Animal Hoarding and Disability

Paleo Retiree writes:

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working my way through an Animal Planet “animal hoarders” show on the tube. (Actually on Netflix Instant — haven’t had a cable subscription in years. Why bother with one? The Question Lady and I don’t care about sports; we graze for news online; and we do whatever TV watching we do these days via Roku.) The show is nothing special so far as movie/TV-making goes — it’s standard contempo reality-doc stuff. But I’ve gotten fascinated by it anyway, and for a variety of reasons.

One of them is the sociology factor. Most of the hoarders — and the baffled-and-unhappy friends and family members — that the show focuses on are white working-class (or poorer) people.  I was amazed by …

  • … how many of the people onscreen wear tattoos and piercings — parents as well as kids.
  • … how many come from families with multiple divorces.
  • … how many are really fat — and not just fat but misshapen-fat.
  • … how many of them smoke.
  • … how many are taking buckets of pills and other prescription medicines.
  • (A convenient trigger for one of my favorite current rants, namely: Hey, America, we could solve a big part of our medical-costs crisis if you just lost some weight, got some basic exercise, quit the cancer sticks, gave up most of your pills, and acted your age.)
  • … how quickly they burn up their youths. Good lord, by 50 they look 75.

Also: how few of them have what you might think of as productive jobs. For many of them disability seems to be their main, if not only, source of income. Co-blogger Glynn Marshes points me to this informative article about how rapidly use of disability has been growing in the last decade. Fact Du Jour:

From 1980 to 2002 there was no change in the percentage of the workforce claiming disability, yet the “disability participation rate” has embarked on a 4.5 percent ascent each year for the last decade.  There is now 1 person collecting disability for every 12 in the workforce.

I’ve also been fascinated by the show as a study in forms of delusion. The hoarders — who typically have little money and not much space but are caring for 30 to as many as 200 animals — clearly see themselves as reasonable people. Some of them are instantly-identifiable as cracked, but many of them appear to be — if you were to run into them away from their animals — sane. It definitely has me wondering about how many of the rational-seeming people I deal with day-to-day are, in their private lives, complete loons.

What the show mainly has me musing about, though, is the distance between the kind of lives these people lead and the world I inhabit. They don’t eat the kind of food I eat — often, they don’t even have sitdown mealtimes together. They don’t think the same thoughts I do, or consume the same kind of mental fodder. Their life-expectations and their behavior-patterns go off in directions that are completely alien to me. Often while watching the show I find myself thinking, “Wow, has the gap between middle-class-and-above people and working-class-and-below people ever been greater, or more dramatic, than it is now?”

Although many of the people who appear on the show are clearly bright and/or perceptive and/or sweet, the life they’re leading has “Idiocracy” written all over it. They don’t feel like co-citizens to me so much as members of a different (if related) species. Which I don’t intend, believe it or not, as a putdown. I find it impossible not to feel for them (OK, many of them), and for their plight.

Have you gotten fascinated by any reality-doc TV shows recently?

About Paleo Retiree

Onetime media flunky and movie buff and very glad to have left that mess behind. Formerly Michael Blowhard of the cultureblog Now a rootless parasite and bon vivant on a quest to find the perfectly-crafted artisanal cocktail.
This entry was posted in Animals, Demographics, Personal reflections, Politics and Economics, Television and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Animal Hoarding and Disability

  1. Fenster says:

    The only reality TV I’ve seen in the past few years is a couple of episodes of the regular Hoarders. Only a few shows, but enough to allow me to agree with your many of your observations, and enough to tell me enough is enough. After a few shows I considered myself sufficiently illuminated (and creeped out), and felt like more watching would just be voyeurism. But it was interesting while it lasted.

    Assortive mating was brought up in a recent comment here. I suspect that has something to do with your feelings about a parallel set of beings. Belmont and Fishtown, in Murray’s words.—Fishtown-7250


    • I hear the regular Hoarders shows can be pretty horrifying, even disgusting. Is that right? The animal hoarders get weird, god knows, and you definitely have to have the stomach for the occasional closeup of catshit … One of the delusions nearly all the animal hoarders share is that they’re taking good care of their critters, when it’s perfectly clear that in almost all the cases the animals are badly fed, have mites or mange …

      Assortative mating would certainly seem to be a factor. Most of the people onscreen seem to have no idea that other, non-Wal-Marty lifeways are a possibility. Or maybe they do know it, but they consider it hopeless, hard to guess. “Begin with a daily walk and eating fresh food,” I want to tell them. But maybe they’re content, or content-enough, with their lives as they live ’em. They generally get by, have a roof over their heads, don’t starve, have TV … Many of them clearly aren’t looking for a lot more than that, other than maybe kids.


      • Blowhard, Esq. says:

        >>I hear the regular Hoarders shows can be pretty horrifying, even disgusting. Is that right?

        Most definitely. The show got a lot of mileage off showing the gross conditions.


  2. Blowhard, Esq. says:

    Like Fenster, I had the same experience with Hoarders; I watched it on and off for the first season and that was enough. It seemed to me that many were clearly battling some form of depression. Some people take drugs to dull the pain, others buy and collect.

    As for current reality shows, that Honey Boo Boo ones seems to be all the rage among certain friends. But I don’t have cable right now, so I get to remain blissfully ignorant.


    • I barely know who or what Honey Boo Boo is …

      On the Animal Hoarders shows a few of the people are clearly struggling with depression. Most of them, though, just seem to have gone off the rails somehow. They’re unfulfilled … They need love … They’ve been hurt in the past by people and the animals give them unconditional acceptance … The kids are finally out of the house and from now on they’re going to do things their own way, dammit … And then it gets out of hand.

      One thing I didn’t mention in the posting that I maybe should have is the spectacle of spiritual dissatisfaction that’s on display. The people who do have jobs have uninteresting ones. The families are often broken and re-broken. There’s seldom a sense of anyone belonging to any kind of community. Religion (and learning and art) are almost never mentioned. Their surroundings have no grace, wit or beauty (except nature — trees and fields). They experience zero intellectual and/or imaginative stimulation. So what’s it all about anyway? Caring-for-animals turns out to be some kind of answer for these people.

      Plus very few ever seem to have developed decent, semi-organized, self-respecting habits. The misshapen fatness often seems to have to do as much with clueless-slobby personal habits as it does with what actually goes in their mouths.


      • Blowhard, Esq. says:

        I wonder if there’s much of a difference in the etiology of a Stuff Hoarder v. an Animal Hoarder. Is it that the Animal Hoarder just like living things more? Is there a gender break down, i.e. stuff hoarders tend to be more male, while Animal Hoarders tend to be more female? I think more research needs to be done.


  3. The Question Lady says:

    The show is scary because it’s not about bad people doing mean things, it’s about well-meaning people doing disastrous things — to their families, their neighbors, and most of all to the animals they think they’re saving.


  4. James Taylor says:

    Keep in mind it’s Animal Planet– ratings count, not sociological accuracy. One of my best friends (deceased) was a hoarder– white woman, thin, intelligent, an attorney by profession.


    • Oh sure. It’s not a study, it’s a ratings-chasing TV show. Still, part of the fascination of watching is the peek at different lives, and getting to meet people you wouldn’t normally spend much time with. I wonder what a scientific, or at least academic, study of animal hoarders generally would reveal about them. Was your friend an animal hoarder? A hoarder of things? It’s a funny affliction. Not hard to understand wanting to hold on to things, of course, let alone collect a few animals. But amazing when the impulse zooms out of control. How do these people not know that things have gone wrong?


  5. Spike says:

    I’m related to this different species. Basically, you’re seeing the most broken examples of them. The educated middle class equivalents would be the 30 year old failure to launch either chain-smoking doobs or marathon playing WoW in his parent’s basement, or the milquetoast eternal graduate student who can’t handle reality outside the university bubble. The SWPL equivalent to an animal hoarder would be something like a PETA activist or a person who feeds their pet cats a vegan diet. Well intentioned, utterly clueless and destructive.


  6. Chip Smith says:

    Watching “Hoarders” is a good way to palpate the moral dimension of “disgust” that Jonathan Haidt goes on about.

    “Small Town Security” is, IMO, a genuinely funny and sort of great reality show — a bit like what you might expect if Errol Morris took an interest in the form.


  7. JayMan says:

    This is the essence of Charles Murray’s Coming Apart. In short, meritocracy has stripped the underclass of its best, brightest, and most able individuals, leaving the working/underclass to be overwhelmingly composed of the dim, the impulsive, and the troubled and their progeny.


  8. Pingback: Blowing Up the Fantasy Bubble: A Review of Kirk Hammett’s “Too Much Horror Business” (and More) | Uncouth Reflections

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