My girlfriend and I have been watching Pawn Stars on the History Channel, a program which claims to be “the most popular show on cable television.” I can believe it, the formula is pretty solid and each episode is reliable and satisfying like pre-packaged candy or masturbation. The premise is that a father and son own a successful pawn shop in Las Vegas where people bring in weird antiques and guns to exchange for cash. We learn a little about each item, often with the help of an eccentric freelance expert, and then there’s some wheeling and dealing until ultimately the seller lets it all ride on twenty-three black and loses every penny. Actually, we don’t see that part, but I assume it’s what happens. Why else would someone be selling a Civil War musket for two-hundred dollars if they didn’t have a debilitating gambling addiction? I suppose crystal meth could be playing a role here too.
The history lessons and deal-making are interspersed with comic relief and Subway sandwich shop product placement, and even if you aren’t interested in learning about a specific item, there’s always some other object of interest coming up in another minute or so. It’s like comfort television, something you can watch completely passively or engage with remotely. There aren’t any cliffhangers, no real dramatic or tense moments, and while the family that owns the pawn shop have the acting skills of a fruit tart, they appear to know their business and it’s nice to see folks expound on the past. Pawn Stars is the centerpiece of a kind of History Channel triumvirate of shows, bookended by American Pickers and American Restoration, all of them airing Monday nights in prime time. Taken all together, these three shows display a cross-section of this weird industry of collectibles and antiques, from trash to treasure. All that’s missing is American Foreclosure, about people who sell their valuables to the Pawn Stars because they lost their homes in the real estate bust.
American Restoration is also a pretty good show, and the title essentially says it all: it’s about a guy (in America) that restores junk to its original state. The program I don’t understand is American Pickers, about two guys who travel around to different hoarders’ junk piles and purchase their worn-out, rusty crap for resale. So they’ll pull up to some disheveled barn in the middle of fucking nowhere and sift through boxes of moldy newspapers and mason jars without lids on them, to find something like a beat up Stetson hat or a See N’ Say with the dial missing, and ask the owner how much he wants for it. And then the owner actually quotes a price! Here’s something this guy hasn’t seen since Jimmy Carter was president, it’s covered in dust and cobwebs and who knows what else, and he wants a hundred bucks for it. Am I missing something here? If someone were to come into my home, look in my garbage can, and ask me if I want to sell its contents, I’d probably let that person have them for free. And then I would never talk to that person again.
Almost certainly due to the popularity of Pawn Stars, there are a dozen or more shows on various channels about people who deal in junk. There’s Auction Hunters on Spike, which is about two guys who bid on defaulted storage units and then pore through mountainous garbage bags of clothing in order to hopefully find a nineteenth-century credenza. There’s Pawn Queens, Hardcore Pawn, there’s the Picker Sisters and Garbage Pickers, and there’s even a show depicting the auction side of this industry, actually showing the folks with too much money to hand that keep the junk wheel turning. Seems like every week, there’s another one of these shows, and considering the high rate of unemployment, the families unable to afford an adjustable mortgage that have lost their homes, and the states going bankrupt that pay civil employees in daffodils, I can’t help but feel as if television, in all of its wisdom, is trying to tell us something important.
I think television is telling us to sell our junk.
I see now why trickle-down economics hasn’t worked, it’s because we expected that the money rich people spent on necessities would be enough to perpetuate our core industries. That’s bullshit, everyone knows that rich people don’t actually buy milk or hire plumbers, the wealthy drink distilled yak piss and move to new mansions when their toilets are clogged. The best way to part a plutocrat from his money is to offer a dusty Howdy Doody doll for a thousand bucks. We’re worried about running out of natural resources, meanwhile many of us have neglected our most abundant resource: garbage. We’ve got cubic tons of the stuff. If I’d known that rich people wanted it so badly, I wouldn’t have stuffed it into plastic bags and sent it down my trash chute. I feel like I’ve been throwing away tens of thousands of dollars a year. So I’d like to appeal to the more financially comfortable members of my tremendous readership: my thrown-away crap is for sale. I’m willing to make a deal on anything. I’ll sell an orange rind for five bucks, an empty can of peas for ten. Everything is negotiable. I think I’ve got some vintage Band-Aids I’d be willing to sell for a song. As our Gross Domestic Product falls, it’s time we start turning our grossest domestic product into cold, clean cash. I’ll get my food and clothing the old-fashioned way, imported from overseas sweatshops and plantations where the workers can’t even afford a measly Robby the Robot figurine.