Reality TV Analysis-Storage Wars
When rent has not been paid on a Californian storage unit for three months, the unit is sold by an auctioneer. Since 2010, A&E Network accompanies the auctioneers Dan and Laura Dotson and the buyers Dave Hester, Darrell Sheets, Barry Weiss, and the couple Jarrod Schulz and Brandi Passante. During the running time of approximately 21 minutes, the camera team shows a day of auctioneering at a single storage facility. The show definitely plays with the “get-rich-quick” theme. Oftentimes, the buyers spend only a fraction of the eventual profit on the units. In one episode, Hester bought a small unit for $300, ending up finding valuable jewelry and walking away with a profit of $12,000. Occasionally, the buyers overestimate the value of a storage unit and thereby lose money. However, on the average, the featured buyers make a respectable amount of money. This conveys the impression that making money by buying left storage units is an easy way for everyone to make money.
Storage Wars makes the audience believe that there is much more action in the buying of units that there might really be. For once, only the storages bought by the show’s cast are shown. When inspecting the lockers before and after the sell as well as during the auctioning, thrill-boosting music is played. When interesting pieces are evaluated by experts, the footage is shown in slow-motion to bring up the excitement. A special feature of the show is the information given by the experts about random pieces. Whenever the buyers seem to have found something extraordinary in their unit, a commercial break is inserted after comments such as “this is why I do this” or “look what I found.”
A clear gender differentiation is made in the show. Except for Brandi, all featured buyers are male and give a dominating impression. Brandi constantly has her own gender fight with partner Jarrod about who knows best when it comes to buying storages. Laura, the wife of auctioneer Dan, is mostly shown as the pretty side kick. When she leads an auction in one episode, the buyers do not respect her at once, thinking she is unqualified, and only change their opinion when she proves herself.
Storage Wars is one of many shows claiming to show real life. Four out of the top five prime-time broadcast TV programs in 2006 were some sort of reality TV show, and the genre’s popularity is growing (Barton 1). Utilizing the uses and gratification approach for a research among college students (the primary demographic for reality television), the polled students watched reality TV because they could relate to the contestants and imagined themselves as being part of the show. It was not so much important whether the shows were unique or whether something else was on TV (Barton 7-8). This research explains that people selectively choose to watch reality television and identify themselves with the contestants. Because viewers can identify themselves more with reality television than with other programming, they “tend to think, act, and feel, like the show’s stars, and in the process lose their own sense of critical thinking and ‘real’ emotions towards certain situations” (“The Reality Television Shows and Their Effects on Society”). This can have both positive and negative results, depending on the format of the show. People might be more likely to adopt violence and vulgar language when watching shows such as Jersey Shore, while programming like MTV Made can foster hope in teenagers.
Shows such as Storage Wars bring another feel to it. In times of recession, these shows “emphasize making do with what you have in tough times, reusing, recycling and reselling.” Remembering that the auctioned-off pieces used to belong to someone might sadden the image of the show, so there is no focus on this topic and the overall appeal is “aggressively light and upbeat” (Poniewozik). This definitely makes the audience believe that in difficult economic times, sorting through belongings can bring in some money, and some people might even consider bidding in units after having lost their job.