Grantland logo

A Debate About Storage Wars: Does Rooting for Dave Hester Make You a Bad Person?

KANG

I have a Storage Wars problem. I watch at least two a day. Sometimes, I watch five or six in a row. The show has aired 52 episodes, which, clearly, is not enough to feed the beast. There’s no clear explanation for this obsession — I’ve never had any interest in antiques, furniture, collectibles, or clutter. I’ve never rented a storage unit or been to an auction of any sort. So why can’t I stop watching a show that features a bunch of people wandering around storage yards in Southern California? Why do I it find necessary to re-watch the one where Darrell finds a mannequin phone? Or the one where Dave finds those weird Japanese gaming machines? Or the one where Barry finds that Munch-ian head sculpture? Why do I find myself Googling “What does Barry on Storage Wars really do for a living?” Why do I find myself planning road trips to the Newport Consignment Gallery?

Storage Wars isn’t all that much different from about a dozen television shows on basic cable where people do something to make money. In some ways, it’s worse. It doesn’t have the geriatric cuteness of Antiques Roadshow, it doesn’t have the Vegas weirdness of Pawn Stars. It doesn’t have the implicit danger and good-natured cursing of The Deadliest Catch or Ice Road Truckers. By all measures — save one — Storage Wars should be the least interesting of all these shows.

But what Storage Wars has — and why I keep coming back — is a bona fide superstar: Dave Hester.

I know, I know. I’m supposed to root for Barry, the charming pun machine with the hundred-dollar voice and the charming gloves and the charming Standard Hotel tan. I’m supposed to say “awww” at all his charming missteps and be “interested” in his charming steampunk sensibilities. If not Barry, then I should root for Brandi, right? Who better than Brandi can show the transformative power of hard-earned money? Hairstylists and plastic surgeons (allegedly) turned a woman who once married a bald schlub like Jarrod Schulz into into an A&E goddess. Who doesn’t like watching Brandi walking around the storage lots? Who hasn’t noticed that she’s storing two Peter Dinklage heads in her bra? Who hasn’t stared into her ferrety eyes and fantasized about a future of digging through tubs of porn and gardening tools? Who hasn’t sent her e-mails and letters asking her about what she plans on doing once her husband drives Now and Then Thrift Store into the ground? Who doesn’t feel a rush of empathy every time her idiot husband buys a locker based on a “gut feeling”? Who doesn’t value her business acumen, her economy, her ability to Google mysterious items and come up with an immediate appraisal?

Isn’t rooting for Dave, the mogul, akin to rooting for the Yankees, the Cowboys, and the Heat? In this economy, how dare I root for the rich to get richer? How dare I thwart the growing Occupy Newport Consignment Gallery movement?

To all that, I say boo. Boo!

Barry and Brandi (Darrell isn’t even worth discussing, is he?) are hardly underdogs. Barry drives three different hot rods, lives in a cocaine castle in the hills of Southern California, and has the expendable income to screw up everyone else’s business. He has a furniture maker on retainer who can convert his fuck-ups into weird, unsalable, and thoroughly ugly steampunk contraptions. Barry, not Dave, is the 1 percent. He’s no better than those hobbyist trust-fund farmers who have started plowing down fields in upstate New York. His bourgeois boredom has drawn him back to some blue-collar fantasy of turning a $300 profit on some old crap in a storage locker. As for Brandi, I can accept that she is a hardworking mother and a small-business owner, but can anyone forgive her for marrying Jarrod?

More to the point, how do you root against the brutal application of the American dream? According to the fantastic Storage Wars Wikipedia page, Dave has made a profit of $3.26 for every dollar he’s spent over the first two seasons of the show. Nobody else is over $2.00. All entrepreneurs have to be ruthless. At least Dave Hester admits to it. And if the shoe were on the other foot and Darrell and Brandi were on top of the game, would they show Dave any mercy? How do you root against a guy who will spend an extra $1,000 to keep his brother from getting a locker? How do you root against a guy who copped his own catchphrase and then pulled off the tricky dance to make it stick? Without “Yuuuuuup!” Storage Wars becomes a bunch of overweight, sunburned people scratching at their noses and raising their eyebrows. There’s something to admire about a man who understands how to properly economize his words, who knows the power of the elongated vowel. Take away “Yuuuuuup!” and Storage Wars is severely diminished.

Consider that for Storage Wars: Texas, the show’s producers tried to just replicate the characters from the original. You have the older antique dealer who speaks in puns and wears outrageous shoes. You have the two fat guys, the man/woman combo, and the greedy shark. The problem, of course, is that Viktor — Dave’s undeserving Texan stand-in — doesn’t have the same clout, the same ability to run up the price on his competitors. He is Frank Grimes to Dave Hester’s Gordon Gecko. The show, as a result, carries about 10 percent of the drama of the original. It’s hard to care if Bubba or, for chrissake, Roy Williams outfoxes Viktor. (Yes, that Roy Williams. The one who played safety for the Cowboys. And yes, he’s worse at storage auctions than he is at Cover 2. Hey, producers of Storage Wars: Texas, it’s not all that compelling to watch a guy who at some point in his career made upwards of $11 million a year try to eke out a $400 profit on a unit. Also, as long as I have your attention, producers, how about a little accountability? If I have to watch Darrell look at an old Xbox and say, “That’s a 50 dollar bill” one more time, I’m going to throw my remote control through my television.

Finally, let’s not forget the touching fact that Dave donates everything he can’t sell in his store to Goodwill. Let’s not forget that when he was down and out in the storage locker game, he turned to Goodwill, learned how to flip lower-end items, and as a show of gratitude for the people who saved his business, he now contributes both his inventory and his time to a charity organization. Who cares if he’s mean to Jarrod and Darrell? Wouldn’t you be mean to amateurs who are trying to fuck with your money? Wouldn’t you be mean to people who can’t come up with their own catchphrases and instead just get mad about yours?

Hua, you watch about as much Storage Wars as I do. Please defend why you root for Barry … Blergh …

HUA

This is a very useful conversation for me to be having, because every now and then I find myself in a similar quagmire, shotgunning four or five episodes in a row, desperately trying to fast-forward through the commercials even though it’s real time. In general, I find shows about making money — particularly those involving relatable, modest-ish sums — totally absorbing. I’m not sure why. Even when they’re craven and weird, there’s something uplifting about them. They’re like game shows, only with the lure of “real life” and the possibility of integrity. It certainly feels like there’s been a lot of TV over the past decade devoted to investigating what other people do for a living, and low-stakes shows like Storage Wars or the one where they bid on missing airline baggage are like the everyman antidote to something like Undercover Boss.

So Storage Wars is about and for the people, and there’s nobody more representative of the average American’s aspirations than Dave. I’ll buy this. There is something admirable about how singularly driven he is. “I feel the need to keep everyone on their toes,” he says, and then he goes and traps Jarrod in some phony bidding war (THAT EVERYONE ELSE SEES MILES AWAY). Dave is an asshole and unashamed of it, but in a way where it seems like Asshole Dave was once a performance or coping mechanism and then at some point it overcame his reality and this is just who he is now, this new Asshole Dave, and maybe those prop eyeglasses are a reminder of those early days when he was just Dave on the come-up, before he could yell “YUUUPPP” from his gut.

Sure, Dave tends to inflate the value of his finds; if Darrell is the guy who will point to a stack of shitty records and say, “That’s a 30-dollar bill right there,” then Dave’s the one who prices things at random and never concedes a setback. This, in a way, is just part of his cold professionalism. He’s so much smarter than Darrell Sheets, his peer/son Brandon, and Jarrod/Brandi, his only real “competition” for the actually good storage units, as is obvious when he caked off that showroom’s worth of precious stones, or the time he scored with all those unused vending machines.

Barry plays an altogether different game. Dave might one day make more money than Barry, but he will never live the good life. The first time I heard the name Barry Weiss, I mistakenly assumed that this was Barry Weiss, CEO of Island Def Jam and former head of Jive, and that he had somehow lost all his money and was now trying to win it back in the storage-unit auction game (a la Roy Williams). After coming to grips with the possibility that there was more than one “Barry Weiss” in the world, I grew to appreciate Barry for all the obvious reasons: He’s a master of wordplay (I still chuckle thinking about how he said he had to get “between the Sheets” — Darrell and his son — in order to have his bid registered); he is polite, charming, and fairly careless with his money, just a shade from being a dirty old man; he rocks skeleton biker gloves, dresses like an aging hipster (in the 1950s sense), and owns an armada of eccentric cars and bikes; and, most important, he is the only one who seems to have a sense of humor about all of this.

There is something about his outlook on life that I dig. Sure, his irony might just be a sign that he is comfortably bourgeois. But let’s not pretend that Storage Wars is actually dictating whether or not any of these people eat at night. Everyone else possesses a clear set of goals — wealth, empire, “ballin,” whatever. I mean, Dave’s empire has even crept online, where he maintains a Facebook page and hawks “YUP!” gear and encourages fans to send in home videos of their toucans doing his patented “YUP!” (Is it patented? Can he do that? If not: Should we?) Barry’s ambitions are different. He’s interested in history, our American pastimes and traditions, bygone dreams. He’s constantly trying to find all those unknown little quirks and curiosities that dot our national narrative, from red-tinted sunglasses for chickens (because otherwise they would cannibalize each other at the sight of blood) to obscure hot rod magazines. He rarely ever bids just to thwart someone else. He just wants to find cool junk, learn about it, and pass that knowledge on. And if he can puncture the self-important charade of Dave et al. by bringing in a psychic or Kenny Rogers’s son (who, I might add, was there to pilot a miniature, toy helicopter for locker reconnaissance) — all the better.

Barry has the luxury of being above the rat race and hitting up the auctions as someone interested in cultural preservation. If Dave’s defense is that he is somehow representative of the American dream, then what of Barry’s wealth? He already lived it. As a mushroom baron. Now he is giving back — to all of us. He seems genuinely thrilled, for example, to learn about all the things he finds, even if they end up being worthless. I am so used to seeing his name in red at the end of the show. By now, that closing voice-over announcing defeat — “Barry Weiss ended up going home empty-handed” — is as familiar to me as most Beatles songs.

But Barry is unafraid of failure, fearless about getting “duped by a reprint magazine.” He doesn’t care about the new-with-box washing machines or all the toolboxes he could flip. He’d rather find that one item he will cherish, treasure, and learn from, that fragment of Americana that will connect him to this land, its people, and its past — and he will embrace failure in its name. And isn’t this the most humane tribute possible on a TV show involving people whose stuff is now being auctioned for pennies on the (unpaid) dollar? This intimate tethering of the former locker tenants’ failure to Barry’s? Whereas Dave et al. merely suffer through these history lessons and brusquely ask appraisers how much their gear is worth, Barry is different. There’s a real connection there whenever he connects with the fellow collectors and hobbyist oddballs he meets up with to get his finds evaluated. For Barry, it is these isolated, random moments — finding an old spittoon and fantasizing about its provenance; riding wind buggies in the desert — that make his participation in the show — nay, life — worthwhile.

Yes, rooting for Dave is akin to rooting for the Yankees. That is why it’s a bad proposition. Rooting for Barry is like rooting for the 1994 Montreal Expos.