Pawn Stars, Facts, & the Death of True Reality
I’m not a big reality TV kinda guy. Yes, I’ve had my guilty pleasures, but generally I’m not that interested. I spent some time with The Deadliest Catch but felt the season that Captain Phil died was a perfect time to move on. However, I have to admit, I really like the shows American Pickers and Pawn Stars on the History Channel. This is because I enjoy seeing people’s collections. It’s the same thing that makes me enjoy antique shops and flea markets (though I almost never go to either). There is something that bugs about the shows, though, especially Pawn Stars.
For those who are more intellectual than I am, the premise of Pawn Stars is this: A large pawn shop in Las Vegas is owned and operated by some interesting people. There’s Pop, the patriarch who is like Mr. Toad mixed with The Godfather; his son Rick, who seems to be the one really running the business now (and my favorite on the show); his son, whose name I’m too lazy to look up, but who seems to me to be too lazy to make a life of his own and, while a smart guy, a little too overconfident and not the man his father is; and the kid’s best friend, Chumley, who is borderline retarded with moments of pure genius. People will come into the pawn shop with an item that they usually want to sell, and because the show is on the History Channel, there’s usually something special about the item. You get the sense that the employees that hover in a blur in the background are the ones pawning the losers’ girlfriends radios so he can hit the Black Jack table one…last…time. So a customer comes in with an item and gives it to one of the stars, we’ll go with Rick. Rick will look at it, assess it, and talk about the history of such objects. If it’s something that’s outside his knowledge, he calls in an expert who will come in, shed more light on the object, and give a price they believe, with all their experience, that it’s worth. Kind of like what Antiques Roadshow had been doing for a decade before this show hit.
Because the customer has chosen to bring their item to a pawn shop, Rick (or whomever) cannot give the customer what the item is worth, because the store is meant to make a profit. For instance, last night I saw an episode where a woman brought in an item (I forget what it was), that she wanted no less than $5,000 for. The expert comes and assesses it for $200-$250. Rick offers her $100. She asks for $1,000. He reiterates $100. She declines and walks away. In the interview she gives the cameraperson outside, she tells us that his offer was an “insult” and that even though the expert said is was only worth $200-$250, she knew it was worth far more than that.
If this was an isolated incident, there’d be nothing to write about. You and I could laugh it off and go our separate ways saying, “Whattama-roon!” But it’s not an isolated incident. Almost every episode has one person who believes that their item is really worth all the riches one could imagine and refuses to believe either the people who run the pawn shop or their experts who come in to help.
This is troubling. In an election year, especially. Being intelligent people, we’ve already had this conversation, how more and more people are putting their opinions ahead of the facts–or worse, their beliefs in front of facts. I just happened upon this obituary for Fact this morning (which was perfect because I’d planned to write this piece this morning). It’s a great satirical piece by Rex W. Huppke. The finger is pointed to all the usual places: 24-hour news channels, the internet, blogs, etc.
My question is: When does it end? We have states who are going with their own textbooks because they don’t like the facts presented in actual textbooks. We have politicians on all sides creating their own facts to sway the voters to vote where they want. We have people who ignore that most of the gun violence that takes place happens with legally purchased guns or stolen guns that were purchased legally, and may god damn the person who tries to take their guns away or make the purchase of them more difficult. We have people denying rights to others because of bigoted beliefs that are more akin to the 19th century than the 21st. And even when the facts are presented, people will refute, they will fight, they will argue, and what it boils down to is, “I believe.”
Beliefs can good things. I believe that as a writer I have the power to help people through fiction or nonfiction. I believe as a teacher I can help people realize their inner potential and perhaps save them from the epitome of whatever they loathe, whether it’s being like their parents, or their background, or whatever. These are beliefs I think are fine beliefs. I also believe most people are like sheep and are happy with being led to whatever pen is safest. This is not a good belief and I’m sad to hold it. Are any of these beliefs facts? I don’t know. As a writer, I’m not nearly popular enough to have received a letter saying, “This story changed my life,” nor am I talented enough (yet). As a teacher…I’ve only been doing it for five years and for the first year, I worked with the best teacher I’d ever had, so probably not. Does it matter? Well, not to anyone but me. But I’m not going to base much on these beliefs except for the seriousness in which I take the work. And just because I believe that the Spice Girls song “Wannabe” is possibly one of the greatest pop songs ever, doesn’t mean I’m going to subject everyone I know to the song. Hell, I haven’t heard it in years!
We live in an age of science, yet many people are afraid of science. This worries me. It worried me deeply. Because if the person with the inauthentic autograph of Rocky & Bullwinkle refuses to believe that the autograph is fake even though an expert has told them, in no uncertain terms, that it’s a fake, who’s going to believe when the real bad stuff happens. Something impossible like catastrophic climate change, or mass shooting sprees every other week, or….
But you knew this already. At least I believe so.