Last night I watched a documentary on Channel 4, just as a treat for my inner-geek. It was called 'Obsessive Compulsive Hoarder', and filmed a man who lives in a well-off Surrey village. Of course, that's not the most interesting fact about him - he's what is known as a 'hoarder'. This is someone who has trouble throwing anything away, and compulsively stores it instead.
In the case of Mr Richard Wallace, his detached bungalow, four-bedroom semi-detached house, double garage and garden were packed pull of useless items.
My interpretation of hoarding is that it's a mental illness with very visible effects. Unfortunately, Channel 4's interpretation was closer related to something from a freak show. I'm usually impressed with how it portrays mental illness through documentaries, but this one left me feeling very uncomfortable.
The 'infamous' Mr Wallace, as he is described in the documentary's synopsis, evoked reluctant sympathy throughout the program. On one hand, he appeared very intelligent, eloquent in his speech and even represented himself in a Crown Court case (which he won). On the other hand, it took until the end of the documentary for him to admit that he has a problem, he casually admits on camera that he hasn't washed in a few years, he 'cat naps' instead of sleeps and he is seen to live off basic food, such as a plate of boiled eggs.
The filming portrays this man, ultimately a sufferer of a mental illness, in a cruel light. Portraying him as an outcast in his own village, the majority of the first half of the program is just a constant stream of criticism from his neighbours.
The objective of programs of this nature should be nothing other than raising awareness and giving better understanding of issues. At one point, he is filmed crying as he worries what his late mother would think of his situation- which just made for awkward television. It would have been fine if it all worked out in the end - but it didn't. It ended abruptly after his garden was cleared out with the help of his neighbours, leaving his house still full of stuff. He briefly said that he accepts he has a problem and would go to one counselling session right at the end of the documentary.
I'm not saying that documentaries should have a fairytale ending - but if you're just going to portray someone as a 'freak' that is hated by the rest of his village for years, show him crying over the fear of disappointing his mother and 'existing' as opposed to living - there has to be some sort of turnaround as the documentary progresses. Sadly, I think viewers will be more disillusioned and ignorant than before watching it. But before you swear of Channel 4 forever, the metro managed to stoop a little lower with their 'review' on the documentary, advising people to give him their unwanted Christmas gifts. Mental illness and humour - only such a clever newspaper would know how well they go together.