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In Love With Crazy

March 17, 2010

I’m a sucker for A&E’s Intervention. I watch religiously every week, and when their new show Hoarders premiered, it soon became Must See TV too. These shows are ostensibly designed to help the subjects overcome their addiction, or their psychiatric illness, or sometimes even their inability to monitor their insulin levels correctly. The price for this help is, of course, permission to film the subjects at their very worst — shooting up in the sewer, living with flattened dead cats in their living room, sleeping in the backyard because their house is infested with bed bugs. In the case of Intervention, the subjects don’t know the point of the “documentary” until the end, when they’re confronted with an — you guessed it — intervention. Now TLC, a channel that used to be about boring how-to shows and actual informational documentaries (hence the name “The Learning Channel”) is throwing its hat into the ring with the new show Addicted. From what I can see, it seems to be a kind of Intervention knock-off, except this show has a kind of woman-with-a-mission slant.

In all of these shows, the subjects’ particular brand of crazy is presented in a voyeuristic manner; the viewer is invited to find entertainment in their downward spiral towards rock bottom. Basically the price for the treatment these people desperately need is complete humiliation in front of an audience of millions. Hoarders in particular derives its entertainment value by presenting the hoarder in a totally exploitative and unsympathetic light. Why can’t these people just throw this stuff away? Can you believe they live like this? The more disgusting the living conditions, the better. You’re wearing adult diapers because you can’t climb over all the crap you’ve collected to get to the toilet? Perfect. You have rats living in your sofa cushions and you still refuse to get rid of the couch? Well, you’ve got two days to get “cured” and let go of all the belongings you haven’t been able to let go of for the past 20 years. Oh, and here’s some money for “aftercare”. They bring in shrinks who supposedly specialize in compulsive hoarding, but any psychologist worth their salt could tell you that hoarding can’t be permanently cured in two days. Especially when the cure comes in the form of calling in 1-800-GOT JUNK and bringing your clueless family on board to shame you into getting rid of all your possessions in the name of mental health.

So, rather than watching fame-hungry douchebags eat goat testicles and get stung by hundreds of bees, we can now be entertained by watching people in the throes of mental illness and addiction and feel good about it because they’re supposedly being helped by all this. Although the underlying intentions behind these shows may be benevolent, there’s no denying their exploitative nature. And the guilty pleasure of watching people experiencing some of the worst moments of their lives lies less in the knowledge that they’re getting the help they need and more in the thank-god-that-isn’t-my-life feeling you get as you watch yet another addict uncomfortably listen to their friends and family tell them how their addiction has “affected their life negatively in the following ways”.

Of course, knowing all this doesn’t mean I’ll stop watching. I may need an intervention of my own.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. evmaroon permalink
    March 17, 2010 1:40 am

    I’m so glad you brought this up, Tasha! As it happens, TLC is also starting a new Hoarders-type show, called, sensationally, Hoarders: Buried Alive ( http://tlc.discovery.com/tv/hoarding-buried-alive/ ). This looks even more exploitative than A&E’s version. Much less attention and marketing on the part of A&E has been given to Obsessed. But the story arcs and focus on the minutae of mental illness is similar. I have to ask myself, seeing all of these shows—who’s really obsessed here?

  2. March 17, 2010 2:56 am

    They bring in shrinks who supposedly specialize in compulsive hoarding, but any psychologist worth their salt could tell you that hoarding can’t be permanently cured in two days. Especially when the cure comes in the form of calling in 1-800-GOT JUNK and bringing your clueless family on board to shame you into getting rid of all your possessions in the name of mental health.

    “One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.”

    – Kurt Vonnegut.

  3. March 17, 2010 4:06 am

    Also that line about getting stung by bees made me nearly wet myself. Amazing.

  4. March 17, 2010 8:55 am

    Does one of these channels have a shaming show about voyeurs? Oh wait, they wouldn’t want to alienate their audience.

  5. March 17, 2010 11:55 am

    I would gladly participate in such a show!

  6. March 17, 2010 11:59 am

    Wow, they’re just blatantly ripping off A&E’s Monday night schedule!

  7. March 17, 2010 12:00 pm

    So true.

  8. March 17, 2010 7:42 pm

    I’m waiting for The Real Gynos of Albany New York.

  9. badhedgehog permalink
    March 18, 2010 6:36 am

    Top post.

    “And the guilty pleasure of watching people experiencing some of the worst moments of their lives lies less in the knowledge that they’re getting the help they need and more in the thank-god-that-isn’t-my-life feeling you get…”

    Totally. It’s so much about giving people someone else’s back to trample on. Compare the kick-’em-when-they’re-down approach of celeb gossip magazines (print and online) and the good old UK tabloids (heaps of stories with headlines like MY DRINK HELL, MY DRUG AND BOOZE SHAME) and of course the “true story” magazines (photos sometimes posed by models). Here’s someone more fucked-up than you are! Clamber on!

  10. March 18, 2010 8:14 am

    badhedgehog – seriously! I don’t actually watch these shows due to their exploitive nature, but I have often wondered – having been on a talk show once myself – what motivates people, besides the fantasy of fame, to subject themselves to this amount of scrutiny. Particularly, in the case of these “mental health” shows. Don’t these folks live in towns, need to find work and have to deal with the rest of their lives OFF SCREEN?

    I just don’t know how you transcend being known as the person who was adult diapers because your bathroom is barricaded. Not that I condone any sort of stigma towards these folks, but I’m wondering if the realities of what kind of judgement awaits them has ever crossed their minds.

  11. March 18, 2010 11:42 am

    And then you have the show American Pickers, which is basically in praise of hoarders and hoarding. Hold onto that junk, folks, it’ll be worth money someday. Oh, unless it’s not.

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