Property Porn

The Housing and Planning Bill raises issues that go beyond even its sprawling neoliberal ambitions. One hundred pages of legislation that seek to redefine the UK’s housing landscape are not enough to contain the deeper layers of ideological obsession that underpin the Tory assault on all forms of profit-free housing. Fetishisation of private property is a cornerstone of conservative philosophy upon which rest a host of social controls. But the Housing and Planning Bill, as well as being a fundamental attack on working class people and communities, represents the ultimate wish-fulfilment of those who fantacise over property porn.

The property porn industry has grown exponentially in proportion with the increasing reliance of the UK economy on the property market. Its most banal form comes in the shape of television programmes and advertising (two categories which it’s increasingly hard to distinguish). Today, for example, on ‘terrestrial’ TV I’ve counted ten different programmes dedicated to some aspect of the housing market. I’ve excluded ‘Jaywick: Benefits by the Sea’, but this and others like it are clearly part of the narrative of identity and self-justification that drive both government policy and property porn.

Last week I randomly picked up a copy of ‘Metro’, a free newspaper that would probably go out of business without property porn. Inside I found its 30-page ‘Property’ section. Alongside stories of make overs, the booming buy-to-let market and the next undiscovered hot spot (Shadwell) are adverts from property companies that almost literally use sex to sell homes. Images of attractive couples (most of them white) are juxtaposed by seductive photos of candle-lit beds. But people are only adornments to the main objects of desire: buildings and things to go in them. As though these messages weren’t loud enough, the Metro dwells over the ultimate symbol of phallic property porn, the high-rise, high-cost residential blocks that are increasingly dominating our cities. Finally, just to complete the metaphor, there’s a feature entitled ‘Kitchen Catwalk’.

The ideological construct that underpins property porn promotes housing as the embodiment of personal achievement, social respectability and status linked to a commercialized lifestyle aesthetic. The following homily comes from a multi-million pound marketing campaign for a property company website. Alongside scenes of idealized domesticity (dogs, gleaming kitchens, log fires) a lilting commentary intones:

‘Your dream home paid for with graft, sweat and sacrifice. This is your prize  for building up a business one customer at a time. This is your trophy for juggling conference calls while toddlers shriek and teenagers strop…This is your temple of tranquillity…this is your reward – and deservedly so.’  

Having worked in and around the development industry, I can attest to the fact that these associations are not purely superficial. It’s a male-dominated, testosterone (and sometimes other chemicals) fuelled world in which misogyny is never far away. These things, alongside institutional cynicism and dishonestly, help account for the industry’s dysfunctional character. All reasons why allowing property developers to dominate and control housing policy is a road to ruin. But the Housing and Planning Bill will strengthen their grip, allowing even more profit through ‘Starter Homes’, advancing the commercialisation of housing associations and creating a wrecking ball charter by redefining council estates as ‘brownfield sites’.

The ultimate triumph of the property porn pimp is being played out in the US. Donald Trump, who repeatedly alludes to his own sexual prowess while denigrating women, has been responsible for smashing working class communities in New York, buying and selling homes like second-hand cars while building gaudy Ozymandian monuments to his own ego.

Just as the commodification of sex debases its true meaning, so with property porn. But the ideological tide is turning. As opposition to the Housing and Planning Bill intensifies, people are increasingly questioning the entire rationale for the political deification of the mortgage and re-connecting with the idea of housing as a social asset, not a private product.

Kill the Housing Bill – Secure Homes for All

Homes for communities not greed

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2 Responses to Property Porn

  1. Excellent piece, really explains the Tory property insanity.

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