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02.18.09

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(Hello Instapundit readers - thanks for following Glenn's link here. Please check back regularly, and I promise to get an RSS feed going on this thing soon.)

THERE ARE MORE INDIGNITIES on their way as I get deeper into the world of unemployment - I haven't dealt with the unemployment insurance bureaucracy yet, and there's still my appointment with the "employment counsellor" the paper paid for in the future - but I was left smarting after reading the notice of my departure on cision.com, a publishing industry newsletter.

According to the item on their Navigator page, obviously taken from a statement provided by the company, "Rick McGinnis has left his position as movies and television critic...," which would have been accurate if I'd actually managed to find a job and give my notice. Unfortunately I didn't jump, I was pushed, and I don't know whether to blame the paper for the cravenly inaccurate language, or cision.com for defaulting to a less downbeat verb than "laid-off" or "shitcanned" in the interest of making a page of news about the publishing industry these days less depressing.

It's a small thing, perhaps, but I'd always assumed that accurate language was an obligation in the business of journalism. I have also, much to my dismay over the years, been given to eruptions of idealism that inevitably end in disappointment. Well, enough of that - so ends our grievance of the day, and my return to a subject I've spent too much time thinking about over the last four years, as well as one I've only begun to obsess on.

HOME INVASION: New York magazine took an interesting tack on the economic crisis in U.S. banking earlier this month with an item on their Daily Intel blog, inspired apparently by recent New York Times stories on the newfound status bankers and financial types have found themselves enduring as social pariahs.

The Times, as far as New York can tell, took the side of the bankers against, well, everyone else, complaining that "Americans undersaved and overspent for decades, relying on rising property values to bankroll their lifestyles." Wall Street, said the Times, didn't make them buy houses they couldn't afford, or use their home equity to finance lifestyles beyond their means.

No, writes Jessica Pressler of New York, "Wall Street didn't force Americans to take out loans on houses they couldn't afford. They merely encouraged them by extending credit to people that couldn't pay it back, which they would have known if they hadn't been so busy buying and selling the complex securities that they, in fact, barely understood themselves."

As any diplomat will volunteer with scarcely a moment's thought, both sides are right, to be sure. There's plenty of blame to go around in the current economic crisis - and plenty of people who are going to suffer without having done anything wrong - but the overwhelming truth is that a whole bunch of people on both sides of the desk in the bank's loan office thought they were going to get something for nothing, and nature has returned to call for a remorseless summing up, as it always does.

But the real villains in all of this, insists Pressler - her tongue at least partly in cheek, which suggests a rather unfortunate facial expression, if nothing else - are the producers and hosts of the legion of real estate and home makeover shows, and the people behind every lifestyle magazine that encouraged people to paint over the brown stains on their wall and get rid of the hula girl lamp and the collector spoon rack they took from their Granny's house before the old lady went into the home.

"The real villains here, the truly bad seeds at the heart of this crisis, have gone unpunished thus far and are still in operation," writes Pressler. "They are Jeff Lewis and Ryan Brown of Bravo's Flipping Out, Armando and Veronica Montelongo of TLC's Flip This House, Kristen Kemp of TLC's The Property Ladder, Kendra Todd of HGTV's My House Is Worth WHAT?, and the TLC, Bravo, HGTV, and Fine Living networks in general. All of them encouraged people to take out massive loans in order to buy and renovate homes and sell them at a profit when, really, most people have terrible taste, and furthermore, are bad at laying tile. These shows are still on! WHY?"

I'm actually pretty sure Pressler must be joking when she ends her post with a confident assertion that "(w)e trust Barney Frank will bring them to justice!" Because Barney Frank is totally committed to getting to the root causes of the financial crisis, right? Right? Yeah, I was totally laughing, too.

I'm one of those people who watches real estate shows on TV - quite a few of them, though not the titles Pressler mentions in her piece. Our taste runs to the programming that gets featured on Canada's HGTV network - some homegrown shows like Property Virgins, the odd American show like Million Dollar Listing (a bit of a freakshow, set in Los Angeles) or House Hunters (a detached Craftsman bungalow in Houston costs how much?), and British real estate titles like Location, Location, Location. HGTV has been overrun by these shows, but I'm not complaining - they're a lot better than Wife Swap or Let's Make Fatty Lose Weight, That Oughta Be Good For A Laugh.

I don't know if it makes me unique that I watch them as a lifelong renter - I've never owned a home and, until recently, didn't think it that likely that I would, so the appeal is almost completely vicarious, since I've never been moved to put in an en suite master bathroom, landscape my backyard around an outdoor living room, or put in a wine cellar - all home reno and resale tips that pop up on real estate shows all the time.

Pressler also throws in MTV Cribs among the culprits encouraging gullible homeowners to remake and remodel their domiciles, which seems gratuitous and unlikely, since I can't see how a shark tank in the garage, a revolving bed in the shape of a Lambourghini, a wall of fake moss or an abundance of horror movie props in display cases has ever seriously enhanced the value of a three-up/three-down semidetached home with parking pad, new roof and furnace and rear deck.

In what's one of the richest ironies of my life, I'm in a better position to be a homeowner now, after being laid off from a job I had for 7 years, than I ever was before. We applied for a pre-approved mortgage a few weeks previous to me getting canned, and found out that we'd got it the day it happened. My wife told the nice lady from the bank the truth, and she said it was no problem, but that the amount would be adjusted down a bit to reflect my (un)employment status.

And so we're in the market for a house, a task that's taken on a measure of urgency since we've just found out that Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis have been spotted hanging out in the coffee shop downstairs. We figure if we can find a neighbourhood where fair trade coffee is harder to find, we can keep them at bay for at least a few more years.

With this task in front of us, we've been watching real estate shows more attentively lately, looking for tips (always get a home inspection) and marveling at how much people will inevitably decide not to go for a place because of the colour of the walls. (The operation of a paint roller is obviously as daunting to some folks as a nail gun, or a welding torch.) One thing I've noticed is that the British shows making their way here are already featuring realtors wringing their hands about falling prices in a country where the asking price for homes, converted from pounds, literally made us feel queasy and lightheaded.

While Pressler seems to think that baroque home reno, makeover flipping and other real estate shows are somehow inappropriate, even obscene, in the light of mass foreclosures, I'm hoping that the shows start reflecting what's mordantly called "the new reality." I'd like to see shows about people doing economical renos that will enhance the value of their home in the long run, not in anticipation of a quick flip, or trying to rehab places that were given glitzy but cosmetic makeovers at the height of the bubble.

How about a show about speculators snapping up foreclosed properties as investments for when the market recovers - morally dubious stuff, no doubt, but admit it, you'd watch it - or stories about people who lost their expensive monster homes and have to adjust to living in just a thousand or so square feet again? Schadenfreude TV, to be sure, but no more gruesome than Tila Tequila, The Swan or The Real Housewives Of Orange County.

I've had a reality show idea for years now, but I think the market is finally ready for it, between our lingering obsession with real estate and the hopey, changey social climate unleashed by the Obama presidency. There are whole tracts of downtown Detroit that have been decimated by the "white flight" of the '60s and '70s, and which have become the subject of countless photo essays and cautionary tracts on urban decay, as well as a very good website. Many of these homes can be had for a bargain, and have been sold for as little as a dollar.

Take a pitchman like Donald Trump and make him the compere of a reality competition that invites real estate agents, speculators and renovation specialists from all over the country to form teams and buy up whole streets, even blocks, and return them to liveable condition, contending with collapsed structure, animal infestation, disconnected city services and the criminal element on their way to reviving a neighbourhood.

With a big enough budget, you could make it an all-star real estate reality show, featuring stars of the genre like Mike Holmes, Page Davis, Kendra Todd, Jeff Lewis, Ryan Brown Justin and Colin and the Montelongos. It would attract audiences across the whole of the home makeover and real estate genre, and have the added lustre of real philanthropy, a sort of Extreme Makeover Detroit, the express purpose of which is the rejuvenation of the city.

If it managed to last beyond one season, there are countless acres of devastated real estate in the city, and more to be had in other locales like post-Katrina New Orleans and Florida, a state that's been the home game locale for real estate busts for the better part of a century. I'm not offering this little brainstorm gratis - my e-mail's up at the top, and if anyone has it in their head to rip me off, remember that you're taking money out of the pocket of a jobless man, and food out of his childrens' mouths. But if you're a network executive or a TV producer, I somehow doubt that's going to give you any sleepless nights.


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© 2009 rick mcginnis all rights reserved
WHO

i'm a dad in my forties with two daughters. i've worked as a photographer, journalist and, recently, tv columnist. currently a member of the growing workforce awaiting new employment opportunities. church-going catholic.

punk rock was my crucible, lodestone and avalon.

i look nothing like william powell.

e-mail:
rick -at- rickmcginnis.com

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