McMansions pass away quickly like reality stars, unlike stone buildings

McMansions are often assumed to a passing phenomenon. See this quote from the TV show House of Cards:

“Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that starts fallin’ apart after 10 years,” Spacey’s character, Rep. Francis “Frank” Underwood (D-Antebellumville), tells us in an on-again off-again honeysuckle accent. “Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries.”

Or this description of a common path of reality stars: becoming famous and buying a McMansion.

Anyone remember what happened when that other TLC reality show about a big family got really, really popular? Jon and Kate Plus Eight quickly evolved: In later seasons, there was a new McMansion for the family, and a posh new look for Kate. By all accounts, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo could have followed the same trajectory. According to TMZ, the network has raised their salary from $5,000 and $7,000 an episode at the beginning of the series to “somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000 an episode.” But the extra cash hasn’t changed the family’s priorities.

For one thing, a bigger house was apparently in the offing, too. “We’re told TLC even offered to help the family find a somewhat larger, more secure home, but June refused,” said TMZ. “She said she wanted to stay in the house because she makes a big deal over Christmas — decorating the house for the community. June is heavily involved in her town.” Thus Season 2 takes place in and around their same little house with the beat-up furniture and the one bathroom.

Both quotes above discuss the notion that McMansions won’t last long. It pits modern spec houses against solid stone buildings. In reality, many homes in the US are not the stone variety. Plus, we don’t quite know how McMansions will stand up in the long run. Barring natural disasters, humans can be pretty resourceful with existing structures if they want to. The link to reality stars is quite clever; the implication is these are stars who will burn brightly, purchase their McMansions, and then burn out, never to be heard from again. McMansions have more staying power than these reality stars, if just by the number of such homes that have been built.

McMansions are new in the sense that the word didn’t really emerge in popular usage until the late 1990s. These houses simply haven’t been around that long so they are newer luxury items. On the other hand, McMansions seem to have become another part of the long-running battle between old and new money. McMansion can then be a derogatory term thrown at the nouveau riche who don’t have the proper social standing to compete with old money.

All together, there is a temporal dimension to the use of the term McMansion. Critics hope they are a passing fad. Others suggest they are making a comeback or larger homes are simply what Americans desire. Perhaps we need a new popular form of housing to replace the McMansion…

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