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The Historiography of Pawn Stars

In order to justify its presence on the so-called "History" Channel, Pawn Stars makes a point of highlighting the historical significance of various antiques that come into the store. This is typically framed by Rick sharing his minimal knowledge of the item and its historical context, at which point he calls in an expert (one of his many "buddies") to tell the full story under the guise of an appraisal. In the recent seasons, they get through fewer and fewer items per episode, interspersed with cringe-worthy family subplots that appear to have been rejected from real sitcoms, including arbitrary wagers, surprise birthday parties, and (my personal favourite) aimlessly searching for Bob Dylan through the crowded streets of Las Vegas (S03E20).

Considering how the History Channel’s radical re-branding of circa 2008 no longer requires it to feign being intellectually stimulating in any way, what may be the purpose of the brief historical interludes in an otherwise mind-numbing show? Given the channel’s shift from educational documentaries to trashy reality shows, are these segments only there to justify that there is still some attempt at engaging with history, or is there some deeper function to it? What might this say about contemporary historical education? Could the cheese-ball sitcom element perhaps be a sort of lure to trick laymen into engaging with the narratives of the past? Furthermore, how has this kind of television content become a contemporary cultural icon in itself? (For examples, see this scene from Gravity Falls ((link) and this 2011 CollegeHumor sketch ((link) 1:17).

Whatever the verdicts may be, how might it be illustrated in other examples of post-2008 programming, such as American Pickers, Ice Road Truckers, Ancient Aliens, and Vikings?

  • I've noticed this trend with the Discovery Channel as well. The content seems to be catered to boosting ratings and not anything intellectually stimulating. All those fake documentaries make me cringe; there was one on mermaids, though that might have been on Animal Planet, and another was about megladons. Maybe this shift has to do with ratings or the rise of the internet or an attempt to keep tv relevant. – S.A. Takacs 5 years ago
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  • This topic sounds like an SNL dream. One could combine the Dylan-in-Vegas episode with Ghosthunters: (Out of breath from running) "My mysterious poet-o-meter says an internal rhyme was created in the area... Did you see that? It looked like the ghost of 'lectricity." – Tigey 5 years ago
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  • Great topic! At this point, Rick from Pawn Stars is as much an Internet meme as he is a television personality. I would suggest looking into the demographics of shows like Pawn Starts to see what the average age of the viewer is. That could provide some insight into why Pawn Stars and shows like it have shifted away from a historical focus. – KennethC 5 years ago
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