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 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

The Oscars: A necrospective

And so here we are, ingesting our yearly prescription of celebrity pornography, care of a morally questionable doctor with an attractive smile and soothing voice timber, streamlined for easy consumption by having been boiled down to a two-hour brainless extravaganza of shiny dresses, shiny skin, shiny teeth, shiny jewelry and shiny lives — an emulsified Pabulum hosted by the Good Doctor himself, Ryan Seacrest, a smiling nitwit of the highest order, successful only for being able to turn even the dullest celebrity PR bullshit into the slickest ear-warming babble, designed at its soul to cover the brain in a somastatic, intellectually-limiting poison goo that hardens instantly on contact.

And then, finally, we’re ready for the show: the longest public collective group ego wank on the Planet, designed not so much to get off on art, but the idea of art as an abstracted something, as a means, rather than an end. Rather, that is, than a substantive anything. Art that is often so meaningless, that is so much sign and so little signifier that poor old Walter Benjamin himself would likely quite happily bleed from the ears rather than even have to consider such a sad state of replicated affairs. Just a copy of a copy of a copy on into infinity, xeroxed forever in an endless nothingness of Hollywood atavism and bad, stale ideas regurgitated over and over again to young audiences as something new, and marketed equally ham-fistedly to their parents as some kind of bizarre exercise of socially constructed faux nostalgia. Just a one-note song with nowhere to go except louder, for ever and ever.

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Audiences feed on information, not meaning

When former News of the World editor Paul McMullan argued with Steve Coogan on Newsnight last week, he pointed out a very important detail: there is an audience that needs to feed on information. The problem is that information has less and less meaning the more it is consumed. As the UK deals with the phone hacking scandal, Canada is also pondering the role of its mass media, thanks to a CTV bureau chief publicly expressing his disgust at the business after he quit his job. The two instances are related because at the heart of both is an audience that devours pure information.

In his blog, Kai Nagata, a former bureau chief for CTV in Quebec, took his profession to task for its superficiality, banality, and corporatization (among other things). His post went viral, thanks to it being forwarded on Twitter countless times, even by revered film critic Roger Ebert.

“When you have to balance the interests of your shareholders against the interests of the viewers you supposedly serve, the firewall between the boardroom and the newsroom becomes a very important bulwark indeed,” Nagata wrote on his site. CTV’s continued desire to focus on “growing eyeballs” left him a little cold.

Without equating the phone hacking and whatever Nagata believes CTV is guilty of, both situations imply a serious problem in the system. Since Nagata’s blog, and with it his disillusionment, has gone viral, many of the commenters on his post have congratulated his tenacity and honesty. Those who normally watch and read have simultaneously lamented what they apparently agree is the degradation of the media.

But certainly, somewhere in all of this, that audience must come into play.

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Political attack ads and our postmodern barbarism

There are probably a lot of reasons why political attack ads work: either because they get attention on their own, or because of the endless discussions that turn the content over and over, rehashing it for the sake of an argument about the debasing of political discussion in Canada. And fair enough, those are valid points. We would be better off without sloganeering that immediately attacks policies at the knees, hacking them down to stump material. But the reason attack ads - and the slogans they trumpet - still work has probably less to do with our general inability to have a substantive discussion on policy, and more to do with the fact that we’ve taught ourselves not to everywhere outside of the realm of political discussion.

The argument that Marshall McLuhan made in Understanding Media - his famous piece on the postmodern condition of electric communication - was about how our mass media affect our societal actions -- that “we shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.” In that light, we could worry that attack ads could be ultimately change the overall political discourse in Canada. That is, if we were to limit it that much.

However, McLuhan also wrote about our willingness to regress to a form of communication based on abstracted signs, and given that, attack ads exemplify more a symptom of a current, ongoing problem than the potential cause of it.

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Music 2010: The best and the very worst

I'll start off on a positive note because it all gets pretty fucking depressing very quickly on this one, I'm afraid, everyone. Best Music, 2010

1. Foals - Total Life Forever 2. National - High Violet 3. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs 4. Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record 5. Black Keys - Brothers 6. Band of Horses - Infinite Arms 7. Jonsi - Go 8. Sufjan Stevens - Age of Adz 9. LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening 10. Beach House - Teen Dream

Honourable mentions: Maximum Balloon - Maximum Balloon White Stripes - Under Great White Northern Lights (Live) Girl Talk - All Day

Song you haven’t heard, but should: “Horses” - Yes Nice, Blindfolded

Shit Sandwich Award 2010 (for the Genuine Disappointment of the year): Kings of Leon - Come Around Sundown (Seriously, what in the fuck hell was that?)

After the jump, the Suck.

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What's wrong with Banksy's Simpsons intro

Like pretty much everyone on Twitter Sunday night, I was excited that Banksy had done an intro for The Simpsons. Given that the show has for the last few years struggled to regain any sense of current cultural legitimacy, involving Banksy - the noted British graffiti artist - seemed like a legitimately cool idea, even if it probably was a couple of years too late. But then I saw it. And, frankly, I don’t get the hype. Here it is, for those who haven’t seen it. Discussion, as usual, after the jump.

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