Argument: use of the term McMansion in Australia usually about snobbery

An Australian commentator argues the use of the term McMansion in his country is generally out of snobbery:

IS THERE any more snobbish word in the Australian vocabulary than ”McMansion”? This nasty term describes the big, new houses out in suburbs with names like Caroline Springs and Kellyville. McMansions, their nickname suggests, are the McDonald’s of housing – they’re super-sized, American and mass produced.

Australians build the largest new houses in the world. The average size of a new freestanding home is 243 square metres. That’s 10 per cent larger than the average new American home. Naturally our big houses have critics. Sustainability advocates say McMansions are bad for the environment. Yet there’s more going on here. Because even the most high-brow academic critiques of McMansions seem to focus less on the houses and more on the people who live in them…

That sort of sneering contempt is not uncommon. The word ”McMansion” is usually deployed not to appraise a type of house, but an entire way of life. It is all about culture – the inner city world trying to understand their strange, alien suburban cousins…

Even if you don’t put much stock in income statistics, the size of our houses is – by itself – evidence that Australia is well off. Prosperity is about more than GDP data. Money isn’t everything. Anybody who has lived crammed into too few rooms knows living standards and adequate space are closely related. In rich Australia it’s understandable that many people desire extra living and storage space.

This seems to bleed through in some of the American use of the term as well.

However, I’m not sure we should go the route this commentator suggests and welcome McMansions because they are a sign of our wealth and some individuals want to purchase them. While some do look at McMansions and McMansion dwellers with disdain, McMansions are also not inherently good. They are somewhat indicative of our the resources available in the United States and Australia (though wealthy societies could choose to spend this wealth in other ways) but there are certainly trade-offs in building McMansions, just as there are in building other kinds of structures. McMansions reflect our cultural values: we emphasize private space (even as family size is shrinking), the need for homes that are more than just dwellings (whether they are meant to impress or are to fit out psychological needs), and a suburban lifestyle which is an adaptation between city and country, is based around driving, gives homeowners a little bit of land and space, and is linked to ideas about the American (or Australian?) Dream and “making it” in life. We can discuss whether policies should limit McMansions but it seems that both the United States and Australia have made the choice to allow builders and homeowners to pursue larger homes.

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