Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hoarding VS Hoarders

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When both Mifflin police and Columbus police asked me the other day why my partner wouldn't give me my cat, I simply answered that "she is a hoarder". It has been the easiest answer to most of the difficult questions about why I had to leave my home, and why I couldn't have any help moving on that end of the move.

I didn't realize that there was a reality TV series on the topic. I was more concerned that my cat was being withheld from me and sometimes the shortest distance between two points is the truth. I hope she gets help for her compulsion. Short of jailing her and forbidding her to collect more anything, I admit I am baffled. I do believe it may have a genetic factor or component as one of her sisters suffers from the same sickness. I think when the police arrived to help her escort my cat to my truck they saw possibly what looked like a very unkempt yard, front porch, with a junk car in the back lot. No one else on the street has a place that looks at all like that. It is as obvious as the sun in the day sky and the moon in the night sky. I wonder what will have to happen in order to help these people. Will their houses have to burn to the ground in order for them to see what jeopardy they put their loved ones and loved animals through? My theory is that if my partner's house burnt down, she would claim the insurance money and start hoarding all over again. I felt buried alive and I felt alone while I lived there. She called the police on me, but I think they saw through her deception.
Here is the link to the following writing.

As soon as A&E's reality series Hoarders proved to be can't-look-away television, TLC rushed into production on a very similar series called Hoarding: Buried Alive, hoping to cash in on the public's appetite for clutter and filth. As it turns out, TLC actually beat A&E to the punch with a series of specials put out long before Hoarders existed, called Hoarders: Buried Alive. So really, both networks have a claim on starting this disturbing TV trend. That said, the average viewer probably doesn't have the stomach or the time to watch them both. Let's not even get into the often overlooked disroder that is DVR hoarding. We sat through both filth fests to determine which series is the bigger crap shoot.

The Approach:

Hoarders maximizes the drama by taking on cases that have their own built-in deadlines, like say an upcoming visit from Child Protective Services. Then it rachets it up another notch by giving the hoarders only two days with a psychiatrist, professoinal organizer and junk-collecting team to get over the mental issues that made them hoard all this stuff in the first place and ultimately get rid of the junk. It's an impossible task that is rarely, if ever, completed. In lieu of a narrator, Hoarders employs a white text on a black screen to constantly remind you what the stakes are and how little progress is being made, usually with the most passive-aggressive contempt plain white text on a black screen can muster.

Hoarding: Buried Alive is an informative, documentary-style look at the illness itself and how it affects specific people and their families. The viewer gets a better sense of why the subject decided to keep what he did and how things went from slightly cluttered to catastrophic. There is no time limit for cleaning things up, nor is there a team of professional junk haulers to help. But there is a psychiatrist on hand to show the hoarders how to live clutter-free after the show is done. The focus is more on the hoarder himself than the process of getting rid of all of his stuff, and the show's narrator has a calm and concerned tone that tells you what's going on without seeming to judge the hoarder.

The Hoarders:

Hoarders seems to specialize in not only the worst cases of compulsive junk collectors, but also the least likable. With a few exceptions, you will grow to hate these people within the hour, even though you know they have a serious mental problem and really can't help it. When the hoarders aren't berating their own children or the professionals the show brings in to help them, they're having yet another breakdown about how hard it is to part with an old 7-11 Big Gulp container.

Hoarding:Buried Alive takes on more sympathetic cases -- people who recognize that they have a problem but aren't quite sure how to begin solving it. The focus is on the hoarder and his attempt to get better rather than the disgusting squalor in which he lives.

The Hoard:

Hoarders:Do not watch this show if you have an HDTV. A&E's cameras just love to linger on close-up shots of disgusting filth. And I'm not talking about old newspapers here -- one show had a woman whose house was so full with garbage she could no longer use her bathroom and so she simply went into an adult diaper and tossed it behind her to join the pile. A four-foot-tall pile of poop-filled diapers. And we get to see it, along with flattened cat carcasses and a black pile of sludge that used to be a food hoarder's pumpkin. This show is not for the squeamish, and those images will stay with you for a very long time.

Hoarding: Buried Alive the show also gives us close-ups on the disgusting effects of the hoarder's mental illness, but the difference is they'll show a corner full of cat poop and not, say, a corner full of human poop on top of seven dead cats. Cameras try to capture the enormity of the mess, using an extreme wide-angle lens so we can see as much of the home as possible in one shot. The focus is on quantity rather than quality. However, I don't think this show has had a subject whose hoard could be seen on a Google maps satellite image, which was the case with one guy's car-filled backyard on Hoarders.

The Result:

Hoarders: With so much focus on the hoarder's inability to clean up and lack of motivation to even try, one wonders how he and the team of helpers are able to get so much done in just two days. I suspect it involves throwing most of the junk into a storage area for the hoarder to sort through later, which, of course, he'll never actually do. Even so, the before and after shots are dramatic, and the show does its best to make the hoarder's house seem pleasant and livable once again. Unfortunately, the damage is already done, and while the homes are free of clutter, they still look pretty gross and run-down. Sometimes, they actually looked better with the piles of junk -- at least it was covering up that stained olive green carpet.
As for the hoarders themselves, two days is simply not enough time to really get through to them, so while they promise to keep their home clean and follow-up with show-provided aftercare, you know that pretty soon, it'll look exactly the same as it did before, if not worse. And that's fine by you, because you're already grown to hate these people anyway.

Hoarding: Buried Alive: Because you invest in the hoarder himself and his progress, you don't just want his home to be clean -- you want it to be habitable and you want him to be happy in it. And that's what you get. The space left over when the work is done looks like somewhere someone could live, and live happily. And you want them to, as well.

The Verdict:

So, which show is better? It depends on what you're watching them for. If you're genuinely curious about the disorder, from how it started to how it hopefully ends, TLC's Hoarding: Buried Alive is probably the show for you. If you're looking for high-stakes cleaning and trash-porn, go with A&E's Hoarders. If you want the best of both worlds, the answer is actually neither: check out BBC America's How Clean is Your House? instead.

Hoarders airs Mondays at 11 pm on A&E. Hoarding: Buried Alive airs Sundays at 10 pm on TLC. How Clean is Your House? airs weekdays at 3 and 3:30 pm on BBC America.

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