On some level most of us seem to understand that reality television is both not real and mostly awful.
While the popularity of shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo sort of baffles me, in other ways it makes perfect sense. Many folks seem to have an insatiable appetite for the manufactured and random drama being fed to them, and they get to live vicariously through the real life cartoon characters that populate most reality television. In some cases, almost anyone gets the happy thrill of being "better than" the individuals they see in these shows. That's an appealing idea to a lot of people.
It's also a popular format with the people that manufacture crappy reality shows because the format is relatively inexpensive to produce and often results in a runaway hit show. Who knew that so many of us would enjoy watching wealthy "rednecks" or alligator hunters in Louisiana?
Who would've thought that we'd be so captivated by goofy, living stereotypes of New Jersey "Guidos", or "American Gypsies"?
So while the majority of us (Hopefully) realize this stuff is trash - the television equivalent of making fun of the retarded kid at school, or the poor kids that live in the trailer park on the bad side of town. But unlike those scenarios, these garbage shows let us feel superior in private, and not many people will criticize you for making fun of Honey Boo Boo's mother. Houston Press writer Pete Vonder Haar covers these garbage reality shows weekly, and I have to tip my hat to him - That's got to be a difficult job.
I work a skilled labor job where I often rub elbows with the types of people shown on some of these reality shows. When I get off work the last thing I want to watch is a bunch of yelling lumberjacks or crab fishermen acting like total assholes to each other. It's like putting in extra hours at my work.
So there are lots of horrible reality shows out there. Pick your poison, I guess. But the shows that get my goat the most celebrate what I call "bottom feeder jobs" and the people that work them.
Like something out of a John Waters film, we have elevated pawn shop owners, tow truck drivers, people that go to abandoned storage auctions, and "Pickers" into celebrities. How did this horrible state of affairs happen?
There's nothing noble about running a pawn shop. Let's strip away the bullshit, that is not a particularly nice way to make a living. I've seen people argue about how pawn shops fill a "necessary function," but do we need to celebrate that shit? I'm a musician, and have had gear stolen on two occasions. On both, my stuff was almost immediately sold to scummy pawn shops, and no, the owners were not helpful when they discovered they'd bought stolen goods.
And let's face it, they prey on desperate people. Yeah, I guess it's marginally better that pawn shops exist so those folks don't have to go to some criminal loan shark, but anyone that can make their living as a pawn broker is not someone I'd rank highly on the compassion scale.
Yet there are multiple pawn shop reality shows. I guess the "classiest" is Pawn Stars, since they try hard to act like that store's bread and butter is museum piece rarities. From what I understand, the guys from the show don't really work there, most of the walk-ins with interesting items are set ups, and there's nothing much real about any of it. I've heard the pawn shop was the kind of place where junkies would hock gold fillings for 3 a.m. drug money prior to the show's launch, and that's not surprising.
I get that people like seeing rare items, and probably enjoy the fake haggling and deal making, but why the hell would anyone like the Harrisons or Chumlee? Can't we find enough greedy slimeballs and stoners in real life to sate our appetite for people like that?
Then there are shows like "American Pickers", proving that two guys from Iowa can hop in a van and take advantage of elderly hoarders. It seems to have a similar appeal to the pawn shows. The idea that hidden treasures are out there is one that a lot of people enjoy, and the Pickers are less abrasive in general, even though they still manage to come off like ruthless weasels from time to time. They may or may not be nice enough people in real life, but their business model is finding people with cool stuff, and then talking people into selling said stuff for about a third of what the Pickers think they can flip it for.
That's not necessarily exploitative in itself. People sell things to antique stores or shops that specialize in collectibles all the time. The people running those businesses have to buy stuff at a price that allows them to make a profit, but what's troubling is that many of the people the American Pickers find who are extremely old. If you listen to the way they haggle, they get pretty cut throat too, or resort to manipulative tactics to convince those folks to sell to them.
I collect the kinds of weird stuff that those two dudes seem to like buying, and I would love the opportunity to tell them to get lost and pound sand if they ever showed up at my front door.
Finally, there are the "Storage Wars" shows. Let's not fool ourselves. People rent storage lockers, and occasionally lose them because they're too broke to pay the storage rent. Then the storage facility has a public auction. That's when the parasites that are the main characters in "Storage Wars" come in.
So we have a show that begins with the premise that someone else's life has taken a bad turn, and that they've had to abandon what might be their only material possessions. Of course, that reality isn't brought into this reality show, as that's just a bummer to consider. I've seen an interview where the shows producers say just that. Exploring the locker's history and back story wouldn't set the mood they want to sell.
This show does manage to make most of its primary characters look like the scummy creeps they probably really are, and I guess that's something. Whenever I've caught an episode, I see these folks sifting through the locker contents, probably skipping over irreplaceable family photos in the scramble to find something that they can sell at the local flea market, and I think "these people are total garbage. Why are they famous?"
And the sad answer is "because we keep watching this junk."