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Packing Up Hoarders

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Just because those who produce a television show expect the audience to accept it in a certain manner doesn't always mean that the audience will follow. You can't force the way in which a TV show (or film for that matter) is received — hence things being unintentionally funny or something being "so bad it's good." I wouldn't say that A&E's new series Hoarders – which debuted to huge numbers –  falls into the category of "so bad it's good," but I'm somewhat convinced that it's not being taken in the way it is intended… or, that the producers are faking their intention.

The show follows people who store massive – no, really, massive – quantities of junk in their house. It's not presented in a How Clean Is Your House kind of funny way, no it's presented much more in an Intervention "these people have a serious medical condition" kind of way. Hoarding is, the show tells us repeatedly, a medical condition and the show treats it quite seriously.

As a serious medical problem, Hoarders is incredibly depressing. At least in the episode that aired last night, "Tara/Betty," neither of the two women seems to really be helped all that much long-term. Certainly, one moves in the right direction, but the other seems to be in complete denial about the fact that she has a problem.

The fact that the show launched to huge numbers and – based on my completely unscientific survey – was liked, to me indicates that it isn't received in a serious fashion. Instead, it was taken in an "oh my lord, look at all the crap those people have in their house" kind of way. Rather than being taken as a medical condition, it is being taken in more of a "circus freak" kind of way.

For me, that's an issue. I've known pack rats, and these people are not just pack rats, the people on the show have a serious problem. While the show may be helping with the individuals' conditions (they do seem to offer long-term counseling to those on the program), it doesn't appear as though they way they start the entire show is really conducive to helping the folks. The participants are just sort of thrown into the mess and encouraged to toss stuff – sometimes with their family and friends pushing them and sometimes with their family and friends doing it behind their back.

It may make for some pretty good television, that is if you don't mind the incredibly depressing aspect of how these people have lived their lives and the tragedies that have befallen them because of their illness, but I need more proof that the way the show arranges everything is helpful to these people. Presenting hoarding as a medical condition (I'm not qualified to argue one way or the other on that) and treating the material seriously to me means that the producers ought to be proceeding from the very start in the way in which those with the problem will benefit the most. It didn't feel like that's what was happening.

Taken as a "circus freak" kind of thing, I understand exactly why folks would find the show enjoyable. For me though, as it is presented in a serious fashion, I took it in a serious fashion and was incredibly depressed by the end of the hour.

If you want to check it out for yourself, Hoarders airs Monday nights at 10pm.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • gudsoul

    As a professional in the mental health field I was thankful for the exposure of this very sad disorder and how these very ill people and their families have to live. I was very surprised at the producers for the manner in which these people were exposed. For anyone to believe that “cleaning the house” will help the patient, is not understanding the problem. Professional organizers and large dump trucks are brought in to the home instead of professional mental health counselors. The producers need to provide the patients and the families the help they deserve. A&E is making money from the tradegy of the patients. Use some of the money to help them with the illness!