Periodically, I read The Press Democrat to catch up on Northern California news. (I’m still boycotting The San Francisco Chronicle both because it sucks, and because of the idiotic site redesign they rolled out a few years ago. Yes, I am that vindictive and yes, my memory is that long.) Anyway, I’ve been sort of loosely following the HGTV Dream Home saga as it unfolds in the pages of the paper.
The HGTV Dream Home is an annual raffle in which HGTV builds and decorates a superswank (usually well over one million dollars in value) home. This year, the Dream Home was in Northern California, so of course the Democrat felt obliged to report on the construction, the raffle, and the eventual selection of a winner. Last week, the paper included a brief mention that the winners of the raffle were taking the cash prize instead of the house, and it noted that all of the past winners had either opted for cash, or ended up selling their dream homes.
I find this totally fascinating. Reading between the lines, the realization of the American dream is owning a home which you cannot afford; at least one pair of contest winners ended up auctioning off their home because they couldn’t pay the property taxes. I think that speaks to something really interesting in American society.
Home ownership has been a prized American value since the wake of the Second World War, when it was heavily promoted as an ideal. Most Americans aspire to the ownership of a home and a car, and to do otherwise is a bit questionable or subversive. (Except in rare pockets of America, like New York City, where not having a driver’s license is more like a badge of honor.) Yet, we don’t necessarily strive to achieve modest goals which are within our means. We feel entitled to a “dream home,” even if such a property is totally out of reach given our socioeconomic status.
I want to say that this is part of the pulling yourself up by your bootstraps mentality, and the false belief that America is a classless society, so therefore anyone can attain anything. But I think it’s actually just the opposite: it’s an example of social striving and climbing, and the desire to not only keep up with the Jonses, but to better them.
It’s also an illustration of how short sighted we are. We buy raffle tickets for multimillion dollar homes knowing that we could never afford the property taxes, and that the home would become a huge financial burden in addition to generating a lot of work. It’s as though we willfully ignore the reality, assuming that the situation is going to be magically fixed before it becomes a problem. Our profound lack of personal responsibility makes events like the Dream Home raffle and the Lottery fundamentally flawed and kind of tragic, as the “winners” inevitably learn about the burdens which come with money, and often end up regretting their participation in the opiate of the masses that is giveaways of high cost items.
I guess it wouldn’t be as exciting or alluring if HGTV raffled off a modest home which would be manageable on a middle class income, instead of an example of class excess only affordable by the top one percent of the American population. Somehow, I suspect that the likes of my dream home is never going to show up in an HGTV raffle.