Friday, January 15, 2010

Arbitrary and Capricious Censorship at A&E’s Message Boards

On or about January 14th, 2010, I posted the following message on the A&E Message Board covering its Hoarders show in a thread entitled “Horders[sic] OR LAZY??? I KNOW- LAZY LAZY LAZY”:
It's Astonishing How Some People Find It Necessary to Compare Themselves to Hoarders

I'm not sure why people find it necessary to say things like, "I work three full time jobs and still find time to cook for my eight children, wash the dishes after every meal, clean my bathroom bowl each time someone uses it, vacuum and dust my furniture every morning by 6am, mow the lawn, . . . "

Do these people think that their ability to discharge all of these responsibilities makes them better human beings than the people featured on Hoarders? What, exactly, are they trying to prove, other than their total self-centeredness and lack of compassion?
Another contributor who identified herself by the alias “windswept” posted this response:
To "netesq"

You said non-hoarders have "total self-centeredness and lack of compassion"

It's actually quite the opposite. People who are RESPONSIBLE don't hoard, don't neglect their children, spouses, homes, and animals. This grown-up type of self-discipline requires compassion towards others and sacrifice.

It's compassionate to be honest with the hoarder, and let them know just how destructive their behavior is towards the rest of the world. Hoarders just don't want to hear it. It infringes on their fantasy world.
When I read this response, I couldn’t help but notice that I had been misquoted, so I responded with a post entitled "I Love It When People Put Words In My Mouth!" Had I known that some unknown entity at A&E was going to delete this response, I would have made a copy. As it is, the exact text of that post is lost in the ether of the Internet, but here’s my best attempt at recreating it:
I said no such thing, you ignorant twit! But I have no trouble believing that that’s what you heard. If you read my post again, this time without embracing your exaggerated sense of self-importance, you’ll find that I was pointing out that some people cannot seem to discuss anyone else’s situations without comparing those situations to their own. Indeed, some people are so self-absorbed that they don’t seem to notice that they are putting words in someone else’s mouth.
When I checked back some time later to see if there was any response to this followup post, I noticed that it had mysteriously disappeared, and I posted this comment:
The Case of the Mysterious Disappearing Post

Who'd a thunk it? No profanity; nothing even remotely approaching uncivil discourse, but my earlier post entitled "I Love It When People Put Word's in My Mouth!" is now gone. Even so, it's pretty clear that the person who misquoted me as saying that "non-hoarders have total self-centeredness and lack of compassion" read my response.

BTW, absent some sort of adequate explanation from A&E as to why my earlier post disappeared, this will probably be my last post on these forums.
To their credit, more than one person on the Hoarders forum whom I consider an adversary told me that I should stick around, but I am not the sort of person to suffer arbitrary and capricious censorship, so I resolved to steer clear of the A&E Hoarders Forum unless and until such time as the powers that be at A&E made some sort of bold gesture, such as admitting that my post should not have been deleted. As of this writing, no such bold gesture has been forthcoming. Rather, someone who uses the alias “aetv_rita” posted this truly bizarre notice in the above-linked thread:
Just a reminder

Hi all – I’d just like to remind everyone that our community is not a place for namecalling or profanity. Please review our Terms of Service before posting, or send me a message, if you have questions. Also, if you respond to a post which violates our Terms of Service your reply will also be removed – so it’s best not to respond at all! Thanks everyone.
What is this nitwit talking about? The context of this post is slanderous in that it paints my now deleted post in a false light and makes it sound like I posted something truly horrible on the A&E Hoarders Forum. Consequently, as soon as I am done posting this blog entry, I will send A&E a formal demand for a retraction.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

The Ripple Effect of Hoarders

A&E's show Hoarders is an intervention-style reality television series that profiles people whose lives have been severely impacted by a hoarding compulsion. My mother turned me on to this show; in turn, I've turned several friends on to it; in turn, these friends have turned several of their friends and family members on to it. In sum, it is the most compelling and gripping reality television show that I have ever encountered. I've only met one person who doesn't like it.

Perhaps "like" is the wrong word. Only a truly pathological individual could experience any sort of pleasure when viewing a television show that exposes a hoarder to the scrutiny and judgment of the world. Hoarders, as a group, are not "bad" people, nor (for the most part) are they suffering from a mental disorder, as most "specialists" would have you believe. Rather, hoarders are people who lack organizational skills and/or people whose judgment has become impaired when it comes to dealing with accumulated clutter. They are a rather diverse group of people, coming from all walks of life, all types of family backgrounds, and all levels of education and income.

It is the extremely rare individual who has never had to deal with any sort of accumulated clutter. Almost as rare is the individual who has always been able to dispatch with clutter in a timely manner. Everyone has had a moment, no matter how brief, where they have been unable to decide whether they should keep something or throw it away. With a hoarder, these moments will all too often stretch out indefinitely, and just as often a hoarder will make bad decisions regarding accumulated clutter - i.e., to keep something that has little or no value, or to keep something of value for which they do not have room and/or probably won't ever actually need or use.

There is no one reason why people make bad decisions regarding accumulated clutter, nor is there any objective standard by which all such decisions can be measured. But the show Hoarders doesn't deal with any of these gray areas. It focuses on people whose judgment regarding accumulated clutter has become so severely impaired as to make their bad decisions clearly irrational to outside observers. Consequently, many people "blame the victims," and the victims respond (quite predictably) with all sorts of cliché excuses and banal explanations for their behavior. Even so, a thoughtful observer will be left with the distinct impression that "but for the grace of God, there go I."

Hoarders does a very good job of exposing the universal psychological dynamics of shame, victim blaming, blame shifting, and co-dependency. To wit, most hoarders know that their behavior is pathological, and they are typically overwhelmed by feelings of shame. Moreover, the friends and family of a hoarder are usually frustrated and angry, perhaps justifiably so, and they usually blame the hoarder for . . . God only knows what, reinforcing the hoarder's feelings of shame. However, contrary to most conventional wisdom, accepting responsibility for a situation does not mean accepting blame. And while assigning blame may sometimes help an innocent party feel better, it seldom helps the hoarder, and it almost always morphs into a co-dependent dynamic of resentment.

Other things being equal, the co-dependents of a hoarder are seldom suffering from any sort of mental disorder. Rather, like most so-called co-dependents, a hoarder's co-dependents are usually people who simply do not have the wherewithal and/or clinical detachment necessary to deal with pathological behavior. This lack of wherewithal typically gives way to feckless attempts to fix the problem, which typically gives way to feelings of frustration, resentment, and guilt. With such dynamics in play, most progress is usually very temporary, and the problem usually becomes much, much worse.

After watching several episodes of Hoarders, I've found it very hard to gauge the success rate of their interventions, but they are seldom completely successful. At the same time, they are seldom complete failures. Most of the really bad situations are improved in some clearly palpable way, leaving the promise of a ripple effect that goes far beyond the individuals profiled by the show. Witness the blog post that you are now reading, which will probably be read by dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of people.

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