KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Pop Culture

Eccentric junk collectors held high on American Pickers

by Julia Tulloh , April 16, 20142 Comments

American Pickers

The History Channel’s American Pickers, currently in its sixth season, is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable reality series on TV. It’s not a competition show, it doesn’t exist to objectify people and it isn’t particularly dramatic. So what’s the appeal?

American Pickers follows Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz as they ‘pick’ their way through privately owned collections of stuff (any kind of stuff). The participants don’t collect antiques in the same way as the guests of Antiques Roadshow or Australia’s Collectors might: rather, they are mostly old guys who’ve been accumulating gas station paraphernalia, car and motorcycle parts, mechanical toys, jukeboxes, postcards, old uniforms, war memorabilia and other ‘Americana’ for decades. To the untrained eye, it all looks like junk, but Mike and Frank will pick through it until they find an old tin robot or a Chevrolet frame that they can purchase at a bargain price and then sell for a profit at their respective antique stores, Antique Archeology and Frank Fritz Finds.

American Pickers feels stereotypically American, without being over the top. My brother recently visited the US for the first time and commented on how familiar it was and how strongly it reminded him of his childhood, even though he’d never been there before. Watching Mike and Frank feels a little like this – the Midwestern homes they visit are so familiar, and seeing a bunch of real people pore over and cherish old ceramic Texaco signage makes me feel like this warm, backwoodsy, nostalgic vision of America could be a reality.

The show is not melodramatic. It doesn’t hook the audience in through dramatic voice-overs or overwrought special effects. It’s at its most compelling when Mike haggles an obscure piece of piping down to thirty bucks, and then resells it in his store for fifty.

Unlike many other reality TV shows, American Pickers doesn’t exploit the vulnerable in order to gain an audience. Shows like Supernanny, Embarrassing Bodies and Hoarding: Buried Alive purport to help participants work through serious life issues, but the real reason they succeed is because we as viewers are simultaneously disgusted and fascinated by other people’s problems.

Rather than making a spectacle of people as other shows would, American Pickers validates people who might otherwise be seen as a little strange. The show mostly focuses on dudes, with the exception of the awesome Danielle Colby, who runs Mike’s shop, organises valuations and sales, and is also a mother, burlesque dancer, fashion designer and ex-roller derby competitor. Even so, the men whose possessions are picked over – obsessive junk collectors who are often in late middle age or elderly – belong to a demographic typically only portrayed on television as peripheral characters or as comic relief.

One collector, Ron (jokingly referred to as the ‘mole man’), had built a series of tunnels reinforced with cinderblocks beneath his home to house his collection of toy trucks, used car parts, and old pictures. The tunnel entrance looked like an exploded mine shaft, and Ron spent the entire episode deep inside a maroon sweater with the hood tightened around his face like an arctic sleeping bag. In another episode, the collector’s shed had been blacked out and festooned with all manner of stringed and rotating lights, illuminating his rare toy collection like a carnival.

That’s why American Pickers is so appealing: its subjects are portrayed humorously, but they are also always real people with precious objects and valuable knowledge to offer.

Julia Tulloh is a writer in Melbourne and is working on a PhD about Cormac McCarthy’s fiction. She tweets at @jtul and blogs at juliatulloh.com.

ACO logo




  • http://www.vintagepromotionsllc.com/ Melissa Sands

    Great article!

  • john396

    With all the fake reality shows on TV, its nice to find a REAL one….

100SB_YA books_KYD_Readings

Lou Heinrich

There is No Normal: Rachel Hill’s The Sex Myth

Feminist and journalist Rachel Hills spent seven years researching the limits of our cultural understanding of sex. In what may bring huge relief to readers, the resulting book, The Sex Myth, proves through scientific and anecdotal evidence (Hills conducted almost a thousand interviews around the Western world) that when it comes to sex, there is no normal. Read more »

9780733633782

Kill Your Darlings

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their July picks

Looking for a book recommendation? Staff from Readings bookshop share what they’ve been reading this month. Read more »

lead_960

James Tierney

I Call The Shots: The provocation of violent women

In a Western culture increasingly stripped of its old taboos, violent acts by women – real and imagined – still possess the genuine power to shock. Cultural representations of violent women can both affirm and react against the kind of pernicious questioning that posits women as fundamentally, and fatally, reactive. Read more »

abortion

Rebecca Shaw

Choice Without Stigma: Dismantling the abortion taboo

Abortion is still illegal in the criminal code in Queensland – even in this, the Year of Our Beyoncé 2015. While women are unlikely to face practical obstacles to abortion due to the law, it can still cause isolation and unnecessary fear, and creates a stigma around the act. Read more »

17177200132_2383e88c36_k

Rebecca Shaw

Rage Against the Marriage: The inanity of same sex marriage debate in Australia

I am someone who is completely comfortable in my sexuality, and who classifies myself as the genus Lesbionisos. I am 100% certain that I am not abnormal, an abomination, or in any way inferior to heterosexual people. Sometimes I even secretly think non-heterosexuals might be superior. But I haven’t always been this assured. Read more »

clouds-of-sila-maria-1

Rebecca Shaw

The curse of the ‘gal pals’

As a well-known humourless, angry, hairy arm-pitted, feminist lesbian, I encounter daily issues that I can place on a scale from things that mildly irritate me all the way to things that completely offend me. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

tom-cruise-jack-reacher-premiere-postponed

Chris Somerville

A lit match in a box of wet dynamite: Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher

I first watched Jack Reacher a few years ago, in a spate of insomnia. The plot is a confused mess, both needlessly intricate and incredibly simple. I’m not going to go into it, mainly because I don’t actually know why the people in this movie do anything. Read more »

Partisan

Joanna Di Mattia

To experience the world with blinkers on: Ariel Kleiman’s Partisan

Partisan beautifully evokes that complex space between childhood and adulthood, when we start to question the worldview we have inherited – when we begin to see the world through our own eyes. It is both a coming-of-age story, and an innocence-coming-undone story. Read more »

3ab01d05-2590-4aa4-80f4-45fab0eccec4-2060x1236

Anwen Crawford

Heart of Darkness: UnREAL‘s ruthless reality

Everlasting, the show-within-a-show at the dark centre of new American television series UnREAL, is a fantasy blend of champagne cocktails, pool parties and true love. Everlasting is a Bachelor-style game show in which a dozen immaculately groomed women compete for a handsome millionaire husband, and its relationship to real life is, like any ‘reality’ show, non-existent. Nothing goes to air on Everlasting that has not been scripted, staged, and edited for maximum controversy. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

OITNB2

Anwen Crawford

Still in Prison: The limitations of Orange is the New Black

No, I haven’t binge-watched the entire new season of Orange Is The New Black in one sleepless, bleary-eyed frenzy. This season, the show’s third, doesn’t lend itself to that kind of viewing. The pace is slower, the cliff-hangers missing. Read more »

ss_8df8236403f5aad45eeedd33d2bd545e45435b39.1920x1080

Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

Keith - photo Shane Reid

Jane Howard

Local Courage, Global Reach: The National Play Festival

There is something to be gained from observing any collection of works in close proximity, and in these readings you could see the way Australian playwrights are reaching out into the world. Together, these works show the minds of our playwrights in robust health, with works that are itching to find their audience. Read more »

2015GISELLE_Artists of The Australian Ballet. PhotoJeffBusby

Jane Howard

The Beautiful and the Dated: Australian Ballet’s Giselle

The weight of history sits heavily on the Australian Ballet’s Giselle. One of the most enduringly popular ballets from the romantic period, there is much to delight in its presence on stage and its lasting lineage. But 175 years after its debut, in a production that premiered 30 years ago, the sheen of Giselle has been dulled. Read more »

CrawlMeBlood_20150607_261_LoRes copy

Jane Howard

Adhocracy: Lifting the curtain on the creative process

Every June long weekend I wrap myself up in several extra layers and make my way to the Waterside Worker’s Hall in Port Adelaide for Adhocracy, Vitalstatistix’s annual hothouse that brings together artists from around the country for a weekend of creative development. Read more »