A New Pawn Stars Spin-Off!

Pawn StarsI just saw a bare snippet of Pawn Stars. In it, some guy brought in an autographed copy of a Marilyn Monroe poster. He was helped by Rick’s son Corey. And the show immediately cut to Corey in the back being interviewed. Corey said something like, “Marilyn Monroe was one of the biggest stars of the 1950s. She was Hollywood royalty.” Blah, blah, blah. It was real standard stuff — the kind of thing that uneducated people mistake for erudition. But what was strange about it was that it was Corey and not Rick, who we at least kind of think might know a thing or two.

It got me thinking about the future of Pawn Stars. Someone will come in with a first edition of Thomas Shelton’s Don Quixote, and take it up to Chumlee. Then it will cut away to a back room interview where he will say, “Shelton was the first person to translate Don Quixote into English — just seven years after Cervantes wrote his iconic novel.” Blah, blah, something else Chumlee would never know, blah.

We are one step away from having a show about human traffickers… It’s television gold!

If you miss my point, let’s be clear: Chumlee is the idiot on the show. He’s the guy the producers use to make the show interesting. They would, in fact, never have a segment where he looked learned. Like everyone else, Chumlee plays a part, and in his case, it is the comic relief. But they are now doing it with Rick’s son Corey — someone no more serious, and probably quite a lot duller, than Chumlee. I have never bought it coming from Rick himself. The show is so staged, it is about as “real” as a performance at the Folies Bergère.

It’s annoying to watch these people pretend to be knowledgeable about anything at all. What they are knowledgeable about is how to take advantage of pathetic drug and gambling addicts who sell their only valuables for one last shot at redemption. Any reasonable society would consider everyone involved in this show to be what they are: the bottom most of the bottom feeders. Instead, they are seen as “stars” because, after all, they are rich.

We are one step away from having a show about human traffickers. It’d be very easy to piece together. Just take an “old man” who only cares about how much money he can skim off the desperate people fleeing violence and lack of opportunity. Take his son who only cares about skimming off the same poor souls, but who is too smart to say that publicly. Take the grandson who’s hoping he won’t die of a heart attack before he can inherit all the old guys’ money. And top it off with a wisecracking loser who makes comments about leaving immigrants to die in a semi trailer. It’s television gold!

Oh! And don’t forget about the interview segments where all of them discuss their wisdom of the human trade and how much better their lives would be if we just brought back chattel slavery. After all, it would be The History Channel. We want to make sure it has some history in it. Also: experts who discuss how slavery used advanced technology that must be indicative of ancient aliens.

Republicans Whine About “Liberal Media”

Ted CruzIt seems that Republican presidential candidates are very unhappy with the debate questions. It’s indicative of the insular nature of the conservative movement in this country that they think any non-laudatory questions from the press are a clear example of the bias of the “liberal media.” I was especially struck by Ted Cruz’s question during the debate, “How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about?” And what would those substantive issues be? As Brian Beutler made clear, the moderators at CNBC asked very substantive questions. By and large, the Republicans dodged them.

Let’s think about this for a moment. CNBC is a conservative network. During the whole debate, the only question about inequality was given to Mike Huckabee, because he claims to want to do something about it. Trump, Bush, and Rubio were never asked about the huge increase in inequality that their budget proposals would increase. There were no hard or “gotcha” questions for these candidates. What’s more, they were allowed to not answer the questions they were asked. So if they wanted more “substantive issues” to talk about, they could have talked about them and no one would have minded.

Well, one group would have been unhappy: the people who Cruz claimed wanted to hear about the substantive issues. The main things that got the audience excited were attacks on the media. They weren’t interested in hearing about economics or foreign affairs or much of anything. And that’s nothing new. They love Trump and Carson because they are bigots. And they love it when the media is attacked. But that’s the extent of it. It comes back to Corey Robin’s idea that conservatism isn’t so much a positive movement as a negative movement: it is defined by what it is against, not what it is for.

Being aggrieved is the primary motivator for conservative voters. This is why it is so frustrating to argue with conservatives. I’ve talked a lot about this, and I have come to think that this aggrieve mentality is the basis of it. I can usually convince a conservative of anything about economics — and most things regarding social issues. (Exceptions: death penalty, Islam.) But when it comes to voting, they always run back to the Republican Party because they know that it represents their anger at the world. The GOP may push policy that they don’t like, but they know that it will do everything to hurt the right people.

So all this business of pretending to be hurt by elites is just pandering to the base. The Republican Party has a dual constituency. They have the angry base that must be pandered to — but not in a substantive way. So they need to complain that the media are not asking about “substantive issues” even though no one involved is interested in that. And then they have the rich base that must be pandered to in a very substantive way: with policy meant to line the pockets of the rich. So now we have to listen to the Republicans whining about how badly they are treated and how well the Democrats are treated. If I hadn’t been raised on American politics, I would consider it unbelievable.

Morning Music: You’re a Grand Old Flag

You're a Grand Old FlagToday we are going to listen to the song I most remember from grammar school: “You’re a Grand Old Flag.” It’s by the great songwriter George M Cohan for the musical, George Washington, Jr. That may explain why the song has stayed with me. It is quite a good tune. Just the same, I have long found the lyrics repugnant in its nationalism.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have nice aspects. I especially like the line, “And may never you boast or brag.” Just the same, this is the kind of mythology that exists today. Everywhere in the the USA, people are constantly chanting, “We’re number one!” Yet these same people would claim that we are a very humble country, just looking to lend a helping hand to the rest of the world. Not really.

Here is the Billy Murray version with the original lyric of “You’re a glad old rag”:

Anniversary Post: Quiz Show Scandal

Charles Van DorenOn this day in 1959, Charles Van Doren admitted to having been given the answers on the show Twenty One in the quiz show scandal. It’s remarkable in the sense that it is such a trivial thing. Why was Congress investigating it? Yet this is what happens all the time. People get worked up about little things and they become very big deals.

I was sad to hear that Hillary Clinton is still maintaining her support for the death penalty. She said, “I do not favor abolishing it, however, because I do think there are certain egregious cases that still deserve the consideration of the death penalty…” What are these “egregious cases”? Well, she mentioned one: the Boston Marathon bomber. And why is that? Because what Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was so much worse than other murderers? No. It’s just pandering to what the mob has decided is this week’s “egregious case.” That’s no way to run a society.

Of course, Clinton is one of the good ones. She’s not even in the same league as the demagogues in the Republican Party. But this is probably the best reason to vote for Bernie Sanders. Not that he is perfect. We are all guilty of this. But I would have hoped after all these years, we would have gotten better. We seem to be worse.