Apr 16 2011

The boundless American appetite for the agony of strangers in crisis

According to the Blametariat, irrational fear of crows is a thing.

Spinster aunts are award-nominated experts on irrationality, but this crow dealio was news to us down at HQ, where the tragic dearth of crows has long been lamented, especially since recently screening a PBS documentary on the extraordinary intellective powers of these birds.

Still, it’s not surprising that people irrationally fear crows. The beady eyes, the ominous portent of deathiness, the nevermore, the occultish silhouette against a full moon. According to the Internet, people can irrationally afear pretty much anything. Feet. String. Death.

My sibling Tidy, for example, cannot abide a snake in any way, shape, or form. I’m not saying I don’t lurch sideways a foot or so whenever a serpent unexpectedly heaves into view, but the possibility of snakecine encounters doesn’t prevent me from traipsing through the woods on a spring morning with a cup of coffee and a couple of fairly decent dogs. Not Tidy, though. She wouldn’t traipse through the woods on a spring morning, with coffee and dogs or without, if it was the last spring morning on earth. She would rather have root canal sans novocaine performed in an unheated Siberian gulag in February by an ex-Nazi who keeps asking “is it safe?”.

Irrational behavior is entertaining as hell, apparently. It is so goddam entertaining that enterprising TV producers routinely exploit it for personal gain. Yesterday I happened to see on television a docu-reality show called “My Strange Addiction.” A woman compulsively eats toilet paper, a dude is in love with a mannequin. Experts are consulted. Gripping stuff. And this show is but e pluribus unum; there’s a whole Behind The Scenes With Crazy Chicks TV genre.

The depressing “Intervention” springs to mind. Producers collude with family members to deceive unsuspecting addicts into allowing themselves to be filmed shooting up or passed out in their own vomit. Lots of footage of weeping mothers. The addict inevitably storms out of the titular intervention, but eventually is talked into rehab. The family promises to attend codependency counseling, but they never bother to actually follow through, revealing that they don’t, in fact, give as much of a fuck as they pretended to during the shooting. Riveting reality-ishness, guaranteed to physically sicken you if you have ever known or been a real-life addict.

Voyeuristic schadenfreudians cannot be said to lack for hoardersploitation shows. There are not one, not two, not three, but four programs (as far as I know) devoted to compulsive hoarding. A light, comedic take on the debilitating illness is Style Network’s long-running “Clean House.” Host Niecy Nash opens up cans of SBF (Sassy Black Girlfriend) on clinically disposophobic couples from whose filthy households you can’t believe CPS hasn’t removed the kids. You can’t help but be alarmed that Nash, a D-list comedian who doesn’t even play a doctor on TV, has been put in charge of counseling all these clinically ill people. But somehow every show culminates with a jolly yard sale, and in the end the family gets a spa weekend, a home makeover, and happiness.

Possibly because hoarding is actually somewhat less hilarious than “Clean House” would suggest, things get progressively darker from there. “Hoarders” on A&E, and TLC’s “Hoarding: Buried Alive” are essentially the same dispiriting show. In every episode, a lone woman’s deep emotional attachment to her floor-to-ceiling mountains of garbage, hazardous waste, and thrift store crap threatens both her relationships and her physical health. Each dirty little stuffed animal or chipped teacup is a treasure with which she cannot part without trauma. When the despondent family fails to cure her with tears and shame, an expert wearing a respirator (it stinks in there!) tries to talk some sense into her. But the siren call of the trash is too strong. The epilogue always delivers the sad news that the city has condemned her house because the poor woman couldn’t get a grip.

But just when you think televised video of shattered lives edited for your viewing pleasure couldn’t get any more exploitative, Animal Planet presents the contemptible, incomparable “Confessions: Animal Hoarding.” New York magazine calls this “the most depressing reality show of all time.”

Horribly, truer words were never published on this or any other Internet.

It’s no secret that all reality shows are depressing in one way or another. Whether the competition style (wherein contestants turn on each other and ostracize the weak while “judges” decide their fate), or the documentary style (the focus is on some sort of aberration, such as homicidal brides-to-be), you can’t watch them without a gnawing sense of shame. That plastic surgery-cum-beauty pageant series was pretty hard to take, and lard knows the regular hoarding shows are seriously problematic, but it is difficult to imagine passing off as entertainment a more disturbing scenario than the one presented by “Confessions: Animal Hoarding”. Sad, damaged, isolated people try to cope with personal pain by imprisoning in their own filth dozens or even hundreds of helpless cats, dogs, horses, or bunnies. The afflicted subjects don’t perceive themselves as abusers even when mummified kitten corpses are excavated from couch cushions; they “love” the animals upon whom they have visited this suffering, and freak out when removal is threatened. If you can sit through an entire episode of this horrorshow your lobe is made of sterner stuff than mine.

Where to begin with the blaming? The hoarders are goaded into crisis mode by the producers, are filmed at their most degraded and desperate moments, and are ultimately depicted as delusional grotesques. It is unclear whether they actually receive any long-term psychiatry, or whether their “treatment” ends when the respirator-wearin’ expert splits town with the film crew. The exploitation of animal suffering adds a whole nother level of quease. Often, because animal protection laws are inadequate, some of the removed animals may be returned to their abusers. But the most repellent aspect is that the whole enterprise is fed by a slavering prurience for human debasement-as-spectacle.

Who but a stunt driver with a death wish would attempt the insane Ben White/I-35 flyover?

But wait. Just so we’re clear, sometimes what appears to be irrational behavior is merely a case of extreme common sense, and it’s everybody else who’s flippin’ crazy. Certain spinster aunts, for example, will not attempt to drive an automobile over the ridiculously high 290 East/MoPac North overpass without a couple of milligrams of Ativan on board. Furthermore, we they will not, under any circumstances or any amount of drugs, even consider the even higher Ben White-to-northbound I-35 flyover, even though this sensible choice necessitates an inconvenient detour. Though some snake-phobic siblings may — and do — vociferously disagree, there is nothing irrational about flyover-avoidance behavior. On the contrary; tooling at 60 miles per hour across the Ben White Ramp of Death is what’s irrational. Seriously, this ramp is unbelievable. In terms of improbability, gargatuaneousness, vertiginosity and suicidality, driving a car over the fucking St Louis Arch would pale in comparison.

Anyway, “Confessions: Animal Hoarding” wins this week’s Ditwuss Award.*

* Ditwuss = DTWS = Degrades The Whole Species.

Crow photo: screengrab from “A Murder of Crows” | Nature | PBS

Flyover photo: Google Maps


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  1. Claire K.

    In Tokyo everyone is afraid of crows, because the crows are freaking huge and they’re everywhere. Big as those eagles, common as pigeons.

  2. Lady K

    Oh, sure, it’s okay when YOU’RE afraid of the 100-foot death ramp, but any anxiety regarding the collection of venomous snakes in Tejas is to be dismissed? Evopsych has clearly and unquestionably declared that a fear of snakes is *innate* in humans (no word on how to explain the popularity of keeping snakes as pets, or the numerous herpetology clubs the world over). And if Evopsych as reported by the popular media says so, then by gum it must be true.

    So put that on your flyover and ramp off it at 60-70 miles per hour, missy.

  3. buttercup

    Our local wildlife rehab center is home to a lovely crow named Raven, who does educational programs and has a large vocabulary even by crow standards. Crows are wonderful creatures. Ravens too, there was a show on about Siberia recently that had footage of ravens rolling down a snowy hill for fun. I kid you not.


    As to flyovers, I prefer to avoid them but it’s not a paralyzing thing. I’ve had moments on the Boulevard of the Allies here in town, though, as it runs very high above both a highway and a river atop a rocky cliff with very little between your car and grisly doom.

  4. mearl

    I agree wholeheartedly with tv producers and their drooling audiences. The best way to help addicts, hoarders, people with OCD or mental health problems, unfashionable women who are causing mass hysteria & eye pollution, lousy parents, couples in debt, and ESPECIALLY all those fatties out there is to put them on national television and have a good old-fashioned public shaming. Before counselling, therapy, or even medication, “public shaming on tv” is the first course of action recommended by three out of three actors posing as doctors.

  5. Lauren O

    I take that flyover every single day! It’s never really bothered me, but I do like how they make it seem like it’s going to be two lanes, but then it’s actually only one, so that people aren’t just doing a 90-degree turn at 60 mph at high altitude, they have to unexpectedly merge while doing so.

  6. Comrade PhysioProf

    It’s no secret that all reality shows are depressing in one way or another.

    The only exception that I am aware of is Top Chef, which is fucken awesome!

  7. Pinko Punko

    @ 11:48

    I don’t even want to click through Animal Planet in the way to an occasional old movie or Adventure Time because if it isn’t animal hoarding it’s Animal Cops and ugh. Then I will additionally be sad because I wonder why there is a more extreme emotional response when a dog is rescued from a floating house two weeks after the tsunami than when there’s just regular old reports of entire families being blown up by some generic bomb. One event is unimaginably horrible but draws numbness and distance but if some poor animal is involved then I seem to be greatly affected. Everything is horrible.

  8. Kaje

    What I can’t watch are the “Patriarchy Attacks Caught on Tape” genre of shows. I’m looking at you, shows about multiple births, polygamous Mormons, pregnant teenagers, Duggars, etc. etc.

    I want to see a reality show about childfree families. Jon and Kate plus Nobody, Except Some Pets Maybe. See how they navigate life through demanding family members, nosy strangers, pro-life pharmacists etc.

  9. CoH

    As one of those non-removed by CPS kids, seriously problematic or not, those hoarder shows have done a great deal of good in getting the word ‘hoarder’ into ordinary conversation. Before, I could tell people that I grew up in a house with almost 80 junk cars in the yard, piles of lumber, junk, car parts, broken furniture, old oil tanks, 55 gallon drums of broken glass, bins of parts cleaner, old windows, doors, lawnmowers and anything else you can (or can’t) think of, and which inside had piles of books and newspapers and my father’s clothes everywhere and had no hot water for twenty years because he couldn’t be fucked to install the water heater, which someone had given to him for free, and which he wouldn’t let anyone else install because he was the only one who could do it *right,* and they would just look at me blankly and say, ‘So? Your dad was a bit of a slob, big deal’ because they simply could not conceive of the amount of crap and dysfunction in this place. Now, I can just ask, ‘Have you seen that Hoarders show?’ and they go, ‘Oh, whoa, I’m so sorry.’

    Of course I’ve never seen the show myself; I’m pretty certain it would throw me into a homicidal rage. And anyway having lived it I don’t really need to, do I. So honestly I don’t give a fuck if it’s exploitative or not, but then I have no sympathy for hoarders, no more than I have sympathy for other abusers. And if there is family, especially kids involved, it absolutely is neglect and abuse. From what I have heard about other hoarders (and yes, there are support groups for children of hoarders) they are almost to a one impossible and pathologically self-centered, and simply cannot conceive that what they are doing is in any way harmful, to themselves and especially not to others.

    And now with some trepidation I am going to hit ‘Blame.’ I will say that I am not at all interested in engaging with anyone who wants to argue that I’m a big meanie and the poor hoarders, blah blah. I just wanted to state that exploitative or not those shows have done a very good thing in bringing something hidden out into the light.

  10. Lovepug

    “Sometimes what appears to be irrational behavior is merely a case of extreme common sense, and it’s everybody else who’s flippin’ crazy.” I feel this way every time I have to listen to some nuclear power apologist explain why the situation (aka shituation) in Fukushima is no big deal.

    In the irrational department, I fear earwigs, silverfish, creepy subterraian mice and Amazonian River Otters. My daughter fears cement trucks.

    Crows rule.

    @CoH: I don’t think you’re a meanie. I’ve seen a few of those shows, and the behavior of some of the hoarders is really disrepectful of the family members. Some of them wise up and get the help they need, but others seem oblivious to how much pain it’s caused their love ones.

  11. Jill

    Holy shit, CoH. I can’t even imagine how that must have sucked. I would never suggest that anyone let their abusers off the hook. If these godawful hoarding shows actually have done some good somewhere, I could not be more pleased. Or surprised.

  12. Yardshark

    I will agree with your assessment CoH. It may be that the exploitative hoarder shows have inadvertently done some good.

    In general though, TV has become a cesspit of tabloidity in a self-feeding spiral of doom. Lots of us have left behind broadcast and cable as they have increasingly filled countless cheap hours with worse dreck sandwiched between ever more frequent sales pitches. Since TV is so desperate for viewers anymore as each slot vies for a shrinking pool of eyeballs that have become sated on current fare, it will go lower into the toilet for its material. Which guarantees that lots of us are never going back to TV. Which means it gets yet more desperate…which means…


  13. Judi

    hey buttercup–I had the sublime privilege of watching a few dozen crows playing on a snowy hillside one afternoon. Over and over, they would take turns divebombing the ground near the top of the hill, slide all the way down on their bellies, then fly up and do it again. I was laughing as hard as they were. It was the high point of my life, and that’s as good as it needs to get. Crows are the best.

  14. Frumious B

    “the nevermore,”

    That’s ravens.

  15. Friend of Snakes

    Yeah, but does Tidy have the willingness to change? Give me a few structured sessions with your sister and a couple of my more laid-back reptilian pals and quicker than you can say “Friend of Snakes” she’ll be on her way to shedding her phobia.

    As far as the rest goes, I got rid of my car almost 10 years ago and my television last autumn. Set yourself freeeeeeee. I’d rent a vehicle to do that fly-over, however. Looks fun.

  16. Mary Tracy9

    I’ve never seen Hoarders or any other tv show on that “theme”, but I’ve read your comment, CoH, and the last thing on my mind would have been “big deal”. On the contrary, I couldn’t imagine how difficult it must have been.
    I do think problems like these should be brought into the light, but I disagree that TV (and private TV!) should be doing it. TV hardly ever has a positive effect on society, that’s not what it’s there to do.
    At least here in the UK the BBC prevents TV from sinking lower and lower.

  17. Milly goes for a walk

    That sounds horrible CoH. Would the antithesis of hoarder be Spartan? Whatever it is, I’m a ruthless anti-hoarder. I love a good clean-up, chuck out (whatever’s salvageable goes to charity). I do feel guilty though because sometimes it feels so wasteful and I think of all that crap going to landfill and sometimes, just sometimes I wish I hadn’t chucked that seemingly useless item, because I’ve now found a sudden need for it. I also agonize over all purchases, which makes me not much fun as a shopper.

    Crows, on the other hand are cool.

  18. humanbein

    You just have to wonder what the common thread might be behind hoarding objects and objectifying humans. Perhaps it’s that you see yourself as an object, and the more peripheral objects you obtain, the more protected you feel. It could be that since you have never felt love for another human, you seek to love your stuff.

    Animals, for those of us who know that to love is primarily to nurture and wish well another being, can also be the victims of objectification, and even more complexly, a personification that is somewhat akin to objectification, in that a person can easily project their fantasies of what they would want their animal to be into the animal, who might be feeling something quite different, depending on the delusional obliviousness of the person.

    Everywhere I look in a patriarchy, I see this projection of fantasy into others, and a general reluctance to actually examine what the others might really be.

  19. chines

    A crow chased me for six city blocks, cawing and divebombing all the while. For years after, they TERRIFIED me. But though I’ll never be easy about them, I do have a grudging admiration for them. They are intelligent and wickedly playful.

    My own irrational fear is vomit. This fear is called “Emetophobia” and is apparently more common than I thought. It was always hard to reveal my fear, because, well, duh, who likes to vomit? But the difference seems to be that normal people will vomit and get over it whereas I will obsess over it for life.

    COH–that sounds terrible. I hope that victims of hoarders get the support they need.

  20. Sarah

    Anybody read Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games”? It’s on my reading list, but from what I understand it is dystopian fiction centering heavily around so-called reality TV. It also has a strong female lead. Collins said she got the idea while clicking channels back and forth between “American Idol” and coverage of the Iraq War.

  21. Nora

    @Sarah: I hear it’s really, really good. Definitely on my list.

    @CoH: I’m so sorry. I think there’s a world of difference between understanding the motivation for abusive behavior/trying to institute a solution and actually demanding that people forgive their abusers (and what you went through was undoubtedly abuse).

  22. Josquin

    I don’t know what a “flyover” is, but that photo gives me the creeps. Yes, I am phobic about driving over bridges with narrow lanes where the other drivers are barreling along at millions of miles an hour. It’s f-ing dangerous, and if I falter, I will be smashed to smithereens. Silverfish are disgusting and horrific, but they won’t kill me. I compare hoarding to a silverfish phobia – it may cause you extreme psychic pain to get rid of your stuff, as it would cause me pain to wallow in silverfish, but do it anyways to give your family a chance at a decent life. But – get me on a bridge driving a car, and if I lose control I really could die!
    I used to suffer horribly from phobic stage fright and have found that a 1/3 of a beta-blocker tablet, judiciously applied, is a miracle cure.

  23. Mimi

    I *love* flyovers! In a dorky Transportation Planner way. I’m always excited and fascinated to see a new one, but it’s also part of my life work, so yeah, dork.

    I hate snakes because of an unfortunate incident with an enormous black snake at summer camp at about age 12 (I know they’re not poisonous, but that fucker was *eight* feet long) followed by one with a Copperhead.

    I’ve known hoarders – I had a co-worker whose house was condemned by the county, and I could hardly be surprised when I found out – she had every single calendar she’d purchased for the last 20 years on display in her cubicle, and piles of paper on her desk were so high that her monitor barely fit and she had a separate keyboard table. It was just sad.

    I loved, loved, loved The Hunger Games – it’s totally depressing and dystopian, but a great story with a kick-ass lead female character who honestly doesn’t give a shit about the boys fighting over her in a really great way.

    The only reality TV I ever liked was The Amazing Race, though it’s now been on so long that it starts to get predictable. Oh, so the remaining all-female team is going to fall behind in India because it’s twice as hard for them to get around? SHOCKER!

  24. buttercup

    I’ll occasionally watch a couple of hoarding shows, mostly to give me motivation to clean, as I am a very messy person otherwise. As to other reality shows, I will admit to enjoying cooking competitions like Iron Chef, and a devotion to Ru Paul’s Drag Race that makes no sense to me whatsoever, but I can’t help it.

  25. Treefinger

    @Mary_Tracy9: “at least here in the UK the BBC keeps TV from sinking lower and lower”.

    It does? How Clean Is Your House gets into the kind of territory Jill was describing pretty regularly (though not usually with hoarders of anything in particular, just people who live in phenomenally filthy homes with piles of rubbish everywhere), and I’ve definitely seen a few “expose” programs on hoarding.

    @CoH, I’m sorry to hear about that. My own dad has a few issues of his own. He likes to start DIY projects and never finish them, and every room in his house is filled with random junk. He doesn’t have central heating, insulation, a cooker, a fridge, a bath or shower, or most of the other things needed to make a house inhabitable. Just an oven, a bed (surrounded by more junk, including thousands of LPs he still insists on buying), a toilet and a single tap that serves as the water supply. He also has mounting debts so he refuses to buy storage space to put his junk in while he fixes the house. Fortunately for me and my brother we only sometimes had to stay there (usually in the same room, with my brother and dad sharing a bed) as we lived with our mother most of the time after the divorce. I don’t feel much anger towards him because he admits the situation is terrible and he’s made a mess of things, but it’s definitely still a concern. I just wish it wasn’t so hard to stage an intervention with people like him- he insists on solving the problem himself, but after 10 years it just isn’t happening. There’s not much I can do as no pets or people live with him, so his terrible living conditions affect him only, and therefore I doubt any services would be rushing to check his situation out.

  26. Treefinger

    I wrote “cooker” in that first list before I remembered he does have an oven now (previously he used a microwave) so disregard that inconsistency.

  27. Treefinger

    Oh yeah, and on the subject of crow-phobia: my cat is scared stiff of ’em. On the rare occasion of a crow deigning to join her for a lounge in the garden, she jumps about a foot in the air and runs back into the house. She’s very skittish around other animals in general, though (I wish this extended to bugs, as she shows no bashfulness about sniffing dying wasps, which has led to a sting on the schnozz more than once).

  28. minervaK

    I have lodged in my cranium the idea that exploitation TV like that described is just a part of the vast (capitalist?) conspiracy whose ultimate goal is to keep us from paying attention to What’s Really Going On. I need to write a manifesto on this soon.

  29. Owly

    Orcas scare the bejesus out of me. They’re huge, efficient killers that could probably outsmart me. I don’t trust them. Fortunately, I am quite land-locked at the moment. The idea that they could be close without me knowing it always freaked me out when I lived in Washington (state) as a kid.

    Roaches are another story, and I hate houseflies almost as much. Filthy, nasty things. Logically I know their ability to spread disease is a good reason to dislike them, but my fear is purely irrational. The association with rot and decay and the fact that some reach the size of chihuahuas doesn’t help. They make me bolt across the room screaming “kill it, kill it!” in the proper lady-fashion.

    Crows and snakes are cool with me. I used to own rats and many people do not react well to that either, it’s a shame. They’re trainable, clean, friendly and intelligent, they make great pets.

    The worst thing about that northbound I-35 flyover is the fact that two lanes merge into one halfway up the damn thing. My car’s tires don’t handle wet roads very well either, so I’m always worried that the rear of the car will slide out and I’ll hit the side and flip over the edge. I guess that’s one good thing about the depressing lack of rain here.

  30. Mortisha

    Aw, don’t go hatin on the crows, they are fantastic animals once you get to know them. Very loyal and funny. I really don’t understand any fear of animals. There is always a reason they behave they way they do, even our very abundant ‘you’ll be dead in 15mins if you touch that’ snakes around here.
    A bit of basic logic and a harmonious mutually peaceful existence is easy. They are what they are, and us being the supposed more intelligent species can enjoy learning their body language and way of life.

    The truly scary are irrational and toxic actions of humans. Bombing, bashing, torturing and killing each other. At least social phobias have a point. Yes and having to drive on the road with a lot of these idiots. It is amazing that people can experience a paralysing fear of spiders, who are just hanging out looking for a bug to eat, yet without a care may drive to work everyday sharing a road with drunks, crackheads and texting idiots.

    Public shaming is timeless sport.Yet there are always volunteers for shows like the biggest loser! What the! Does the “outing” of these people causes them to regress back into their shell later. Is there no ethical(or legal) responsibility to provide onging support by these shows producers?. A colleague who has worked with animal hoarders has found it a very tough gig, recidivism is very very high. Often they need lifetime monitoring.

    Agree with CoH, dealing with a hoarding disorder is one thing but once it starts to punish innocent kids and animals. All bets are off, that shit shouldn’t be tolerated.

  31. Jill

    “The worst thing about that northbound I-35 flyover is the fact that two lanes merge into one halfway up the damn thing.”

    Stay off that thing! For the lovagod!

  32. speedbudget

    minervaK, it’s not just the reality shows that serve the purpose of distraction. Have you watched the news recently? Dozens of stories about Charlie Sheen or the latest murdered chick, not so much about revolution in Libya or what’s (still) going on in Haiti and Darfur. I would posit that the news and the reality shows work in tandem to distract while the rich get richer and the poor die.

  33. Barn Owl

    Ben White/I35 flyover + F250 + stock trailer + one or two horses + typical windy Texas day = Stuff of Terrible Nightmares.

    Anyone fascinated with corvids might enjoy reading Bernd Heinrich’s book Mind of the Raven. The insulting term “birdbrain” is utterly wrong on so many levels.

  34. buttercup

    Bird brains are quite impressive. Most people could stand to do so much with so little physical matter. Also, “eats like a bird” is taken the wrong way since birds eat pretty much constantly when they’re awake.

  35. Comrade Svilova

    What about shows like America’s / Britain’s Got Talent? They have the problematic aspects of watching people make fools of themselves, but they also really celebrate the hidden talent in “ordinary” people. Yeah, it’s all a marketing ploy. But it does warm the cockles of my heart a little, and they also make room for some more gender-transgressive performances (mostly by men, though, not by women) on tv.

  36. MaryK

    I second (third? fourth?) the Ben White/35 flyover hate. I also do not understand why one is forced to merge lanes at its apex, going into that horrendous banked curve.

    One of my personal nightmares is being attacked by a flock of birds (you know the ones that compulsively hang out at the Wal-Mart at that intersection) while driving on that flyover. I think they’re crows, at that.

    The view of St. Ed’s/the skyline is pretty, though.

  37. pheenobarbidoll

    Crows never bothered me, even after having to walk down a street lined with them Hitchcock style. The eerie “creeerrrrrp rrroooorrrrrrppp” noises they made just added to the atmosphere.

    If a person is even out in the wilderness hiding from the law, crows can give that person’s location away. They are drawn to us because humans leave tasty trash in our wake. This also comes in handy if one requires a search party if, after traipsing through the woods on a spring morning with a cup of coffee and a couple of fairly decent dogs, one trips and falls and breaks one’s leg.

  38. Jill

    “if, after traipsing through the woods on a spring morning with a cup of coffee and a couple of fairly decent dogs, one trips and falls and breaks one’s leg.”

    Fittingly, with no crows out here, the birds that would give me away would be the buzzards. And you know they rarely convene unless the situation on the ground is already somewhat grim.

    Coincidentally, just last week while traipsing I did in fact trip and fall and sprain my ankle. As I laid there on my back, writhing and screaming, and my dogs piled on and slobbered all over me and tried to hump me, I envisioned my vulture-encrusted corpse with bloody pecked-out eyesockets like that guy in the Hitchcock movie.

  39. minervaK

    Speedbudget: very much agreed. The cesspit that passes for “culture” these days really has no value other than as a can’t-look-away-from-it distraction. Look away. Look away. Look away, Dixieland (and others)!

  40. Lauren O

    One of my personal nightmares is being attacked by a flock of birds (you know the ones that compulsively hang out at the Wal-Mart at that intersection) while driving on that flyover. I think they’re crows, at that.

    They’re grackles, i.e., shinier, stupider crows with weird-shaped tails. (I still like them – and crows.)

  41. Jill

    Grackles rule. They make the most ridiculous noise. I wouldn’t really call’em stupid, either. I was tucking in to an order of migas at Austin Java on fine morning when a giant grackle swooped in and nabbed a slice of bacon right off my plate.


  42. buttercup

    A woman I used to work with referred to grackles as “fuckin’ walking birds.” She insisted birds should hop, not walk.

  43. CrazyQuilter

    one of the primary problems i have with the hoarding shows is how quickly they make it apparent that they care less about the person’s problems than they do with making the person into a Huge Embarrassing Spectacle.

    out of all the shows i’ve seen and heard about that dealt with hoarding, i cannot recall a single one where the people with the show actually sat the hoarder down and ASKED them, “Hey, So-and-So, why do you feel compelled to keep all this stuff? What made you start collecting it?” (likely, they don’t do that, because that requires real compassion, something that’s severely lacking in 99% of tv programming.)

    these shows make me cringe.
    a person’s home is supposed to be their sanctuaries from the world, and i find it disturbing that someone could come along, infiltrate their home and film the ‘encounter’ for national television, and, with a grand theatrical flourish, proclaim, “LOOK AT THIS FREAKISH WEIRDO AND ALL THE PILES OF GARBAGE FILLING THEIR HOUSE!”

    they are people who have serious issues and who need help. throwing all their precious stuff away and giving them a new couch and coat of paint for their living room will not fix the problems that caused them to start hoarding in the first place. but then, if people are honest, they can admit that helping people was never the goal of these shows in the first place, was it?

    all this just reminds me that we never really got rid of the pillory–except that now, instead of shackling social undesirables in stocks on a nice big raised stage in the town square, we make TV shows dedicated to mocking them, so that the entire country, and sometimes the entire world, may bask in the mean-spirited glee exuded by their humiliation and misery.
    i hate reality tv, i blame the patriarchy, why does schadenfreude exist and why do people encourage it, etc.

  44. Jezebella

    If that flyover gives you the heebie-jeebies, never, NEVER drive across the Huey P. Long bridge in the suburbs of New Orleans. Not only is it high and narrow, it has low rails. And a train track in the middle. My first experience on the Huey P. was in a schoolbus, where I couldn’t see the rails from the window, with a train rumbling alongside of us. I have never, and will never, drive across that damned thing.

  45. sonia

    it may be irrational but it’s totally patriarchal. Crows are definitely an enemy of the Megatheo etc etc, because they are totally associated with the occult, as you pointed out. The occult is really just an association with an older pagan tradition, and “pagan” traditions are really just adapted forms of old female wisdom traditions.

    Irrational fear of crows is totally symbolic of the fear of nature/female power.

  46. Liz M.

    I hate reality shows, have since they started spreading like a plague ten-ish years back. However, as another child of a hoarder, I do find Hoarders on A&E therapeutic. It helps me to understand (sort of) how my mother thinks and, as CoH mentioned, has made the word “hoarder” a recognized everyday word and phenomenon. That show does use licensed therapists that specialize in hoarding and compulsive behaviors as well as professional organizers, free junk hauling and aftercare funds to use for further therapy, etc. Of course, the show caters to the public taste for “look at those freaks”-style schadenfreude, but Hoarders is comparatively responsible in the way they go about things.

    My personal experiences with hoarders tell me that the way they act on Hoarders when confronted in front of camera crews, etc., is about 97% similar to the way they act if you privately mention to them that maybe they have too much stuff, and that one of their 37 boxes of broken wooden spoons could maybe go to the thrift store. They do select people who are already in crisis mode–they’re about to be evicted/have their house condemned/have their child or elderly spouse taken by the state/be homeless because of the financial cost of their addiction to junk–which of course is what makes for Extreme Viewing, but these are also the hoarders that need help the most. Honestly, I might feel worse for these people if my own experience didn’t lead me to view them as selfish, abusive people who value (usually worthless) things over their friends, relatives and pets (or, in the case of animal hoarders, nominally value pets over people but in reality value their own selfish need for dozens of animals above all else).

    I haven’t seen the other hoarding shows you mentioned except for Clean House, which officially merits the Good Housekeeping Seal of Annoying as Fuck. Far too much emphasis on the host’s (irritating) personality, plus they pressure people to do things that non-hoarders would never even do, like give away an heirloom trunk that had been in the family for generations and throw out the cases to all the person’s DVDs, as if slobs should atone for their hoarding by living spartan lifestyles for the rest of time. Clean House definitely verges deep into “gossiping about the neighbor’s sloppy house” territory.

    Though I haven’t seen the animal hoarding ones, I have seen plenty of Hoarders episodes in which the hoarders hoarded animals, usually in addition to other stuff, so I imagine it’s the same sort of thing–fifty dead cats and kittens buried under mounds of trash while the 53 surviving animals are so sick from the air they’re breathing that most of them are put to sleep anyhow. I don’t know what the expected reaction is, but mine is definitely along the lines of “poor kitties/what a douche that person is.”

    To bring my comment back to blaming, since compulsive hoarding disproportionately affects women, I would be extremely interested in a feminist analysis of it as a phenomenon.

    Also, crows are awesome, and that road is scary as hell. I am also averse to snakes and terrified of any spider larger than a nickel, however.

  47. Jill

    Clearly the experience of living with a hoarder produces a different reaction to the concept of hoarding than does the experience of merely watching a hoarding show.

    With the point of view of a kid in mind, I watched one yesterday afternoon where a young mother was raising 3 toddlers in a massive hoard where trash literally covered every square inch. The tots were tripping and falling over all the junk, and the woman stated that she knew the house was messy, but insisted that she was “a good mother” and didn’t think it was all that dangerous to her kids. Meanwhile Mr Dude wanders around saying he can’t live like this anymore, he can’t live like this anymore, like his shit don’t stink.

    If I were one of those kids, now grown up and watching that video, I would be completely pissed at both parents. I would particularly want to know why my father didn’t take me outta there the second the kitchen door got blocked with 4 mattresses. That husband dude was negligent to the point of criminality by imprisoning the kids in that house under the care of a delusional woman with a kid-endangering disorder. It’s not like she was holding a gun to his head; he freely made the decision to stay. I mean, shouldn’t the non-delusional parent take responsibility for the offspring?

    I’m just sayin, that woman didn’t hoard in a vacuum.

  48. buttercup

    There’s a super-interesting book on hoarders called “stuff”, but it doesn’t really look at it through a feminist lens. Still an interesting read. There’s a doc on MSNBC online called “My mother’s garden” that is more in-depth than any of the hour-long programs and is also quite interesting.

    There is never a shortage of co-dependent enabler dudes on those programs.

  49. pheenobarbidoll

    “As I laid there on my back, writhing and screaming, and my dogs piled on and slobbered all over me and tried to hump me, I envisioned my vulture-encrusted corpse with bloody pecked-out eyesockets like that guy in the Hitchcock movie.”

    Labs are so sweet. Not the brightest bulbs, but very, very sweet.

  50. Kathleen

    I’m gonna put in another good word for Hoarders, which I watched obsessively for about a week several months ago. What I liked about Hoarders was how much it undermined the therapeutic narrative that is *everywhere* in the current day and age. I think I saw one episode where they came back later and things were actually better. In every other case, nothing got better, the hoarder was totally recalcitrant, the typically bright and chipper “personal organizer” or whatever “Up with People!” semi-therapist that was hired by the show to be the therapeutical agent got his/her listening skills and can-do attitude smacked into the hard wall of unmoveable dysfunction and s/he inevitably turned peevish and/or resigned in record time. I loved it, so deliciously undermining of the idea that experts know what is best and that people are manageable, such a freak flag waving of the damned stubborn uglitude of certain manifestations of the human spirit. Course, after a week of gorging on that dispiriting spectacle I felt ill and haven’t watched it since. One thumb up?

  51. norbizness

    If you’ve got nerves of steel, even with the 35 mph crosswinds out of the southwest, take a picture of Downtown Austin (using a camera haphazardly pointed NW at the apex/curve of the flyover)… it’s really an amazing sight at night. Encase your camera in airplane black-box material just in case you plummet to your death shortly thereafter.

  52. CoH

    Thank you Jill and everyone else for the compassion; I appreciate it.

    Another good I can see coming out of these hoarder shows is that kids and teens who are currently living with a hoarding parent (or parents), have a name for it while they are going through it, and can look around and recognize that it’s fucked up and therefore *not them*, instead of just having a vague feeling that something isn’t quite right with it all. That’s also a very good thing, even if they can’t necessarily do anything about it.

    Although, Jill, as much as I’m usually not at all interested in cutting enabling doods any slack, you’d be surprised just how little power the rest of the family has when it comes to hoarders. From my own experience, and what I’ve heard of the experience of others, it’s comes down to control for the hoarder. I do think there are a variety of causes that lead to hoarding, but in my father’s case it was almost certainly (almost, since he was never diagnosed personally, because that would have required him thinking something was wrong with him) obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (note that that is *not* the same as obsessive-compulsive disorder). And the thing with personality disorders (others include borderline, narcissistic, anti-social) is that the person with them cannot recognize that there is something wrong with them. Everybody else is wrong, and they are right.

    Which doesn’t mean a partner can’t up and leave and take the kids; just that it’s as complicated as other abuse situations. Maybe more, I think, since it might not generally be recognized as abuse in the first place. I don’t know. In my case, with my father as the hoarder, my mother, as the one with less power in the relationship just by virtue of her being a woman, didn’t have that many choices.

    I have not read Frost and Stekegee’s book, buttercup (again, I have a feeling it would be really enraging for me), but I haven’t heard good things about it from other children of hoarders. Mainly because he (Frost) is dismissive of the concerns of the family, and is really invested in finding the good in the hoarders, like how they’re so clever in finding uses for all this stuff that other people would just throw away. I mean, I get it; he’s trying to figure out what’s going on in their heads, so of course he’s going to sympathize with them; but there is no recognition (again, from what I’ve heard) that their behavior is abusive or even a burden at all to the people around them. Which, you know, I got negative patience for; nor do I think that sitting down with a hoarder and trying to gently talk them into throwing away three of the thousand rinsed-out paper coffeecups they saved from the odd lot store is going to get anyone anywhere at all. And trust me, I tried that approach, as well as anything else I could possibly think of, with my father for something like twenty-five years. It just does not work to attempt to engage madness on madness’s terms.

    One thing that interests me is that in reading about hoarding, or, reading about what there is known about hoarding (which isn’t all that much right now), is that most sources will say that the majority of hoarders are men. And yet, in hanging out with other children of hoarders, I am rare in that my father was the hoarder. And from what I have heard of the HBO show, it seems that most of the hoarders there are women too.

    Now there could be a bunch of things going on—that what the experts say about hoarding is simply outdated, that for whatever reason male hoarders are less likely to have children, and/or that the hoarder shows are focusing inordinately on women, for whatever patriarchal reasons they’ve got.

    One thing I don’t think is going on is that hoarding is some kind of consumerism gone haywire. I have read articles by journalists trying to understand it who will go off along those lines, and, while that sort of societal hand-wringing may have something to do with why the shows are so popular, I don’t really think it has anything to do with the hoarding itself. I think that hoarders would hoard acorns and leaves if that’s all there was because it’s just some kind of brain-thing, and as much as anything can be independent of society I think this genuinely is.

    And Liz M—if you don’t already know about it there is a very good site for children of hoarders (I believe it’s just childrenofhoarders.com) which should have a link to a support group forum, if you are interested.

  53. gogo

    I was watching that documentary, “Herb and Dorothy,” about the now elderly couple who have collected art since the 1963 or so. A lot of the shots were very close to the people’s faces as they spoke, but eventually, as the camera pulled back I realized, Hey! they are not just collectors…they are HOARDERS!

    Seriously, they had turtles climbing all over each other in tanks, stacks of stuff and books completely aside from all the artwork, and it eventually it took a WEEK to remove all the art from their one bedroom New York City apartment, there was so much of it.

    Anyway, I guess the “collector” vs. “hoarder” determination is based on what particular stuff gets piled up in the living space.

  54. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Crows just scare me. It seems like the sight of them portends Bad Stuff happening in my life. This is stupid, superstitious, and irrational, I know. The Bad Stuff would undoubtedly happen whether I’d seen crows or not. And didn’t Cardinal Ratzi (now Il Papa Nazi) once send one to spy on you, O Spinster Aunt?

    The only reality shows I can stomach are the ghosty ones.

  55. Samantha B

    Twisty, you may have broken your own record for greatest number of made-up, yet perfectly descriptive, words in a single post. Nabokov would be proud.

  56. Melinda

    I am surprised at the hatred shown toward hoarders here. It’s making me feel oppressed.

    I don’t like to resort to personal confessions to prove my point. But I don’t see any other way to explain how I know what I’m talking about.

    I’m a hoarder. I’ve struggled with it since childhood. I’m not lazy or selfish. Nor do I enjoy living in squalor.

    I have never gone beyond Stage 2. (Google it.) I don’t have kids and I don’t hoard animals. So no one suffers except me. But unlike so many people in these comments, I don’t feel superior to people suffering stage 3 and 4 (the stages you see in those muckraking TV shows). I just think, “There but for the grace of dog go I”. Because I know how easy it is to lose one’s grip and slide into increasing levels of disorganization.

    I have major depression and probably some form of ADD. I came from an abusive family. My mother hoarded, but was extremely well organized about it so that no one could tell what she was doing. I hoarded, but was not able to organize my things as she did. For this, I was screamed at, beaten, had the door removed from my room to expose me to the humiliation of visitors, and a lot else I’d rather not mention. The screaming and name calling did nothing to help me learn to organize my things. I got accused of doing it on purpose to annoy her, which wasn’t true. I got accused of liking to live like a pig. Also, not true.

    My brain does not handle spatial reasoning very well. It is very slow at finding places for things or putting things in their correct place. My IQ in general is high, but that part of my brain is defective.

    A high school friend came over to my house one day and organized my books. I sat there wondering at how she was able to arrange them so quickly and efficiently into a beautiful order. But I knew I could not do what she did. It is the equivalent of reading War and Peace in front of a dyslexic. Only dyslexia is far better understood and sympathized with in this culture than hoarding is.

    People hoard for different reasons. Many of them suffer from mental illness, as I do. Many of them don’t respond to medication, as I don’t. I think even the ones who don’t have an illness per se, have a deficit in their brain function that causes the hoarding symptoms. My own symptoms get much worse when I’m in an actively depressed phase, and slowly improve when it goes away, though it’s never completely “normal”.

    Over the years I have worked on my problem and have seen improvement. Online support groups like Squalor Survivors have helped me. Before I found them I didn’t even know something was wrong with me. I simply internalized the familial and societal messages that I’m a sloppy, shitty person. Other people accused of the same just deny anything is wrong. It’s an ego defense. But accusations of personal shittiness do not help anyone with hoarding improve. That I promise you is true. All the shaming does is convince the hoarder that you don’t understand. And indeed, unless you are a hoarder yourself, you DON’T understand.

    Bitter children of hoarders may know what it’s like to be inconvenienced and embarrassed by their parents, but if they are not hoarders themselves, they are not experts at what makes a hoarder tick. Their hatred for their parents spills over onto every other hoarder. As this thread demonstrates, they are fond of labeling hoarders as greedy, selfish, evil people. These hatemongering tactics earn them sympathy, for some reason.

    The whole stigma attached to hoarding is straight outta the patriarchy. Women are expected not only to service the funk-filled bratwursts, but to do so in a perfectly spotless environment. Male hoarders exist, but their behavior is more likely to be explained away and tolerated for longer. It is not considered to be the outrageous failure of character in the same way that a woman’s hoarding is.

    A woman’s failure to be a perfect June Cleaver household drudgebot is punished by, as CrazyQuilter eloquently put it, the public pillory.

    I expected better from a blog whose reason for existing is to speak out against women’s oppression in all its forms.

    But I don’t blame you all for that. I blame the patriarchy.

  57. ivyleaves

    Melinda, thank you, I wasn’t brave enough to post myself, but since you have, I would point you to 2 really helpful books: Women With Attention Deficit Disorder by Sari Solden and ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life by Judith Kolberg and Kathleen Nadeau.

    The former really is great because it lays out how much harder it is for women to deal with the challenges thanks to patriarchal expectations and shame, and he latter helped me get through reorganizing myself at work, I’m still struggling at home.

    You are right that children, understandably, will resent their parents for the inconvenience of this illness, as they would one who died when they were young, but that doesn’t make it the parent’s fault, and understanding goes a long way to healing both parties. IBTP

  58. Jezebella

    There is a large median space in between Stepford-Wife-June-Cleaver spotless household and a hoarded household. I am not convinced that this is a case in which the patriarchy is at fault for considering hoarding a mental illness. You say yourself, Melinda, that it’s a mental illness, and then you blame the patriarchy for telling you that a hoarded home is a sign of … what? mental illness? I don’t see that as a valid connection.

    As with alcoholism and other mental illnesses, parents who refuse to get treatment for their illnesses – or to even acknowledge there’s a problem – are inflicting damage on their children.

  59. Jezebella

    And, I do know you’re not a parent – you said so – but the people here who are negative about hoarders are *children of hoarders* who suffered tremendously from their parents’ illness. You, of course, are free to live however you want, ethically speaking, since you are damaging neither humans (other than, possibly, yourself) nor animals in the process.

  60. cabochon

    Niecy Nash is an intelligent and funny entertainer who is listed on the credits as “Clean House” producer, which telegraphs that she also has some business savvy. I do think that her voluntarily leaving the hostess position on the show this year may have its origins in her having realized and internalized that some of the persons she’s intervened with are mentally ill. Ms. Nash broke down in tears the year before she left the show when she followed a female householder down into an immense basement wherein the clutter probably compacted neutrons, protons, and electrons far closer than is wise. Some of the people on the show strike me as having fabricated mess in order to get a free make-over, but the others, whoa-nelly.

  61. Jill

    “the hostess position”

    Like the missionary position, but with canapés.

  62. Laughingrat

    Jezebella, don’t be disingenuous. As an advanced blamer, you should know that mental illness is simultaneously real and yet also unfairly stigmatized, especially where women are concerned. You should surely also know that women and other marginalized populations may have a higher incidence of mental illness because of the bizarre, conflicting demands made of them by our culture, and the outright abuse they often face at home and in public. Health insurance–when one can afford it, that is–offers fewer and fewer benefits for treating mental illness, and the costs of treatment are quite high. Between lack of resources and astonishing levels of stigma (let’s be honest, really, and call it “hatred”), it is often difficult for people to get diagnosis and treatment. Perhaps if our society would stop framing persons with mental illness as being willfully evil or deliberately irritating, and start framing them as full human beings, more individuals would be able to face their situations honestly and get the help they need to function.

    You will notice that not once sentence, not even one word of this comment, has been an excuse for abuse. Not even the smallest iota of what I have written says that abuse is okay, even when the abuser is mentally ill. Interpreting my comment that way, as you’ve interpreted Melinda’s, would simply be deliberate dishonesty on your part. Blame the Patriarchy, not its victims. We’re all in this together.

  63. Jill

    It would appear, after having heard from both hoarders and children of hoarders here in the comments, that this issue is rather more complicated than the reality shows would suggest. Addressing it is probably beyond the scope of a patriarchy-blaming blog, except to reiterate that all humans deserve compassion and understanding. It is maybe not so realistic to expect it from children of hoarders who have been injured by the disorder, or, by the same token, to expect hoarders to quietly accept being marginalized for a disorder that is out of their control.

  64. Ksiusia

    It disturbs me that hoarding shows focus so much on women, especially when the implication is that the worst effect of hoarding is a woman’s failure to do her duty to serve her husband and children (or, in some cases, to obtain same).

    My mother is taking part in a hoarding study, even though her problem is not that she can’t bear to get rid of things but that she doesn’t have the executive function needed to decide what to get rid of and then get rid of it. Even so, she’s being lectured about her supposed inability to “let go”–as if objects just fly out of the house if you don’t grab onto them with both hands–and no one has mentioned a word about my father’s role in this.

  65. Ron Sullivan

    “the hostess position”

    Like the missionary position, but with canapés.

    Will you marry my Roomba(tm)?

  66. speedbudget

    The worse hoarding episode I watched was one in which the husband got himself a spotlessly clean apartment across town from the wife and left the kids with her. Kids who were suffering not only from the safety hazards of having to climb over towers of stuff to get around the house, but also suffering from an inability to eat any real kind of food due to the junk in the kitchen, an inability to have friends over or any kind of normal social life, and an inability to simply relax in their own home. While dad is sanctimoniously living in a perfectly kept, clean apartment across town and talking smack about his wife. He hadn’t even been by the house in something like four years. I just…what an asshole.

  67. buttercup

    Speedbudget, I remember that one. Sanctimonious douche was a kind thing to say about that fellow.

  68. embergirl

    Any of you heard of the Ditwuss UK show, Supersize vs Superskinny? People with binge eating disorders swap diets with sel-starvers for a week. Because that is sure to help.

    Alarmingly, there’s now an edition of the show where the participants are *children*.

  69. nails

    The hoarding shows made the problem something people know about now, at least. A lot of people had that problem and no one knew what it was called or that it was a psychological problem at all. Sometimes other people just assumed that the person was a lazy slob or something instead of mentally ill. That is about the only upside I can find to the whole thing though. Intervention is especially awful, because the only drug treatment drug addicts can afford is fucking AA, which requires godbagism and other nonsense, so they are exploiting mentally ill people on an economic level as well. They won some kind of television award for excellence. I don’t know how else these people would get any treatment without the show. All the money for that is used for fly over pesticide sprays on drug crops south of the border, I suppose.

    Once on intervention a woman was eventually hospitalized for departing from reality in a complete sense, and it was pretty damn obvious the entire show that she was just self medicating for her other problem and that reason wasn’t going to work. Her parents were immigrants and no one in her family had very much education, but the 12 step experts tried their interventiony crap anyway, the jerks. I remember one show where the non-medically trained interventionist told the family that she thinks the addicts heart will go out soon if she doesn’t stop. I have learned tolerance for human misery via the hospital, it takes a lot to depress me.

    I have been doing a crap ton of pit bull research lately and became aware of animal hoarding recently. Between that and puppy mills and dog fighters… I almost wonder why people don’t need a special permit to own animals in the first place. The potential for exploitation is so great.

  70. nails

    Ksiusia, the shows focus on women because women suffer from mental illness problems more than men. It probably has to do with all the crap women go through in their lives. Being out here in Zion, I have seen many a young woman get married young and have kids, and pass on their advice to the next crop of engaged brides about how your expectations of marriage are totally wrong, and how you give up some of your dreams, and how you don’t really know someone until you live with them so be prepared for problems of the domestic sort. These are the circumstances for the girls with looks and money, and it depresses the hell out of women despite being told their whole lives by the church that its their ultimate happiness to be in such an arrangement. Women like me who don’t put up with that kind of crap have to deal with a barrage of hatred and alienation for failure to conform. Then theres that whole rape thing. It makes women sick in the long term, especially when therapy doesn’t involve telling women anything about feminism, it is about increasing their functionality in their current situation. Adverse life events can change brain functioning over time, especially when the adverse event is something that is constant and goes unaddressed.

    I am sure the stats are jacked up a few points by misdiagnosis (heart condition=anxiety, malaise=depression, etc), but that cannot account for the majority of anxiety and depression related problems being diagnosed in women. Some disorders are way more likely to be found in men, too, and some stuff like personality disorders are pretty evenly distributed. I am totally sure that a lot of viewers are looking down their noses at the women on the hoarding shows for failing in their wifely duty, but I doubt that the women are over-represented on the show as hoarders.

  71. speedbudget

    nails, is it really that women suffer from mental illness more than men, or could it be that women’s behavior is more likely to be categorized as abnormal than men’s behavior is?

  72. Comrade Svilova

    Of course women’s behavior is postulated as abnormal. We’re not Default Human!!

  73. nails

    No, I am pretty sure that oppression makes people sick. It is maddening. Other social animals behave poorly when subjected to things like alienation and stress. Admitting this is part of destigmatizing mental illness. There isn’t shame in having a mental illness, especially when you are subjected to pressures that cause those problems consistently over a lifetime. Mentally ill people aren’t worth dismissing; the vast majority can advocate and be politically active, so any inflation by the patriarchy wouldn’t really serve any purpose. It only matters to people who think mental illness is a reason to dismiss what someone is saying about politics. I would like these problems (such as eating disorders, depresssion, anxiety, etc) recognized as real damages instead of dismissed as being invented. The patriarchy has been saying people with mental illnesses are just weak/stupid/making it up for quite awhile. I am pretty certain that it is simply what happens when human beings are exposed to oppression.

  74. Triste

    Women are more likely to have their behavior categorized as aberrant regardless of whether or not it actually is, but they are also more likely to have actual mental afflictions. Women attempt suicide far more often than men, for instance – a behavior which can, IMO, safely be labelled as a symptom of a legitimate ailment. I agree with nails – the Patriarchy makes people sick. This also accounts for high suicide rates among LGBT individuals and males who fail to approximate the masculine ideal, such as those with disabilities.

  75. M

    I’d never heard of anyone else hoarding, before I saw it on television – not one of the shows mentioned here, a one-off documentary, I think on (UK) Channel 4.

    I meant not to watch it – I was afraid it would be that sort of horrid voyeuristic show – but there was nothing else on – I had nothing better to do – and it wasn’t, or not too much.

    I don’t think I can ever fully express the relief I felt, when I saw someone else’s mother curl up into the tiny space in the corner of her bed that wasn’t layered in a foot (or several) of – well, just stuff. I’m crying now, writing this – which is ridiculous, it’s been years now.

    Jill, for the record (and only because you asked) we didn’t grow up exposed to the worst of it. My father’s habitual throwy-outy-ness and my mother’s habitual hoarding didn’t make for a comfortable environment, but he did inexorably remove things from the house so we could all move around – and wait until my sister and I had both moved out before extricating himself last. I can’t say any of that makes him a good husband (he’s not) but he wasn’t the man bitching away in the clean flat across town!

    Since they separated and she was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after (she’s officially “all clear” now – it’s been a long time. He moved her back in during the worst of the treatments, too, or she would’ve skipped appointments) I’ve seen how bad it could’ve been – which I think is only a shadow of how bad things were for CoH. Thank you so much for sharing, CoH – you’re much more eloquent than I am, and every matching experience of someone else’s makes me feel that little bit less a freak =/

    Melinda – I don’t think I blame her, in part because I was protected from some of the worst of it, I guess – I just don’t know what in the hell, if anything, I can do to help her. And that makes me feel terrible. I often can’t bear to visit (and that makes me feel terrible too, of course) because of the overwhelming senses of frustration and helplessness her house and her attitude to it induce in me. She doesn’t acknowledge it like you do – that would help so much, just to be able to talk in a way that acknowledges there might be some sort of problem, even if we don’t actually deal with it!

    But the worst is when other people blame me, and my sister. It’s so hard to say “yes, I know she’s my mother – but she’s a grown person, and I have my own children to be in my own home for – and she really doesn’t *want* me to go round there bullying her into throwing things away, you know” and look into a face full of disbelief, and know the person listening thinks we’re just selfish and don’t care.

  76. Melinda

    I have internet access only sporadically, so I can’t post in anything like a timely fashion. I know Twisty has lost interest in this subject, but I have a few more things to say before I biff off for good.

    ivyleaves: Thanks for treating me like an actual human.


    I may have insight into my problem, but not every hoarder does.

    Insight can only come when a person is mentally stable enough to have some self-awareness. Some people have problems which interfere with the acquisition of insight. Some people can’t hold on to whatever insight they do acquire. ADD, OCD, depression, PTSD, dementia, any of it can not only trigger hoarding behavior, but seriously fuck with a person’s ability to understand the self and interpret reality. She may not acknowledge the problem, because she can’t.

    Although I appreciate being addressed directly, M, there is a significant difference between the way you addressed CoH, and the way you addressed me. The other side gets showered with praise. I get half-apologetic excuses. Thanks at least for not calling your mother names.

  77. Melinda

    Hating only hoarders who have kids or animals is equal to hating only women who are sluts.

    I’m one rape away from being evil incarnate: a hoarder with a child. I’m also disabled and poor, so I can’t afford an abortion if I ever need one. What would happen then? Would the unruly mob who rail against hoarders For The Sake of The Children put down their torches long enough to take up a collection, so that innocent young lives aren’t ruined by living in a house with me? Or is their activism limited to denouncing me on the internet?

    Here’s a thought:

    What about the kids with hoarding tendencies, growing up right now?
    If my experience is typical, kid hoarders are and will continue to be exposed to a never-ending barrage of abuse, from damn near everybody. But no one is jumping up to advocate on their behalf.

    Why is that?

    To be subhuman is to be an object with no past: no birth, no childhood, no common experiences with real humans.

    No one even stops to think that you might exist, much less tries to include you.

    Some of the more fetid underlayers of human oppression, like the one I live in, are conveniently located beyond the scope of this blog.

    The Drudgebot Ultimatum:

    My uncle is a hoarder of the collector type. His entire house is like a shrine to Coca-Cola. But he has a wife to keep the stuff in some kind of order, so he’s considered a bit eccentric, a bit of a pack rat, but nothing that carries a stigma. There’s stuff piled everywhere, though relatively neatly, and because it does somewhat impede movement, I’d rate him a stage 1.5. Because of my aunt, there is no trash or biohazardly substances.

    He also has two kids who are over 30 and still live, apparently happily, at home. They are the only members of my family who are even remotely functional as far as loving close-knit relationships go. But I wonder what would become of them if something happened to my aunt.

    As a female, I don’t get the wifely support system. It sure would be a whole lot easier to keep a house clean if I had an unpaid servant around whose life’s work revolved around picking up after me.

    Not all hoarders are at stage 4, and not all of their children despise them.

    Suggestions that I should shut up already because the Drudgebot Ultimatum supposedly doesn’t apply to my childfree, non-animal-hoarding self remind me of how many men act when women try to explain to them what life on the shit end of the patriarchy is like: disbelief, scorn, willful obtuseness, hair-splitting attempts to invalidate. All I can say to that begins with Fuck and ends with You.

    I don’t get to opt out of the Drudgebot Ultimatum. (It’s like the beauty ultimatum, only with dishpan hands.)

    More tedious details of my life, which I would really rather not share with mostly hostile strangers on the internet, but which I need in order to illustrate my fucking point, for which I apologize in advance because there’s nothing worse than slogging through tales of personal woe, unless you’re a ghoul:

    My parents divorced when I was 11. Bitter custody battle ensued: not over me, but over my brother. My mother didn’t win. Instead of her golden boy, she was stuck with a fat ugly awkward slob of a daughter instead. (That brother’s favorite childhood occupation was burning insects with a magnifying glass. He was never neat either, but my mother lovingly cleaned up after him without a murmur of complaint.)

    She spent the next seven years taking her revenge out of my hide.

    My mother had internalized the Drudgebot Ultimatum. She enforced it on me every day of my life with her hands, a belt, or a yardstick (until it broke) until I became old enough to legally escape. I was not loved or even tolerated because I could not live up to it. Every day I was reminded how worthless I was because of it. My very existence was bitterly resented. After I failed a suicide attempt at 16, she got me a box of single-edged razor blades and told me to try harder next time. I guess she was willing to tolerate the mess it would make if it would permanently rid her of me. Somehow I kept myself together, but I wasn’t able to keep my stuff straight. It was just too fucking hard to do those things simultaneously. Not committing matricide had to take top priority.

    I may live on my own now, far the hell away from my toxic family, but I still live with the consequences of the Drudgebot Ultimatum. I’ve internalized some of it even though I know it’s unfair and wrong, because it’s impossible to swim in a septic tank without swallowing some shit. Vicious circle, this: depression oppression depression oppression, ad infinitum. When strangers look at my house, they judge me by the Drudgebot Ultimatum. Even strangers on this here very blog treat me as “less than” because of it. No woman is exempt.

    I’m not championing my right to “live however I please.” Hoarding is not fun. It is not something I choose. It doesn’t “please” me. It causes suffering. I wish there were a cure for it, but there isn’t. It alienates me from others. Every day I struggle to cope. Hey, I’m down to stage 1 right now! What the fuck do I have to complain about? My house looks almost normal. I could pass for a messy but normal person right now. So why don’t I just shut up and pretend I’m not what I am, so I can treat myself to a little social acceptance on one of the rare blogs on the internet that isn’t completely owned by The Man?

    Normal people don’t live in fear of their own mess. I do. I live in fear that the struggle to keep clean will be too much for me, and I’ll lose my tentative grip on reality and end up in stage 4. That fear will never leave me until I die. I don’t get the luxury of pretending it away. Insight comes at a price: you can’t deny reality.

    Twisty sez: It is “unrealistic” to expect “understanding and kindness” from people who have been injured by the disorder, as if people who have the disorder aren’t injured by it also. Only they don’t get a free pass to act like an asshole.

    She neatly sidestepped a most important issue: what about the majority of posters on the thread, including herself, who have not been injured by the disorder but only seen it on TV? Is it realistic to expect understanding and kindness from them? One or two people thought I was human enough to speak to. A few more, like Twisty, deigned to consider my plight, but only from an aloof, cold-shouldered distance. That’s strikingly different from the way she imagined herself in the very shoes of the other side.

    The message is clear: All humans deserve understanding and kindness, but some are more deserving than others.

    If I were the very same person who went through the same childhood abuse, but had no hoarder tendencies now, the other posters on this blog might consider me an actual human instead of a talking theoretical construct. They might say things like “I’m so sorry! I can’t imagine what you must have gone through!” They might say these things to me, instead of talking over my head as if I’m not even there.

    All humans deserve understanding and kindness, but not in equal measure. They are lavished upon the more valued members of this blog: those who hate my kind and advocate our public humiliation. Subhumans like me must remain under the table, being “realistic”, not expecting too many crumbs to fall.

    I wonder if I’m the only hoarder who reads this blog. I suspect not, but I’m the only one who dared to speak up. It’s not hard to guess why nobody else wants to out themselves. Now that I have, I can never pass as normal again around here.

    In the air around me hangs an uncomfortable silence, backed by the distant chirp of crickets. Clean and virtuous members of humanity step around me like I’m a wild-eyed derelict sprawled on a hot Austin sidewalk. Sorry. They can’t spare any extra change. My all-permeating stench of loserdom is to be avoided, lest it offend more delicate nostrils. If I must be dealt with, it’s at arm’s length, whilst averting one’s eyes.

    Marginalization like mine is beyond the scope of this blog, yo. It’s uncool. It threatens the digestion of patriarchy-blaming spinster aunts. No one wants to puke up their delicious tacos sprinkled with Chardonnay Oak Smoked Fleur de Sel, because that’s some twenty-dollar salt, mang. Wish you could afford some. No one wants to come right out and tell me to go the fuck away, but everyone is hoping that I will, so they can go back to bragging about their leg hair.

    But if my exploitation gives them a pleasant schadenfreudenly buzz as they remind themselves to keep up with the housework, it was all worth it.

  78. Alex

    Still, it’s not surprising that people irrationally fear crows.

    If anyone wants a rational reason to fear (I swear I mean fear as in respect, bwahaha), they will bite the shit out of you if they feel inclined. And it’s totally worse than getting kicked by a horse, I swear.

    But for some reason I’m only afraid of snakes. I’m with your sister on that one.

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