Why I should stop watching Pawn Stars and why you shouldn't start

I’ll get this out of the way right now: I watch Pawn Stars, the show on History Channel featuring the guys at Gold and Silver Pawn in Las Vegas. A lot. I should not. And nor should you.

In case you don't know what this show is, the premise is pretty simple. Whereas other pawn shop-related reality shows put an emphasis on unruly customers, security breaches and the downtrodden locals, Pawn Stars focuses on the items that people bring in to sell. Most importantly, though, it aims to examine the history behind those items. This is how the show is on something like the History Channel in the first place – or perhaps how the channel can get away with showing it. But it’s because of this, the show’s central premise, that it’s actually not worth your time.

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On sports chatter

"Sport as practice, as activity, no longer exists, or exists for economic reasons... and there exists only chatter about chatter about sport. The chatter about chatter of the sports press constitutes a game with its full set of rules... It will be seen, as for that matter everyone knows already, that evaluations, judgments, arguments, polemical remarks, denigrations, and paeans follow a verbal ritual, very complex but with simple and precise rules. In this ritual, intellectual energies are exercised and neutralized; physical energies are no longer in play, so the competition shifts to a purely 'political' level. In fact, the chatter about sports chatter has all the characteristics of a political debate. They say what the leaders should have done, what they did do, what we would have liked them to do, what happened, and what will happen... Such chatter seems therefore the parody of political talk; but since in this parody the strength that the citizen had at his disposal for political debate is vitiated and disciplined, this chatter is the ersatz of political speech, but to such a heightened degree that it becomes itself political speech. Afterwards, there's no more room – because the person who chatters about sport, if he didn't do this, would at least realize he has possibilities of judgment, verbal aggressiveness, political competitiveness to employ somehow. But sports chatter convinces him that his energy is expended to conclude something. Having allayed his doubt, sport fulfills its role of fake conscious."

– Umberto Eco, Sports Chatter

On identity

"Our children in a twentieth-century information environment have to process more data than any human being in any previous culture of the world. Our children from early infancy are engaged in extraordinarily hard work, and that work is mainly just growing, growing up because to grow up in a modern electronic environment is a fantastically complex and difficult job. It's also a job which threatens to deprive people of identity, the personal concept. One of the peculiarities of an electronic environment is that people become so profoundly involved in each other that they lose that sense of private identity. This is one of the peculiar cruxes of our time that people, precisely because they become profoundly involved in one another in an all-at-once simultaneous field of happenings, then begin to lose their sense of private identity because identity used to be connected with simple classification and fragmentation and non-involvement. In a world of profound involvement, identity seems to evaporate."

-- Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage

On destruction

"The consumer society needs its objects in order to be. More precisely, it needs to destroy them. The use of objects leads only to their dwindling disappearance. The value created is much more intense in violent loss. This is why destruction remains the fundamental alternative to production: consumption is merely an intermediate term between the two. There is a profound tendency within consumption for it to surpass itself, to transfigure itself into destruction. It is in destruction that it acquires its meaning. Most of the time in daily life today, it remains subordinate – as a managed consumptivity – to the order or productivity. This is why, most of the time, objects are present by their absence, and why their very abundance paradoxically signifies penury. Stock is the excessive expression of lack and a mark of anxiety. Only in destruction are objects there in excess and only then in their disappearance, do they attest to wealth. At any rate, it is clear that destruction, either in its violent and symbolic form (the happening, potlatch, destructive acting-out, both individually and collective) or in its form of systematic and institutional destructiveness, is fated to become of the preponderant functions of post-industrial society."

-- Jean Baudrillard, The Vicious Cycle of Growth

On commemoration

The twentieth century is hardly behind us, but already its quarrels and its dogmas, its ideals and its fears are slipping into the obscurity of mis-memory. Incessantly invoked as 'lessons', they are in reality ignored and untaught. This is not altogether surprising. The recent pas is the hardest to know and understand. [...] Today... we wear the last century rather lightly. To be sure, we have memorialized it everywhere: museums, shrines, inscriptions, 'heritage rites', even historical theme parts are all public reminders of 'the Past'. But there is a strikingly selective quality to the twentieth century that we have chosen to commemorate. The overwhelming majority of places of official twentieth century memory are either avowedly nostalgic – triumphalist – praising famous men and celebrating famous victories – or else, and increasingly, opportunities for the acknowledgment and recollection of selective suffering. In the latter case they are typically the occasion for the teaching of a certain sort of political lesson: about things that were done and should never be forgotten, about mistakes that were made and should not be made again.

The twentieth century is thus on the path to becoming a moral memory place: a pedagogically serviceable Church of Historical Horrors whose way stations are labeled 'Munich' or 'Pearl Harbour', 'Auschwitz' or 'Gulag', 'Armenia' or 'Bosnia' or 'Rwanda', with '9-11' as a sort of supererogatory coda, a bloody postscript for those who would forget the lessons of the century or who never properly learned them. [...]

But such official commemoration, however benign its motives, does not enhance our appreciation and awareness of the past. It serves as a substitute, a surrogate. Instead of teaching children recent history, we walk them through museums and memorials. [...] The past has now no agreed narrative shape of its own. it acquires meaning only by reference to our many and often contrasting concerns.

– Tony Judt, The World We Have Lost


From Don DeLillo's White Noise:

I told Murray that Albert Seer wanted to build structures that would decay gloriously, impressively, like Roman ruins. No rusty hulks or gnarled steel slums. He knew Hitler would be in favour of anything that might astonish posterity. He did a drawing of a Reich structure that was to be built of special materials, allowing it to crumble romantically – a drawing of fallen walls, half columns furled in wisteria. The ruin is built into the creation, I said, which shows a certain nostalgia behind the power principle, or a tendency to organize the longings of future generations.

Murray said, "I don't trust anybody's nostalgia but my own. Nostalgia is a product of dissatisfaction and rage. It's a settling of grievances between the present and the past. The more powerful the nostalgia, the closer you come to violence. War is the form of nostalgia takes when men are hard-pressed to say something good about their country."