Our media topics are a reflection of what concerns us at the moment. In the 1950s, fear of nuclear war and radiation was reflected in numerous science-fiction films such as Them; our concerns about succumbing to Communism’s soulless collectivism was played out in the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Our revulsion to militarism and the failed Vietnamese War played out in The Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now. As I flip around the television dial, it becomes apparent that there’s another meme afoot and that pertains to our opinions towards wealth and a growing awareness of our economy, how far we’ve fallen and what we face.
It dawned on me the other night as I sat before the television. The History Channel was touting the high cable ratings of such shows as Pawn Stars, American Pickers and Swamp People; it brought to mind the trendsetter for the bunch, Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs. To check myself, I flipped on the On Demand menu and noted that the majority of the History offerings were for shows that dealt with cashing in on old items or dangerous occupations. Unlike the network’s early origins, not a single show itself dealt with historical events. As I surveyed the channel offerings, certain other popular cable shows dealing with wealth caught my attention. There are multiple shows about Housewives behaving badly in places like Beverly Hills, New York and Atlanta and my guilty favorite, Dance Moms, which pertains to mothers who spend inordinate amounts of money to have their daughters taught dance.
We’ve turned the page from that ’80s fave, Robin Leach’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. We admire the concept of wealth and God knows that enough of us play the lottery in the hopes of striking the Big One, but we no longer put the wealthy on a pedestal. As ill-thought economic policies cut a swath through the middle-class and the American concept of succeeding is ground down, we look at the wealthy in a new and more biased light. Each of these shows the shallow and petulant behavior of someone with money behaving badly and our collective response is akin to rubbernecking at a serious accident – we know that it’s bad but we can’t stop looking. Likewise, it provides a salve for our damaged aspirations with the thought being Wow, money can really do terrible things to a person…thank God that’ll never happen to me.
Yesterday’s beautiful June weather also brought out a huge number of yard sales as people took the opportunity to both purge their household of accumulated crap and raise money to pay bills. I was out early as Eldest rented space at a large church-sponsored yard sale – raising money to help offset the cost of a planned beach trip – and my job was to deliver the tables to the site. The number of yard sale signs in the early morning neighborhoods was impressive and there were a significant number of buyers as well with cars parked up and down various streets near each sale. We’ve become programmed to the decades-long consumerist mentality that equates purchase with pleasure but as our incomes recede, we must find new and cheaper ways to feed our habit and the yard sale is a good alternative. Shows like Pawn Stars and American Pickers foster a more critical eye amongst some shoppers as people realize that amongst all of the crap for sale amongst this great kitschfest, there are really items of some value and the hope of a growing number is that they’ll find that occasional item of worth and value that could truly be a financial windfall.
We are, in a real sense, like the Berliners of 1945 who cull through the rubble in the hopes of finding something worth salvaging in the debris. Except that the bricks and timber are the mounds of cheap clothing and miscellanea on which we’ve willingly spent our money.
The yard sales are a great way of fulfilling needs on a limited budget if you’re willing to take the time to look. But the next time that you’re out, consider what’s being sold by whom and then take a look at whether it would be acceptable to the guys of Pawn Stars and American Pickers.