Part of being a starving artist has included giving up cable television in the last few months. I have never been all that attached to TV but I have been surprised by what I find myself missing. The shows winning Emmys are not on my list.
Admittedly, I always liked the show “Hoarders.” Give me the A&E version or even it’s TLC rival and I am set. I love watching the family dynamics unfold as the hoarders defend their material belongings.
“A Hoarder’s going to hoard,” was a popular refrain in my living room during the times in which the show was on. While I took a detached joy in watching what was often clearly a tragic situation, it wasn’t due to a lack of empathy on my part. I know that my cluttered shelves hardly qualify me but the tendency is there. How liable am I to collect the plastic cartons that previously held feta in theory to use again? That’s the tricky part, the theorectically green mentality of recycling and reuse becomes insanity when taken too far. I’d like to think Hoarding is in reaction to the abundance our culture has afforded us. A vestigial instinct perhaps…
Hoarders seem to come in two varieties. The Poor and the Traumatized. The first group hoards stuff because they feel insecure having once had to go without. My Mom fits this “Hoarder” mold in the sense that she grew up in abject poverty and is therefore unwilling to part with what other people would consider “trash.” she has in recent years furnished a vacation home entirely with materials she already had- she literally had a second house worth of stuff waiting in the wings.
Mom thought she was pretty much genius for not having to buy a thing. “That’s the point of keeping everything,” she has proudly said. It’s perfectly reasonable in that sense but also in direct conflict with our consumerist culture’s binge and purge cycle. Hoarders do great on the acquistion side of the cycle, but less well on the letting go part. Although, hoarding makes some sense on a bioevolutionary level. One might think Hoarders may be better off were an apocalyptic scenario to unfold. They’d have more stuff at least, assuming it’s not one of those really filthy situations in which most of the stuff is totally unusuable anymore.
I admit to a lingering paranoia of my own, in which right after i’ve cleaned out my car of things like empty water bottles and fast food silverware I think, what if I now get stuck in some sort of disaster (an avalanche? an earthquake? lost in the desert?) and the supplies I am restricted to are the items from my car? Bear Grylls has traumatized me. Wouldn’t I be sad to have tossed that silverware then?
Speaking of trauma,the other half of the Hoarders start collecting stuff to fill some emotional hole left after someone dies or leaves or robs them at gun point. I think those are the sadder situations but the “Hoard” usually looks identical. Did that noun always exist btw? Or did reality TV create it- “the Hoard!” I question the shows’ propensity for forcing these “trauma-driven Hoarders” to confront whatever ails them. I saw one episode in which the camera followed one lady back to where her life had been threatened. As she looked visibly shaken and began to weep, I thought, hmm, if her current coping skills consist of rabid retail therapy are we sure this is safe for her? Not retraumatizing perhaps?
I felt similarly overprotective watching an episode in which a mother whose baby died in infancy was encouraged to let go of her now molding baby clothes. I thought if I had a baby who died, good luck prying those onesies out of my hands. Why shouldn’t she get to keep at least one? The therapist argued that tattered clothing wasn’t a great representation of her daughter’s memory. In the confines of my living room I argued that sometimes that’s the best you’ve got. Material belongings are a poor subsitute but they’re something. Maybe i’m a Hoarder in training, one trauma away, look I’m already attached to my television.
I was watching television. Nothing special, whatever was on when the power button got pressed. In this case it was an episode of Law and Order:SVU- the one with Ice-T in it. The episode was about a cop who’d shown up dead- and in the twists and turns of the show it turns out despite having dated Mariska Hargitay’s character, he was gay and HIV positive. His end came in relation to a circle of black men who were on “the down low.” When he fell in love with and threatened to “out” one of them, he got killed in response. Ice-T got the dubious honor of explaining the concept of “the down low” to the TV audience.He framed it like being out and gay in the black community was neigh impossible and so gay black men are undercover as a result. Then when he confronted one of them he threatened to “out” them blackmail style in order to get his cooperation and in the process, says something like- “you have sex with other dudes- that makes you gay- period.” And at home in the comfort of my living room, I thought well- that’s not entirely true though. I mean, I’m sure there are black men living a lie due to cultural pressure and all, but some of those brothers are Bi too, and that complex possibility wasn’t mentioned.
Hence perpetuating the misassumption that any man who has sex with men is gay and that bisexual men don’t exist. LAME.
I actually saw a headline on Nerve.com that claimed, “Bisexuality exists,” and was attached to some new scientific study. You don’t say….So I was a little sad to realize that something so obvious could be still up for debate but then again in some places we’re still arguing over evolution, when we share 98% of our DNA with a chimpanzee, so I don’t know why I’m surprised at all on another level.
Anyhow, my day was saved by the commercial that came on afterwards.
It was a Tide commercial, featuring a mother who’s got a child she can’t seem to keep clean. The outstanding part comes in that the child is a “tomboy” and the mom comments as to her acceptance of her child’s lack of gender normativity. It was something like, “She’s never going to be the kind of girl who plays with dolls and keeps her clothes clean and I love her the way she is.” That was the message if not the exact wording. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to being brought to tears by a detergent commercial. I might even forgive myself and switch from my hippie version back to Tide and finally have laundry soap that works. The point is- when did TV get so Gay?
I’m in the audience of a game show called “Baggage.” A show which features a sexy bachelor or bachelorette who chooses between three suitors, each of whom have three suitcases set in front of them. Those cases hold secrets that might make them less attractive mates. Stuff like sexual proclivities and past addictions, obssesions, quirks. I collect my nail filings. I used to be real fat. One guy’s secret was that he lived communally- what horror!
As the show goes on they have to open those suitcases and admit to being the freaks they really are. Okay my choice of words not theirs… and We as an audience get to encourage the contestants to harshly judge their prospective mates. The camera pans to reveal shock and disgust in our faces. We have a guy showing us the appropriate faces to make. Jerry Springer the host then asks them to explain why this particular piece of information was a deal breaker-” So why can’t you stand the idea that he collects Barbie Dolls? Tell me about that…”
I am wearing a cute summer dress as advised by the same casting service that has promised to pay me in cash at the end of the day. It’s always fun to check out what people choose to wear to these things, their interpretation of the dress code. A lot of personal taste can come through “Business Casual”.
Between takes I turn and scan the rows behind me, looking at the people who have come here to be paid in cash like me. I settle my gaze repeatedly on a handsome blond man, hair spiked with gel, sitting next to an aging bottle blond girlfriend.
There is something about him that makes me think “maybe you were once a woman” Something in his rocker/surf presentation, something in the cheekbones or the eyes. Gender is of course a reading of a set of culturally determined cues and as I steal glances I think- His hands aren’t so big- He is big but no larger than the bigget and butchest of my moms-I imagine the face before the hormones, what that might look like.
I think to myself that it is all so subtle that only someone well-versed in the possibilities of gender queering like me would notice. You were passing and then I caught you. Then I wonder why I care at all. This person is living, passing as the gender of their choice so what do I care?
I love trans people- why am I staring at this one? Maybe because it was so close, I just couldnt be sure how to categorize them, not even cultured ol’ me. That would be the ultimate suitcase secret for a show like this-but then it would most likely end with the person being rejected for being too different to accept and what fun really is that? Not my kind.
Don’t get me wrong I love judging strangers just as much as the next guy- when one lady’s secret was “I only do it on my sex towel”, I was quick to think- No way, what freak that person is- how neurotic and bizarre.But right after that thought was the consideration of what could have possibly convinced these people to offer up themselves for judgment? That was the real freakiness of the whole thing for me. Did they need the cash worse than I (Hardly Possible)? Did they think they stood a chance at finding love through this hell (implausible)? Did they just want the attention? And what did that mean?
My godmother Helen gave me David Foster Wallace’s “This is Water” this last weekend. It’s the one commencement speech he gave before he died. The book had bits of wisdom on each page, small bites of it so it was perfect for the environment of reading during filming breaks.
It seemed to me it was saying that it was worthwhile to consider the experiences of others, to question
ones own natural self centeredness. That you aren’t the only person who matters, there are others and they count too. That you get to choose to remove yourself from the position of judge and jury of the world around you and the needless suffering of ego. I think about how from a very young age I have known that thanks to my many mothers I am different, that there are others with different perspectives than mine. I have always known that people think they are right often when they don’t know any better. This perspective has made me less self-righteous in my own pronouncements.
I think that being queer teaches you not to take for granted a lot of things that others don’t think about.
I read an affecting article about a young trans child and her parents and their attempts to navigate the world. It isn’t easy to be different but it is an education.
Back to Baggage- I spent the day mulling over what might be in my suitcases and how I felt about Secrets in general (Anti! Definitively so!). I checked out everyone else in the room and made uneducated guesses about what could be “wrong” with them. I felt blessed that this wasn’t the only forum in life for getting laid.