Saturday, 10 May 2014

Exploring the Human Condition through Cable TV: Storage Hunters
 Our main "cast" from left to right, Bold bloke, the couple, and err... the other 

The media is the favourite target of nearly all the social studies, from psychology to philosophy, in particular television has been the dominant focus, countless television shows have been hailed as representatives of their society and the period they were broadcast. Usually they're the incredibly popular shows with dozens of quotes from professional critics to back up how intelligent and high brow they are. But not always, B-movie science fiction is heavily associated with 1950's America, and acknowledged as a transparent demonstration of that decades dreams of rocket ships, and abundant atomic energy. But also its fears and paranoia of invasion and foreign infiltration of small middle American towns.

I've recently come to the conclusion that a new TV phenomenon has become a mirror for our present day. Only its a lot more like invasion of the flying saucers then M.A.S.H. The topic for today is those strange programs about auctioning off unclaimed storage, focussing mainly on Storage Hunters (SH) since that's the one I've watched the most. There are many other shows that look the same and even sound the same, I've repeatedly got confused and watched the wrong program. There are even British shows around the same premise though technically shows like Flog it, and Cash in the Attic have been on for years and involve selling old junk so the only new bit is the storage yard and lucky dip aspect.

Having spent several hours "researching" SH I believe its come to symbolise are decaying Neo-Liberal society and what the "greed is good" mentality can do to us on an individual level. At first I was just laughing at several greedy overweight loud mouths shoving each other into garage doors, but then I noticed the shows catchphrase parroted by virtually every character multiple times per episode "profit". The "characters" of SH are like human Ferengi, everything they do is motivated by profit and the desire to acquire more profit.I remember one episode where the couple (I honestly can't remember any of there names) bought a lot full of  old military helicopter parts, only to be told by the Appraiser that they were worthless because they weren't collected and the Army wouldn't take them back because they had phased out the helicopter models entirely. This news brought the male of the couple on the verge of tears, then when the Appraiser said he might buy a Rotor blade from them that would cover there losses he snivels and whines that he needs to make "some profit" no matter how small so long as it exists.

This guy isn't some poor sod nickle and diming his way out of the gutter one scrap deal at a time, his minted, in the episode before that he bought a plane for $8,000 (there about) and sold it for over $15,000, but the prospect of breaking even on one deal nearly caused a breakdown. Now since this is a TV show its possible that its all staged, I don't believe that, a lot of SH definitely is staged but the reason why I believe bits like the near crying is because the "cast" of SH are terrible actors with the exception of the bald guy who auctions off the lots. They all ham it up and come across as insincere caricatures, except for after they've won a lot and won big or made a big loss then they appear genuine if incredibly smug.

After the Chopper incident I began to pay closer attention and all the practices of modern capitalism and there effects on people began to shine through. The entire show and all the others like it are set up to depict a group of wealthy entrepreneurs making a profit over the failed dreams of ordinary people and failed small businessmen. They have absolutely no sentimentality, tools, antiques and heirlooms are only valued by how much the bidder can get for it and its all about selling them. We never hear a bidder want the contents of a lot for sentimental reasons or to help them in their productive business ventures, its all about harvesting the left overs. Sounds a lot like a company that buys up a struggling factory cheap to strip its assets to maximise their own financial income (profit).

 Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.

But the comparisons keep coming. Each episode is at a different location, half the bidders are show regulars the rest are local (I'll just call them bidders) bidders. The locals have no chance all the show regulars have deeper pockets the locals are just there for scenery and a smoke screen to make the competition seem fairer and more real. To me that seems a lot like big businesses moving into an area and pushing out the small timers. Occasionally this leads to friction though its usually pretty fake and probably staged.

But its not all sunshine and rainbows for the big boys and girls they have intense competition, and they do all the dirty tricks. Sometimes two of them (beside the couples)will team up to split the spoils just like how corporations will strike deals and even merge into one entity. They'll also do something else, a bidder will sometimes declare they have no interest in a lot but think another bidder does so they'll deliberately inflate the price by bidding just so they won't have as much money when a lot comes up that the other bidder is interested in. Anyone remember when Tesco was caught buying up land it had no interest in developing and was only interested in preventing its rivals from opening a branch on those lands? Now its not a perfect comparison granted but its pretty close.

Now onto the psychology, the Chopper incident demonstrated how fragile and deseperate these folks are to keep on growing, if just one near misstep after a chain of big wins is enough to cause a break down what does a string of losses do I wonder? It's not just the couple either, all of the bidders get bitter and frayed when faced with the prospect of dud lot. There is however one exception,there's one person on the show whose pretty chill and that's Sean Kelly.

Sean Kelly on TruTV's "Storage Hunters" (Photo: TruTV)
Ok so he's not exactly chill here but this is a promotional image
Sean whose name I only just found out a few seconds a go despite watching dozens of episodes is the happy go lucky character. The reason why is quite simple, he has no pressure because he's the middleman or facilitator Capitalist. He doesn't compete he assists, he very generously gives tips and assistance to the winners of each lot. Oh and he also happens to run the lot auctions meaning he gets an automatic cut of the money,so even if the bidders tell him to buzz off or can't sell a thing he still makes a profit. Sean has control of the storage racket monopoly so has no real concerns or pressures, he doesn't have to police the bidders and benefits from them actively fighting each other so long as its financial and not with violence.

This is what Sean first reminded me of, a sort of Bazaar owner/logistical kingpin, but later as I thought about it I came up with an alternative role for Sean in my theory. And that is that Sean represents the state. In SH, he has a very cosy relationship with the bidders who are transparently Capitalists and benefits when they do, it's a reciprocal if unequal relationship. On the surface Sean is the most powerful, he's the one who sets the rules on appropriate behaviour between bidders. Marx equated the role of the state as a committee for to manage the joint affairs of the ruling class and Sean does just that by providing them with an environment to profit and keeps their personal ambitions and squabbles in check.

 The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie

But despite this apparent power the real power lies with the bidders collectively. If Sean (the state) doesn't appease enough of the big bidders (Capitalists) by continuing to provide a pleasant and lucrative environment then they'll just leave and go to another Storage Yard. Ultimately Sean only has power because the bidders allow him to have that power.

So, we have the State and Capital, we even have representatives of the State institutions with Sean's occasional helpers (other Storage Yard attendants), and small Capitalists with the local bidders but what about the Working class? They're us the ones watching the events far away and almost completely detached from the economic and political process. Are opinions are unheard and unsought by the State or Capital. Not only do they not care for us but they also don't fear us, the idea that a movement of the dispossesd might occupy the storage yards to squat or make productive use of the tools and equipment left behind for the benefit of all (well at least a few dozen) then the profit of a few is completely implausible. May be in a few years when the class struggle in America and globally is on the rise, or alternatively Storage Hunters loses ratings and gets desperate, whichever comes first.

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