Why 'Hoarders' Should Merge with 'Judge Judy'

These people are sad, but it is a sadness wholly self-imposed, accumulated over years of lacking a critical inner voice.

I like to think of insanity as the best way to put your finger to the cultural breeze. Crazies tend to latch onto predominant themes in the ether tacking on justifications for some insane stuff they would have done anyway. Consequently, we now have people gunning down guards or flying planes into the IRS in order to cement their anti-government bona fides. Because nothing fights the power like murdering secretaries. When I saw Lindsay Lohan outing her clutter to Niecy Nash, I realized that hoarding had arrived. It's this year's molestation, for stars who want to resuscitate their careers by setting themselves up as national empathy objects. Despite the celubante hangers on, Hoarders is another triumph for A&E's "in the mouth of madness" lineup, which includes dysfunction staples like Intervention and Dog the Bounty Hunter.

The psychology of Hoarders makes for such compelling TV because it's a disordered behavior with an infinitely complex web of origins. Some people hoard in post traumatic response, like some kind of compulsive gathering of synechdoche, every piece of junk is in some way the person they lost. Some hoarders collect in anticipation of all the activities and hobbies they will begin just as soon as they stop hoarding, like cokeheads who talk about all the things they're gonna do, unless of course, they just end up doing more coke. Of course, there are also the Saint Hoarders who clutch the shopping binges because they are going to be gifts or donated to charity and people who insist that they're grandchildren will be able to rake in cash by liquidating the junk when they die. Like any good rationalization, these excuses are diversions designed to prevent the afflicted from touching their open-sored compulsions. These might be shit piles, but they're just one garage sale away from becoming junior's tuition.

Despite the fact that it is my new favorite television, show, it suffers from a curious case of kid gloves. Part of this isn't entirely their fault since the people spotlit by the show are usually big feral grab bags of assorted nuttery. They have so many issues piled up that getting to the root cause would be like hunting for ants with your sense of smell. The other difficulty comes from the fact that the people on Hoarders are almost universally repellent. Perhaps it's difficult to show the magnitude of the problem and humanize the subjects at the same time, but I end almost every episode with a sense of what a bunch of ungrateful pigs they are. Most of them mutter some clenched thanks while lamenting the project they were just about to start with the hundreds of broken dryers stacked in the front yard.

When I say that the Hoarders repulse me, I politely elide the issues like goats eating holes in the walls, piles of used adult diapers dissolving through the floor, or even pets who have wondered off into the clutter only to be discovered years later by the clean-up crew, melted into the carpet. For the most part, hoarding is a moat constructed by the aggressively anti-social. One iconic image from the show for me came from the woman who allowed cherished pets to decompose into her carpet. She simply sat on the porch eating a raw hot dog while her family and the professional organizers dug through her waste. Every once in awhile she would drop a snide comment or freak out about a rotted piece of furniture headed to its rightful place at the dump. The show mysteriously avoids the issue of laziness, but surely it's a character flaw that fumigates the lives of these people. I understand the attachment to objects means that people lose the ability to distinguish between what can and can't be thrown away. But what does hoarding have to do with doing the dishes, sweeping the floor or cleaning a litter box?

The hoarders routinely choose their junk mountains over ties to family members desperate to break through the clutter blizzard. As much as I have sympathy for them, I also can't help but think of hoarding as one of those mental illnesses that afflict a culture at a low point in its decadence. As much as its a problem of emotional affect, it's also a problem of depth. Where Intervention openly engages questions of moral responsibility, Hoarders treats the participants like babies. Not surprisingly, they more often than not act accordingly: clinging to stuffed animals, passing their pathologies to their children, denying that they have a problem that a quick trip to the Container Store couldn't fix. One angry hoarder, when confronted with the fact that he might lose his house for his disrepair yelled at the therapist "I wish you would stop using that word" (the word: reality). One father, who'd collected Fred Sanford levels of junk in his home, leading to numerous insect infestations, had his children sleeping in tents in the winter on the front lawn. He seemed so ethically dense that he refused to recognize that displacing his family for the garbage was anything but a bargain of a trade off.

Perhaps the worst hoarder was the nasty piece of suicidal work who hoarded guns and ammo. He even threatened his wife's life over pifling household disagreements. This seemed less like hoarding and more like the construction of ample opportunity. That's where Hoarders seems to err the most, by emphasizing one festering flower in a bouquet of madness. Remove their animals, take away their kids, get the threatened wife out of harm's way and then address collection of fast food toys that will be worth something some day on eBay as soon as they get that computer up and running. Estimations of future returns on the trash market make frequent appearances on Hoarders. The show's counselors talk in morning TV calm, palliating the tantrums with soothing reassurances about the legitimacy of their manifestly illegitimate feelings. Intervention usually seems to be able to spot that addiction is merely the caboose of the crazy train; and, in turn, usually get addicts into treatment for undercurrent issues like sexual abuse or some other trauma that, while certainly damaging to the addict, does not make them above using it to silence people about their drug abuse.

I know when I watch this show that I will never be a therapist. I would simply offer each person a stay in a hotel instead of listening to each rambling rationalization about why they can't throw away the 1990 issue of Parade covered in rat shit. Then I'd incinerate their homes, clear the ashes, and provide them with a generous camping gear package provided by the new sponsor of Hoarders, REI. Sometimes horrible epiphanies heal narcissists and sometimes patience for the permanently regressed is simply one more indulgence in allowing them to defer adulthood.

Even Intervention seems to understand transformation through confrontational truth, by forcing the family to remove the entire support system surrounding the addict, stop sheltering them, force them to confront the pain they've inflicted stop providing them with food and money, and stop treating this as if it were strictly a disease, which it is not. The the psychological industrial complex and its pharmaceutical money tree enables this blatant abuse of language in part because arbitrarily adjusting the fluid range of normalcy opens new markets for new disorders, treatments and drugs.

We need to permanently stop talking about drug addiction and cancer as if they existed in even remotely the same categories of human experience. The fact that virtually everyone on the show chooses treatment in order to avoid the deprivation of their abandoning enablers, tells me that this is not a tumor. The day that angry letters from my family cures me of encephalitis, is the day I start referring to meth users as having a disease. Both shows traffic far too much in this language, which addicts eat by the bucket full in order to cower under the misunderstanding of their "illness". Yes, I stole your TV, but it's a DISEASE. These people are sad, but it is a sadness wholly self-imposed, accumulated over years of lacking a critical inner voice. I don't think I've ever in my life thought that a reality show treats people too nicely, but Hoarders needs to have at least one person who doesn't look at a floor caked in human feces and "understand". I hereby recommend Judge Judith Sheinlein.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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