What is the price of everything you own -- the price of a lifetime of purchases, sentimentality and a life lived? For Americans facing foreclosures, they can pay a few hundred a month to store it in one of the many tens of thousands of storage units in the U.S. If they're really unlucky, their possessions, accumulated over a lifetime, could be auctioned off for a couple hundred bucks in storage auctions.
Storage Wars, and its regional counterpart Storage Wars Texas, have made a killing off showing off the unsavoury, grimy side of failed capitalism: buying the contents of abandoned storage lockers in the hope of making a cheap buck. The show follows a group of dedicated auctioneers who bid on the contents of abandoned storage lockers (often abandoned due to lack of payment) for a couple hundred bucks in hopes of reselling the goods for profit. The drama is highlighted in the "will they or won't they" make it big this time. The mediocre aspirations of the show are depressing enough but the lack of class analysis is even more depressing.
One episode, for instance, sees the team go to Mineral Wells, Texas to bid on some lockers. Mineral Wells is a desperately poor town, where a third of the population lives below the poverty line and the income per capita is a paltry $13,336 (compared to the $25,000 state-wide for Texas). The auctioneers sneer at a locker filled with furniture, complaining it's worthless chip-board.
Mineral Wells is desperately poor and this is a country in the grips of one of the worst economic recessions in modern history. Home foreclosures and the increasing inability to afford a home has hit the country hard. While some lockers are used to store old furniture as owners 'upgrade' over time, it's hard to believe that many Americans can afford that now. While the contents of the chip board furniture locker went for $400, it's worth taking a step back. A locker full of furniture that went unpaid in a profoundly poor town -- this is furniture that belonged to someone who likely lost their home and couldn't keep the furniture. Dean Jernigan, the Chief Executive of U-Store-It, says the primary reason for people using storage lockers are big life changes -- and foreclosures is one of the most common reasons. The stock of his company, by the way, has increased 33 per cent in recent years.
It's a depressing reality that the recession has turned capitalism's predatory eye to the downtrodden -- how can money be made off the very poor? It's hard to get angry at the predatory home foreclosure industry (the Washington Post's damning article on companies who purchase home liens to profit off home foreclosures is a good start) when we're distracted by the entertainment value of picking through the leftovers.
The politics of home foreclosures, from irresponsible financial regulations of mortgages to lack of support for the unemployed and impoverished, are very real and largely ignored. The fact that there was little public outrage over the lack of criminal charges pressed against the top people at Goldman Sachs, whose actions "did immense harm... and helped create the financial crisis that nearly plunged us into a second Great Depression," is telling of how little people pay attention to the very issues that affect their daily lives. The policies of mortgage regulation may be boring but they're so fundamentally important to economic security and stability.
So while we sit around the TV and wonder if Victor and Lesa will make a couple thousand off some cheap chip-board furniture, little is being done to regulate the sub-prime mortgage industry, raise minimum wage or end the devastating poverty that has affected millions across the country. The poverty that has, for instance, left over 47-million Americans are on food stamps, a federal program for Americans who make less than $15,000.
The American Dream, once exemplified by glitzy TV shows and movies showing off wealth and glamour, has sunk to an astounding low of watching people haggle over the detritus of a life once lived comfortably: cheap furniture, old family photos and kids toys. Is it worth the drama, the cheapness of watching these shows at the expense of the homeless and broke? What is the worth of the remains of the past?
For Storage Wars Texas, it's never enough.
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