Why Chip And Joanna Gaines’s Ubiquity Holds Perils And Promise
I can’t escape Chip and Joanna Gaines, just named two of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people. Everywhere, including every grocery store checkout counter, I’m greeted by the smiling faces of the co-founders of the popular HGTV program “Fixer Upper.”
When I recently visited my aunt in southern Virginia, she had a copy of Joanna’s magazine, The Magnolia Journal, full of recipe and home decor recommendations. On a recent drive to visit my in-laws, Joanna’s visage was on billboards all down Interstate 85, advertising her products at a regional furniture chain.
In Atlanta I discovered her 2018 bestselling book, “Magnolia Table: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering,” on my mother-in-law’s coffee table. During our stay, my television-starved wife (we don’t have cable) kept tuning in to the “Fixer Upper” marathon. Although the pervasiveness of the couple’s influence can seem a bit overwhelming, there’s good reason we should hope and pray that the Gaines craze stands the test of time.
A Family Standing for Good in the Public Square
The Gaines are most famous for their five-season HGTV hit show “Fixer Upper,” in which Chip, the construction expert, and Joanna, the home designer, work with clients to buy and remodel homes in the area around Waco, Texas. The last episode aired in spring 2018.
This is only one of many of their entrepreneurial enterprises. Chip apparently has business deep in the blood: he’s bought a neighborhood laundromat and talked a bank into a loan for equipment to start a lawn-mowing service. The couple opened the first “Magnolia Market” in 2003, where Joanna developed her design style and skills. After a couple of kids, they closed their shop and focused on Magnolia Homes, their construction business.
They reopened Magnolia Market, which they soon outgrew, replacing it with Magnolia Silos in downtown Waco. They also now have multiple books and a magazine, and are planning to develop their own television channel.
Although it is never explicitly communicated in their many business ventures, a deep conservative vein runs through everything they do. “Fixer Upper,” for example, was premised on the concept of taking some of the ugliest lots in Waco and turning them into something beautiful. Yet Joanna always sought to preserve whatever artifacts and parts of the buildings could be reused, including one of their favorites, shiplap.
Joanna also routinely relied on local antique stores to provide home decor, as well as local businessmen to build custom features. As they explain, “We loved the idea that we were ‘making Waco beautiful one home at a time.’”
They succeeded in spades, and have, quite amazingly, made the local community life of Waco something attractive for viewers watching from coast to coast. Did I ever think I would turn to my wife and utter the words “Maybe we could live in Waco”? More fundamentally, they’ve created a template for how Americans can foster and renew pride in their local communities.
The Gaines model conservative values in other respects. They now have five children, after Joanna gave birth to their latest in 2018 — something for which they’ve taken heat from the liberal side of their fanbase. This is at a time when the United States’ birth rate continues to decline, now at 1.8 children per woman, well below replacement level.
Data shows that the people more like to have more children are more likely to be religious and live in red states (and be politically conservative). The Gaines are also practicing Christians, attending Antioch Community Church in the Waco area. In another sign of their religious convictions, Chip took several of their children to an evangelical ministry in Uganda in 2018.
The Danger of Selling Your Life
The Gaines have shared much of their lives with their fans and customers — their stories, their personalities, their family, their passions, even some of their character flaws. This is a dangerous business, fraught with threats. Selling one’s life, as the Gaines effectively have done, risks a backlash against any perceived flaw or failure.
Indeed, many fans criticized the couple for attending a church that teaches homosexual behavior is sinful, and whose pastor has been outspoken in opposing same-sex marriage. For those in the entertainment industry, associating with such an organization can spell doom and destruction. Other websites have catalogued every little controversy that has ever haunted the couple. Chip has acknowledged that at times he felt “trapped” in the grind of their popular television show.
The Gaineses, in many respects, have placed themselves in a tenuous position by offering their lives and persons for public consumption and scrutiny. It would not take much to wreck all that they have worked to accomplish.
Not long ago, my wife saw the Gaineses featured on the front cover of the tabloid In Touch Weekly. I’d wager money that any future controversy will result in a front-page story. One can imagine many scenarios that could cause the sinking of the Gaines image and industry. God knows we’ve seen plenty of examples of popular conservative-leaning celebrities who have suffered an unceremonious dethroning from their seat atop pop culture.
Why Supporting the Gaineses Matters
What the Gaines family has offered America over the last several years is singularly unique. They’ve presented the country with a creative, fun-loving, hard-working, religiously devout family at the top of their game. In the process, they’ve made a lot of money, and earned incredible respect and devotion from an ever-widening fan base.
Americans — and humans, for that matter — love people to celebrate and cheer for. Unfortunately, as we so often witness, Americans love a good controversy, and have demonstrated a deep, ever-capable willingness to kick their heroes to the curb if they violate certain social standards or mores. Often such topplings are justified, but they can just as easily be cruel and unfair.
This is why we should offer our moral support and prayers to the Gaines family. Saturation must feel great for a brand, but it also poses dangers, such as becoming a fad, or making a bigger target for opponents. But what they stand for is an amalgamation of much of what is good about America: entrepreneurial tenacity, strong moral character, a devotion to one’s family and home community, and an abiding faith in God.
I wish them my deepest regards for their success. For as long as they stay in our country’s limelight, it means there’s still a chance for the conservative way of life to be considered a legitimate source for good in our nation’s public square.
Casey Chalk is a graduate student at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Theology at Christendom College.