The History Channel reality show Pawn Stars debuted in July 2009. Set in the Las Vegas, Nevada Silver and Gold Pawn Shop owned by the Harrison family (Richard “The Old Man,” Rick “The Spotter,” and Corey “Big Hoss)”, the show features the family and other employees interacting with customers who bring a variety of items for pawn or sale - antiques, sports memorabilia, books, Americana, antique firearms (pre-1898), furniture, coins, clothing and cars, etc. Frequently appearing ‘expert’ guests provide background and valuation advice on different items, while other expert tradespeople provide restoration services for items that need repair for re-sale.
I discovered the show and began watching it in the summer of 2011 while I was vacationing in my hometown. Jet lag drove me to watch a lot of television at odd hours and I discovered not only a lot of re-runs of shows I watched as a child but also a lot of contemporary programs. I liked Pawn Stars and watched it with interests again during my 2012 trip home. After that I found the show on Youtube and began watching episodes online. Years ago I watched several episodes of the British show Antiques Roadshow, which I rather enjoyed, and I found Pawn Stars similar in that it deals with the valuation of strange or antique junk that people rummage up from their attics, basements and garages and bring to the ‘experts’ to be inspected and valued. But Pawn Stars was more interesting - maybe because customers to the shop were presenting more interesting stuff, or maybe because Las Vegas was closer to my real life than the Roadshow, which has been traveling around rural Britain since February 1979.
Of course, “Pawn Stars” is a deliberately provocative name, calculated to evoke adult interest by sounding like “porn stars.”
There are two things I don’t like:
1) It is a really sad commentary that the History Channel has deteriorated from documentaries about world history to a reality show about a pawn shop. Maybe the channel ran out of interesting topics.
2) PawnStars features customers haggling with the shop owners over the selling price of an item. Customers want to get the maximum while the pawn shop guys want to pay the minimum. That way they can maximize their shop’s profits when they re-sell an item. Customers are interviewed about what they are expecting to receive for a sold item, and typically the shop offers them at most about half that. More often than not customers settle for the shop’s maximum price which is almost always quite lower than their own stated minimum price. Making money for the shop is the overwhelming concern. The Harrisions only buy items they think they can sell quickly, or that they think they can sell for a nice profit, or for a collector they already know who will almost certainly buy it. The pawn shop is a business of course, not a museum or a charity, so they never buy things just because they like them or think they’re neat. Or, almost never.
Pawn Stars reflects the chronic attraction and popularity of vice.
I hate haggling. I’m old fashioned enough that I believe in fixed prices. When I am shopping I buy what I want if I have the money for it that the price tag indicates. If I don’t have the money then I do without. That’s male pattern shopping. I’m not a bargain hunter. Bargain hunting is female-pattern shopping. I’m a buy-what-I-want-if-I-can-afford-it kind of guy. Similarly, I never ask a shop if they have an item. I figure what I can see on their shelves is what they have. If they have something for sale it ought to be displayed. If I don’t see anything I want I just walk out, taking my money and my business elsewhere.
We are not barbaric, heathen Arabs, after all. Of course, in American capitalist culture money is the thing. Pawn Stars draws from and in turn feeds this idea that it is a virtue to pursue maximum profit all the time and so this haggling is presented as being somehow clever. People are presented as admirably clever for getting the most they can out of the pawn shop guys who, in turn, are admirably clever businessmen for getting valuable goods cheaply.
It’s crass. It’s obtuse. It’s vulgar, sinfully self-centered and immoral. But it’s an interesting show. It reflects the chronic popularity of vice. If it was a show about a Salvation Army Thrift Store it probably wouldn’t be so popular.
Haggling over prices is not a proper thing. Let’s hope it doesn’t become popular in the West.