Creator's Statement

What histories are pushed out of the carefully constructed frames of lifestyle television? What are the stories behind the open concept walls of their fixed-up houses? Activists and scholars have highlighted the violence of the type of housing speculation that lifestyle television is built upon (Hay 2010; Maharawal and McElroy 2017). My videographic essay 'shiplap' exposes the bare bones of this American nightmare. 

The design term shiplap describes a type of reclaimed lumber used in interior design that was popularized over the past decade by the house-flipping team and couple Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of the hit HGTV show Fixer Upper set in Waco, Texas. Using this term as a springboard, 'shiplap' explores the representation of race, place, and memory. The video uses manipulated footage of HGTV shows (mainly Fixer Upper and House Hunters) and their related advertising materials, alongside historic images and ethnographic footage that I collected of Waco, TX as a way to examine how race haunts the narratives of seemingly race neutral or multicultural reality television lifestyle shows (Hageman 2019). The video also looks at the complicated dynamics of viewing reality television as a racialized subject (read: Black woman) using an injection collage of some clips of other television such as from the History Channel, This Old House, and Frontline.

The piece highlights how the Fixer Upper narratives of transformation, hospitality, and normative family values are used to obscure stories of displacement and marginalization in the representation of Waco. In these affective visions of Fixed Up transformations, the histories and lives of Black and Brown people in the Waco area are pushed to the margins or swept out of the frame altogether. As Baby Suggs says in Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987) 'Not a house in the country ain’t packed to its rafters with some dead Negro’s grief'. My video 'shiplap' is an exploration into what it might mean to center that grieving in the narratives of lifestyle television. 

'shiplap' traces the abstract implicit connections between this grieving and what some have called the 'Magnolia Effect' (Guthrie 2016). This term is used to refer to the impact of the Gaines’ growing real estate and media empire (which includes real estate development, merchandising deals, retail and dining destinations, and a new TV network) on the town of Waco and its broad implications for the distribution of resources there. A large tourism industry developed out of the desire of the Gaines’ fanbase to visit the homes featured on the show and perhaps catch a glimpse of the Gaines themselves. In conjunction with this influx of tourism, a vacation rental industry grew around the homes featured on the show; as a result, the estimated real estate value of the houses featured on the show became triple that of the surrounding market. The Magnolia company and its influence in the town expanded with the popularity of the show and related tourism. Waco is a town that is over 50% people of color (21% Black, 32% Latino) and a bit more than a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line (Peterson 2019). Thus the Magnolia Effect not only describes the rising property values and housing costs in Waco, but also hints at the histories 'shiplap' reveals and the communities and histories these programs try to board over.

Central to the genre of housing lifestyle shows is the act of 'house flipping'. My videographic essay attempts to offer a speculative history of the material culture of shiplap in response to this representation of economic speculation. The video grapples with what the term shiplap evokes in its imagery through what is said and unsaid. Using a combination of the soothing aesthetic pleasures of before and after transformation pictures from Fixer Upper with visual and sound injections of other television shows about racial violence (from the middle passage to lynching), 'shiplap' is part visual ethnography and part video collage. At moments 'shiplap' adopts a glib tone by showcasing cheesy visual effects and crude editing devices in order to play with the dissonant pleasures of disidentification by taking the viewer on a channel flip of explicit and implicit representations of racial violence (Muñoz 1999). Here, I hope to make a less obvious critique of taste cultures or take on reality television’s bad representations, both of which so often set up the genre as the harbinger of the end of the world. Instead, I strive to highlight what reality television reveals about the centrality of race and racialization to aesthetic entertainment. 

'shiplap' is part of my broader research on the narrative functions of race and the concept of ‘relatability’ in reality television development, especially in lifestyle programming (such as the HGTV shows House HuntersFixer Upper, and Home Town). My research conjoins a close analysis of individual programs with ethnography among reality television production professionals, and a production practice in which I made a short documentary video on reality television casting (You, As Seen On TV (2011)). In 'shiplap', I attempt to bring these approaches together using the method of videographic criticism as a way to highlight how the racialized affects of lifestyle television are at once obscene and mundane. 

Ultimately, 'shiplap' demonstrates how the use of before and after morphs, satisfying close-ups on power tools at work, as well as an array of other images and descriptive narration aestheticize certain debt and risk assessments. This idealized union of pleasure, profit, and design is manifested through the material known as shiplap in the Gaines’ franchise. My essay points to how these aesthetic choices might stand in for or mask certain histories of race, racialization, and the lived experiences of people of color. 

The material history of shiplap I explore is itself not certain; this speculative strategy explores what it feels like to watch these shows as a racialized subject with some knowledge of US history. Thus the narrative is less focused on positive or negative representations and instead seeks out the affective resonances the postracial and privatized discourse of lifestyle stimulates. Lifestyle television circulates post-race ideologies that frame race as both irrelevant and of market value. Through images of middle passage ships that carried enslaved Africans, narratives of local lynching, and my (the video maker’s) own voice, the video seeks out race where it is not purported to be. In this way I hope to show how racialization emerges through seemingly benign aesthetic design choices within the narrative pleasures of lifestyle television. 


Works cited

Gates, Racquel J.. 2018. Double negative: The black image and popular culture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Gray, Herman. 2013. 'Subject(ed) to Recognition'. American Quarterly 65.4, pp. 771-798.

Gray, Herman. 1995. Watching race: Television and the Struggle for Blackness. Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota Press, 1995.

Hageman, Eva C. 2019. '11 Debt by Design: Race and Home Valorization on Reality TV'. Racism Postrace, eds Roopali Mukherjee, Sarah Banet-Weiser and Herman Gray, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, pp. 221-244.

Hay, James. 2010. 'Too good to fail: Managing financial crisis through the moral economy of reality TV'. Journal of Communication Inquiry 34.4, pp. 382-402.

Maharawal, Manissa M., and Erin McElroy. 2017. 'In the time of trump: Housing, whiteness, and abolition'. Contested Property Claims. New York, NY: Routledge, pp. 109-125.

Guthrey, Molly. 2016. 'Daily Juggle: The Magnolia Effect (how Chip and Joanna Gaines are influencing us)'. Pioneer Press, November 3,

Morrison, Toni. 1988. Beloved. New York: Plume, p. 252.

Muñoz, José Esteban. 1999. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Peterson, Anne Helen. 2019. '"Fixer Upper” Is Over, But Waco’s Transformation Is Just Beginning'. BuzzFeedNews, April 20,



Eva Hageman is Assistant Professor in the Department of American Studies and the Harriet Tubman Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her research and teaching interests are in race, gender, and media industries and production. Her book manuscript, '"Relatable Meets Remarkable": Crafting Race in the Reality Television Industry', examines reality television and the central role it plays in shaping articulations of race in the 21st century. Her video essay 'shiplap' screened at the Black Film Center Archive at Indiana University. Her writing appears on In Media Res and in the edited collection Racism Postrace (Duke 2019). She has directed two documentaries, Legendary (2010) and You, As Seen On TV (2011).

In 'shiplap', Eva Hageman flips the rhetoric of lifestyle television around promoting shiplap. Where the term shiplap is shouted with glee and many exclamation points in the TV show Fixer Upper, Hageman’s repetition of the term rather makes it a portal of analysis in her video. She takes us underneath the drywall and beyond the conventional celebration of shiplap as 'find'.

In 'shiplap', Hageman examines, honors, and makes known the African American grief of Waco, Texas, that is yet hidden in the construction of its official documents, its homes, and its neighborhoods. 

Slowly and subtly Hageman takes us behind superficial TV rhetoric. One of her most effective techniques is the contrast she creates between the smooth, bright, and upbeat soundscape of optimistic homemaking TV-style and the silence of her text on screen. That sharp contrast is smart and poetic in that it draws our attention to the text as though we are listening to a message perhaps written on the shiplap itself. It further gives the viewers the sense that we have gone beyond the surface rhetoric of the TV show. This formal device, Hageman’s use of text, adds double meaning to the phrase 'something people once thought should be hidden'. The work of Hageman’s video is to reveal the deeper meanings hidden by the fictions of Fixer Upper, for even when they strip away drywall, the misreading of what lies beneath the shiplap obscures the histories it contains once again.

Around the 1:48 mark we switch to considering actual ships and listen to the history of shipbuilding in order to examine the material and historical origins of this commodity. Here we move from commercialization to historical documentation – from TV where the shiplap appears out of nowhere as a surprise gift while having been there all along as a hidden artifact. 'shiplap' offers a subtle, speculative association of shiplap with maritime history and the black Atlantic slave trade as historical echoes of Waco’s grief. 

Hageman’s decision to render the technical information about the origins of the term shiplap in a whisper adds drama and ironically draws attention to the information while suggesting broader implications. The range of voices from reportage to TV host to documentary narrator to ghost is impressive, evocative, and engaging.

Use of text in 'shiplap' is informative while presenting a counternarrative to the TV show. This is especially poignant where Hageman states the name Jesse Washington in her text. His name is not mentioned in the official 'condemnation of the lynching', but Hageman speaks his name in the video through stark white text on a black background. 

In the next section the video redeploys the TV show soundtrack to accompany demographic information about Waco. Here we move from idealizing this location to mooring it in specific details about who lives there. 

The strongest and most enigmatic aspect for me was the section after the demographics where Hageman interrogates the idea of the 'fixer upper' or turning a nightmare into a dream. The penultimate icon of the ship floating over a white post and rail fence at sunset alerts us to what lies beneath the surface of the very specific dream of transforming an old worthless house into a gold mine and an ideal place to live. Hageman’s piece reminds us that houses have histories and neighborhoods too have histories and, though hidden, the grief will eventually be heard. 

Eva Hageman’s 'shiplap' is a thought-provoking rumination on the specter of racial violence that can haunt our mass media, and, in particular, television. The focus of 'shiplap' is the reality show Fixer Upper (HGTV, 2013-2018), which stars Chip and Joanna Gaines as a married couple who renovate houses in Waco, Texas. The piece begins with TV static followed by footage from the program that showcases a piece of shiplap. According to Joanna, it is 'wood paneling that’s really common in old Texas homes'. She passionately explains its texture and that potential homebuyers would even save money if they retained its appearance instead of covering over it with drywall. In her short video, Hageman effectively chips away at such a surface in order to reveal the fraught history of the trendy interior decorating material. 

By mobilizing televisual logics of segmentation and flow, 'shiplap' speculatively connects the origins of the ubiquitous wood used on Fixer Upper to the transatlantic slave trade and its afterlives. The viewer is first inundated with clips from the popular reality program – shots of houses, streets, rivers, birds, and trees – that are edited together to emphasize the bucolic space and place of the series. 

However, there is a more extensive story in the town of Waco that exists just outside of the frame. The speech in a voiceover slows down eerily: 'When looking for a home, you never know what’s behind the door'. At its heart, 'shiplap' wants viewers to bear witness to the horrors of racial capitalism built into renovation television. In the case of Fixer Upper, such horrors are inextricably intertwined with the city’s geography and the local community’s legacy of anti-black violence.

Hageman’s piece is a fascinating audiovisual experience that utilizes image and text to narrate Waco’s fraught history. She revels in jarring juxtapositions so that the viewer must crudely confront the contradiction between the pleasure of watching these TV programs and the pain of learning about the past. Indeed, the creator whispers that types of the titular shiplap may have been the foundation for vessels that carried slaves.     

There are more layers to be uncovered. The piece recounts the lynching of black teenager Jesse Washington on May 15, 1916 in Waco and the city’s meager attempt at redress ninety years later. Here, 'shiplap' ventures away from conventional reality TV aesthetics to a more serious ethnographic form of documentation and then strikingly melds the two together in a terrifying conclusion that disturbs the senses and turns the idea of a dream home into a nightmare.      

Commenting on issues of race, class, and the politics of taste, Hageman asserts that these slabs of wood used for Waco houses are not just decorative. Ultimately, 'shiplap' powerfully details the structural racism hidden underneath home design programs that necessitates exposure.