Are Hoarders Part of a Subculture?

Today I was surfing Twitter when I saw a link from Grantland, the venerable ESPN-affiliated sports and culture blog, on TLC’s Hoarders:  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Edition.  In the article, Tara Araino profiles the newest episode of the show and describes it as one of many TLC shows that “highlight the doings of people who occupy various subcultures.”

The show follows the life of Richard Wallace, a man living in a tiny condo in England who cannot throw anything away.  He can’t remember the last time he took a shower because his bathtub is filled up with junk.  Getting around the house is a major ordeal for him.

For the purposes of this class, I’m less interested in hoarding or how disgusting this guy’s life is than I am in Araino’s suggestion that hoarding is a subculture.  Her claim begs the question, “what is a subculture?”  Can there really be a subculture of hoarders?  Certainly there are people out there who hoard or have hoarding tendencies, but do they communicate with each other or share their lived experience in any way?  There is a New York Times Topic for “Hoarders;” maybe that’s the true measure of whether or not something is a subculture?

Maybe the true subculture is a culture of those people who are fascinated with hoarders:  the audience of the show.  TLC has a vested interest in cultivating a kind of group interest in watching people with obvious mental problems.  Just think about John and Kate, Plus Eight, 19 and Counting, and other shows.  TLC suggests that we use the convention #hoarding when on Twitter to discuss what we see.

As we continue on in this class, we should all think about some of these questions:  what is a “subculture?”  That’s a good place to start.

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