whinin’ and cryin’ and pitchin’ a fit.
    Get over it, get over it.

    You say you haven’t been the same since you had your little crash.
    But you might feel better if I gave you some cash.
    The more I think about it, ol’ Billy was right.
    Let’s kill all the lawyers, kill ‘em tonight.
    You don’t want to work, you want to live like a king.
    But the big bad world doesn’t owe you a thing.

    Get over it.
    Get over it.
    If you don’t want to play, then you might as well split.
    Get over it, get over it.

    It’s like going to confession ever time I hear you speak.
    You’re making the most of your losin’ streak.
    Some call it sick, but I call it weal.

    You drag it around like a ball and chain.
    You wallow in the guilt, you wallow in the pain.
    You wear it like a flag, you wear it like a crown.
    Got your mind in the gutter bringin’ everybody down.
    Complain about the present and blame it on the past.
    I’d like to find your inner child and kick it’s little ass.

    Get over it.
    Get over it.
    All this bitchin’ and moanin’ and pitchin’ a fit.
    Get over it, get over it.

    Get over it.
    Get over it.
    It’s gotta stop sometime, so why don’t you quit?
    Get over it, get over it.

    se

  25. PattyW says:

    I know first hand that the media has A LOT of influence over our consumer habits. If it didn’t, companies would not spent their millions on 30 seconds worth of air time and pay kids, like my niece, outrageous salaries, right out of college, to do their marketing.
    I had to read a book waaay back in high school, ( when they still made you read in school! -that’s another story ) called “The Hidden Persuaders”. It may be dated, but it is worth a look.

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