The Great American Rip Off, Televised
Reality television has been about as low-brow a form of entertainment as the American public has ever witnessed - until such shows began preying upon people's naivete or desperate need for cash. Can it get much lower than it is today?
Americans are being ripped off every week, history is being desecrated and they're being fleeced right on national television.
In fact, shows like American Pickers and American Digger starring former pro wrestler Rick Savage are some of the top-rated shows in the country. I must confess one night dropping everything I was working on to join my sons who were watching back-to-back episodes of Storage Wars where people's personal possessions are auctioned off to the highest bidder after storage unit rentals have been defaulted on.
Fascinating? Yes. Ethical? I'm not so sure.
With shows like Storage Wars and Pawn Stars and Hardcore Pawn - the latter two shows' titles a play on the use of the word "porn" - what are we really seeing? Are we seeing people so desperate they'd sell their family heirlooms for a fraction of their value? And since a show like Pawn Stars is set in Las Vegas, Nevada is it not safe to assume that some of these people hawking these items are doing so in order to get cash for their next bet at local blackjack tables?
I suppose I would classify shows like Pawn Stars and Hardcore Pawn and Storage Wars and Auction Hunters as mildly entertaining and on the fringe of appropriateness. American Pickers, on the other hand, is like a lesson in specifically who not to allow on your property - EVER.
These guys schmooze their way into people's homes across America, literally pick through their personal belongings and then offer a pittance for items that the show's stars can "make a buck on."
Then they brag about how much money they just made on buying grandpa's rare and unique bicycle he's had in the garage for five decades, replete with cash register sound effects. It's a flea market-mentality meets Antiques Roadshow on steroids, but it's even more so the smarmy way these guys talk old folks into selling their valuable stuff that rubs me wrong, as entertaining as it may be to see the value of old knick-knacks you and I or any American might have tucked away in an attic and how much those objects may be worth.
If I saw my grandmother on National television having her priceless keepsakes being bartered for by a pair of strangers driven to "close the deal," I'd show up at their doorstep in Iowa or wherever they are headquartered, and none too happy.
But of all these types of reality TV shows on air every day, the one show that truly crosses the line of acceptability is Rick Savage's American Digger on the Spike Channel.
First, the "cast" of the show is highlighted in a sort of aggrandizing, pseudo-A-Team lineup of supposed "experts" who truly have no clue what they are into until their boss, a former grandstanding showboat wrestler, fills them in.
At first glance, when the American Digger cast ventured into Gold Rush territory in Alaska, I thought, well, no one really cares since the entire state is covered with snow and ice most of the year. Savage knocks on doors until a private property owner allows him to dig up areas where he's scouted out the possibility of unearthing valuable artifacts from 19th century gold-mining days, then he offers to split the proceeds of the sale of said artifacts with the landowners in an 80-20 split. Most of the time, it seems, Savage has to renegotiate the split to something more amenable, like 60-40 - but that's all part of the ruse. Of course his business can live with a 60-40 split, that's why he low balls the property owners to begin with.
Imagine how you'd react if a surly, bearded stranger showed up at your front door asking if they can bring in a backhoe to dig up artifacts on your historic property?
But in the sole, entire American Digger episode I watched last night, Savage truly should be held accountable for his destruction of American heritage. It's not capitalistic to destroy things for a monetary gain, as naive as that may sound. It's certainly not American to dig up sacred Native American places and it's a disservice once again to the Cherokee tribe that Savage affronted in his show as he and his crew dug up the countryside on video in search of arrowheads, clay pipes and anything else they can find - and SELL.
The cast doesn't even act like they know what they're doing until Savage bellows out his trademark "Boom, Baby!" catchphrase.
Savage even tries his hand at giving the viewing audience a sort of smoke-and-mirrors handful of snippets about American history. Heck, I even thought he might shed a disingenuous tear when he uttered his Wikipedia remonstrance about the "Trail of Tears." Everything one needs to know about this completely distasteful show is when he offsets that feigned sympathy for the decimation of such tribes as the Cherokee and Choctaw with a humorous request from his mother for "vodka" as the cast dines on home cooked ham and biscuits in the North Carolina foothills.
You cannot tell me that any historic or environmental agency worth half its federal and state funding would stand for Savage and his crew actually constructing a dam in a river so they could dig up the river bed in search of ancient Native American artifacts, all in an afternoon's "work."
Now replace the quoted word "work" with the word "pillaging."
To top it off, once the show comes to a close, here again we have the "bragging" of how much profit the man has made on digging up and selling these artifacts. It's even more Machiavellian that the climax of this particular episode comes with the sale of said Native American artifacts to well, an actual Native American descendant.
Armed with maps of sacred Native American settlements, true historic places which need to be preserved, Savage is basically raping the land he's digging and compounding the desecration of such places by usurping a fee from the people these items belong to. That's the way I look at it. Native American artifacts are not ours to premeditatively locate, dig up and sell. That's for Native Americans to decide, no one else.
If I happened upon some ancient Native American place, by sheer happenstance, and I knew what I had gotten myself into, the first thing I'd do is call the Smithsonian, not a former pro wrestler hellbent on thumping his chest as he leaves behind a slew of holes in the ground.
What's next? The desecration of US and Confederate soldiers' graves at Gettysburg? Do I daresay I'll tune in to see?