Tabloid-like spectacle of hoarder in Toronto Debases News Coverage
By: James Di Fiore
**I decided not to include links to the broadcasts in this piece as to not further the exploitation of the woman in question.
I was dumbfounded watching the 6pm news yesterday. Every last network, both national and local, were taking their turns bashing a troubled woman in the beaches area of Toronto who let her house fall into disarray. One after another they showed clips of the woman, a hoarder, as she desperately tried to explain why she needed to keep her personal items inside a house filled with cats, animal waste and newspapers.
Contrary to the talking heads on television, this was not a news event. It should have been a story about the mentally ill but succeeded in crystallizing why the negative stigma pertaining to the mentally ill still exists in this country. Each anchor took their turns communicating only the most tabloid elements of the story; that the woman’s house smelled awful, that she is an outcast and that officials needed HAZMAT suits to clear the home of debris.
I repeat: this was not a news event. Not even close.
Imagine a camera crew outside the home of a depressed woman, reporting on the way she cries herself to sleep at night, or giving the audience a few pages from her diary. Hoarders are not new to society. Hell, there’s even a popular television show dissecting the minds and homes of these troubled individuals. You aren’t wrong to believe the television show is somewhat exploitive too, but at least the show tries to examine the important aspect of hoarders; their mental health. Sure, some of the anchors did mention the woman’s mental health issues in passing but those crumbs of humanity were surrounded by universal belittling through judgmental neighbours, furrowed-browed reporters and an overall sense that we should universally condemn a person who is probably already struggling enough in her everyday life.
I lived with a hoarder once. She was my landlord in the Annex. By day she was a professor of literature at York University. When she first showed me the place she said she was in the process of moving, but after a couple months the newspapers never went away. I rented a room on the top floor where she hadn’t piled up her items to the ceiling, but the hallways were all newspapers, random pieces of furniture and an infinite supply of knick-knacks and what-nots. In hindsight I am fortunate she did not like animals, but I never forgot this experience and what it taught me: don’t judge people with mental illnesses as if they are not mentally ill.
Today, I can now add something else to that list: don’t exploit the mentally ill on television for the morbid curiosity of the audience. It goes beyond the mandate of journalism and seeps into a place where societal rubberneckers simply can’t look away at the spectacle in front of them.