I'll admit it, like millions of other Americans, I'm a sucker for cheesy occupation-based reality shows. I love History Channel's Pawn Stars and American Pickers, as well as A&E's Billy the Exterminator and Dog the Bounty Hunter. I watch them because they're entertaining and full of colorful characters, not in the expectation of some insightful commentary on America's real or imagined economic and social woes.
But for some reason, Washington Post Style section contributor Hank Stuever is disappointed that A&E's new reality show "Storage Wars," which debuts tonight, doesn't explore those issues to his satisfaction:
In "Storage Wars," we follow several men (and one woman, who is married to one of them) who attempt to make their living by chasing auctions at storage-unit facilities in dusty Southern California burbs. Here, under a blazing sun in the Great Recession's land of extreme foreclosures, an auctioneer cuts off the lock of unlucky units where the fee has gone unpaid for at least 90 days.
The door rolls upward and these modern-day scavengers get a look at the mysteries within. The bidders aren't allowed to touch or examine what's inside; they have to rely on their foraging instinct. This is, of course, a seductive process to watch: What could be in those cardboard boxes near the back?
What's interesting about "Storage Wars" is that it airs on the same network that brings us "Hoarders" and "Intervention"; it takes place in the same baked-and-cracked suburban landscapes of despair often seen in those shows, and yet it lacks the central integrity of either. We learn in "Storage Wars" that there are 2 billion square feet of storage-unit space across the land. But barely a word is said about the poor suckers who've lost all their stuff, nor is there any opportunity to discuss the full-blown epidemic of affluenza that caused the storage industry to boom.
Instead, "Storage Wars" portrays the misery of others as a twisted opportunity for the rest of us to get a leg up. It reveals how off-kilter our values have become, in both the moral and economic sense. Is anything really worth a darn anymore?
Yes: baseball cards.
Of course, the "poor suckers who've lost all their stuff" were three months or more delinquent on paying up on storage costs, and could have removed their stuff long before it got to the point of the storage company auctioning off the unclaimed property. And has Stuever considered the difficult situation that storage unit companies are in when renters fail to pay their rental costs?
I much prefer New York Daily News writer David Hinckley's take (emphasis mine):
Like gamblers, these guys all talk about their big scores and even their medium scores, the way you can shell out $900 for a locker today and sell it for 10 times that much tomorrow if it's got the right stuff.
It's also clear, however, that big scores are the exceptions. None of these guys has graduated to Easy Street - though if they had, they might stay in the game anyhow. Gambling is like that.
The storage hunters aren't warm and fuzzy. They're hard guys, always looking for the edge and the way to get that nickel first.
On the other hand, they seem to like their work. In the end, what part of the American Dream is bigger than that?