Storage Wars uncovers the treasures hidden in self-storage facilities.

What you're watching.
Dec. 15 2010 3:45 PM

Let Me Touch Your Junk

Storage Wars uncovers the treasures hidden in self-storage facilities.

Storage Wars. Click image to expand.
Storage Wars

One man's trash is another man's treasure and, via cable, yet a third man's trash TV. Storage Wars (A&E, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET)—trivial and magnetic, sociologically peculiar and elementally creepy—gives the reality-show treatment to a class of merchants slinking beneath the radar of many a solvent citizen. Here, the contents of lonely storage units—"abandoned," relinquished, repo'd—are reintroduced to the marketplace. The buyers stalk the winding corridors of California self-storage facilities. The auctioneers raise the corrugated gates of the units with a theatrical rattle. Scavenger capitalism snaps its zealous jaws.

The name of the series is matched for grandiosity by the titles of the individual episodes, which sometimes ring with a Don King clang of pugilistic pomp ("Melee in the Maze," "War on the Shore"). Or else they carry the scratch of tumbleweed and the creak of saloon doors among their howling winds ("High Noon in the High Desert," "Senior Center Showdown"), as befits the soundtrack. When the speculators turn their meaty faces to the camera to talk about their bidding strategies and resale plans, the score sounds with the strums and whistles of a spaghetti Western. A fistful of dollars, a roomful of stuff, an Antiques Roadshow on a dead-end street.

Advertisement

Storage Wars generates a game-show tingle because neither the audience nor the principals are immediately certain about the goodness, badness, or precise ugliness of the contents of any given unit. When a door flies open, prospective bidders may only poke their heads and flashlights beyond its frame. Denied the chance to open boxes and inspect contents, they must test their powers of deductive reasoning, contextual cueing, visual acuity, and occult hunchwork: Are those some bamboo fishing rods back in the corner there? If so, do they hint at the presence of further sporting-goods booty? Of the former owners we learn nothing, so there's a special tenor to our voyeurism: Why were treasures ditched? Why was the junk treasured? Is someone on the lam? Is that a crockpot? Banality and sadness get wrapped up with mysteries that no one except the bill collector, unseen and unsuccessful, cares to think about solving.

This is not a trade that attracts sentimentalists or introspection junkies. The riddles of the dispossessed float in the air like so much stirred-up dust while the buyers talk about themselves in terms appropriate to cowboys, pirates, and big-time hustlers. An on-screen money counter emits piquant ka-chings as they value their merchandise—coin collections and stereo systems and arcane antiques—and reinforce their self-images. Storage Wars introduces Dave, the owner of a consignment store, as "The Mogul" and Darrell, the owner of very many tank tops, as "The Gambler." They thrive on gamesmanship, deriving a particular thrill from bidding up the prices of collections they don't actually want to own, forcing their competitors to devote capital to less-promising lots. "Let's see who I can sucker into the buying this one," is one jazzy iteration of an oft-repeated sentiment. This is, of course, a tactic used broadly in America. I believe it's more or less how we won the Cold War.

Jarrod ("The Young Gun") co-owns a second-hand shop with his wife, Brandi, and their relationship provided for a few juicy moments in the show's opening weeks. At times, low-grade marital tension has initiated questionable decision making. "I don't see any real value in it," Jarrod tensely sighs of one unit, "but I'm gonna bid on it just to keep her quiet for a minute." Elsewhere, Brandi hatches a plan to score big by lying low, believing that the macho Storage Warriors will pay little mind to a bidder of the fairer sex. At first, this stratagem seemed poorly conceived. After all, she was wearing a pretty sundress that showed a bit of cleavage in the front and the pack for her microphone transmitter in the back, hardly inconspicuous. But it worked out, with sexist Darrell—"It's a woman's bidding? What is that?!"—received a comeuppance. Brandi is breaking through some kind of glass ceiling of dubious worth.

Like Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

The Ludicrous Claims You’ll Hear at This Company’s “Egg Freezing Parties”

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM Going Private To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Oct. 1 2014 10:32 AM The Corpse-Lined Hallways of the Capuchin Monastery Catacombs
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 8:46 AM The Vintage eBay Find I Wore to My Sentencing
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 10:27 AM 3,000 French Scientists Are Marching to Demand More Research Funding
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 1 2014 7:30 AM Say Hello to Our Quasi-Moon, 2014 OL339
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.