Monday, February 18, 2013

In Praise of "American Pickers"

Jonathan Rees, a history professor at Colorado State-Pueblo and opponent of all things MOOC, comes out of the closet as an academic historian who watches The History Channel.  More specifically, he is a fan of a show called American Pickers.  Welcome to the Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz fan club, Jonathan!  You are not alone in your love of this show! 

Rees sees American Pickers as a form of public history. I would say that it is also a form of the "History Harvests" made popular by the History Department at the University of Nebraska and featured in a recent issue of Perspectives on History.

Here is a taste of his post:

Obviously, the concept owes something of a debt to Antiques Roadshow, but the reason I like this show much better is the obvious enthusiasm that these guys have for all the objects that they’re selling. The “contestants” on Roadshow generally only want to know about their items to figure out how much money they can make, but Mike and Frank can get incredibly excited over objects for aesthetic reasons alone, whether they end up buying them for their stores or not. Even if you’ll never make any money from what’s stuffed inside your garage, you can’t help but feel the thrill when they discover “rusty gold” of all kinds. I expected to see car parts and motorcycles when I started watching, but I’ve also learned more about toys, bicycles, beer, petroliana (see the clip above if you don’t recognize the term)—even surfing—than I ever thought possible. Mike and Frank learn as they go so that they can spot diamonds in the rough on later journeys, and you can’t help but learn with them...

In my case, I love the show because these guys are about the only people I’ve ever seen on TV or in person who share my enthusiasm for industrial history. I tear up at old roadside advertising and cool pictures of machinery. To see items like these rediscovered in someone’s attic or spare barn makes it doubly exciting. Perhaps more importantly, the show also helps satisfy my suppressed desire to be a pack rat. A few years after eBay debuted, I started buying original World War I posters as I was amazed at how cheap they were. (The framing cost more than the posters themselves.) When I got married, I no longer had the space or the money to keep up that hobby. Watching American Pickers helps me scratch that itch without any out-of-pocket costs.

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