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May 18, 2014 | by  | in Arts TV |
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One Man’s Trash or A Hidden Treasure

Look, I was going to do something pretty academic this week on this show, dabbling in consumer culture; wider culture; the mystery narrative; value. Basically, I was going to have another go at a Media 208 essay I tried to write a couple of years ago. But instead, I think I’m just going to do that more peripherally and you can take what you like from the inevitable rambling to come.

Now, this is the kind of show you’ve seen as a kid and sort of forgotten all about. Because let’s face it: there are way better things to be doing as a child than learning about historical events and cultural movements and trends through the medium of old men in blazers on TV, musing excitably in rather proper English English as they examine artefacts which look nothing like toys or video games or sports or interpretive dance or whatever you were doing from 1979 onwards (this show has been running since 1979. That means we’re in our 36th season. Which is counterintuitive arithmetic; don’t even get me started).

Point is, it’s the kind of thing you pick back up when you return home for the uni holidays for a week or so. Your parents are out during the day, you’re pretty bored. You’ve decided that since there’s a full fridge, you might as well sloth up and make the most of it. At some point the family has attained Sky, but only the shitty channels, like Living, and so you stumble across this show. But what you discover is a beautiful televisual union that Nicholas Sparks couldn’t have written better himself… I should stop making fun of this show actually.

This show is supreme.

Full of rich cultural anecdotes and historical fact. These antiques dealers are machines; they know things.

People come in with heirlooms, bought goods, sometimes found goods. The stories behind these objects are discussed by dealer and valuer alike. Somewhere along the line, we learn how to discern authentic from faked goods – not so much a valuable life skill in and of itself, but you will have sparkling conversation for parties.

I’ve been thinking about why this show is so successful. The British version has three separate spin-offs and the American version (airing 1997) has one or two. Several other countries have also adapted the programme. Perhaps there’s something very satisfactory and comforting in the way we’re presented with ordinary-looking people with occasionally exciting tales. Perhaps from my point of view in New Zealand, there’s something interesting about a family which has held an heirloom for hundreds of years.

The show I just watched included a man with a 400-year-old crossbow made in Germany, made apparent in the wood used and also the stylistic traits of the decoration. The thing was worth a thousand quid or something because it was missing the firing mechanism which actually sounds pretty sophisticated, operating as a sort of dual slide system; this would confer more control and accuracy to the firer.

Perhaps what I’m really describing is Wikipedia on television: later in the episode there was a Samoan club; later in the episode there was a 17th-century clock valued at £15,000.

So, much learning. Along with this learning, we’re also kept entertained by the possibilities of the value of objects, learning to appraise items ourselves. This makes for an interactive viewing experience. And while not operating to the extent a soap opera would in terms of viewer engrossment and immersement (including after the show), the fun of being a pretend expert is evidenced in the longevity of the programme. Certainly it’s more fun than watching Deal or No Deal, which my grandparents seem to be always watching.

And I think the key difference there is that many of the protagonists on Roadshow are not looking to sell, they’re looking to learn more about their item. There is far less of the grossness of vapid consumerism when watching a small outdoor English antiques fair, as opposed to the obscenely lit and coloured, indoor-set, glamourised Deal or No Deal. Basically, a show like that needs to dress itself up; Antiques Roadshow lets its stories talk.

I think that given the current trends in television right now, it’s a very comforting thought that Antiques Roadshow has been around for so long. It seems just as many people hate reality television as love it, though to me this show sits somewhere outside the paradigm of what we currently think of as reality TV. There’s no pretence to this. And though it’s clearly edited and probably scripted in parts, none of this is aimed at deceiving the audience into buying into a narrative – instead, the show sustains itself on the strength of those stories they choose to show us. In this way it really is different from other programming.

To end, I have more to say on this, but I’ve run out of words.

 

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