Another sorta-kinda history series

Next month Spike TV will debut a new show in which Ric Savage and his team of associates will root around in people’s yards in search of valuable artifacts.  If the name rings a bell, it’s probably because Savage gained national fame by beating grown men within an inch of their lives as a professional wrestler.

“Heavy Metal” Ric Savage had a prolific seven year career in the sport, competing in nearly every wrestling organization, among them the WCW (World Championship Wrestling), the ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) and the NWA (National Wrestling Alliance). Following his retirement from professional wrestling in 1997, Savage returned to his other passion, the Civil War era, by getting his start in relic hunting.

These endeavors have not been unprofitable.  Savage now runs one of the leading artifact recovery enterprises in the country.  Here’s how the show works:

In the US, there are millions of historical relics buried in backyards just waiting to be discovered and turned into profit. “American Digger” hopes to claim a piece of that pie as the series travels to a different city each week, including Detroit, MI, Brooklyn, NY, Chicago, IL and Jamestown, VA searching for high-value artifacts and relics, some of which have been untouched for centuries. After pinpointing historical locations such as Civil War and Revolutionary War battlefields, Savage’s first task is to convince reluctant homeowners to let his team dig up their property using state-of-the-art metal detectors and heavy-duty excavation equipment. The team will then sell any artifacts found for a substantial profit by consulting experts and scouring the antique and collectible markets, but not before negotiating a deal to divide the revenue with the property owners.

Mr. Savage is pictured below in the act of wielding a chair.

From Wikimedia Commons

Personally, I’m not about to tell that guy he can’t dig up my property.  In fact, I’d tell him to go ahead and tear up the floor of my living room and then help himself to whatever I had in the fridge, and perhaps have his way with my wife and daughters if he felt so inclined.

Is the launch of “American Digger” a sign of the public’s interest in history?  I’m not so sure.  As I’ve said before, I’m becoming convinced that Americans aren’t so much interested in history as interested in the past.  Lots of people enjoy the subject matter of history, but the process of history, the scholarly discipline of making sense of the past, goes largely ignored.  Hence we have wildly popular TV shows which depict people digging up artifacts, haggling over the price of heirlooms, and firing old guns, but the level of historical sensibility among the public can simultaneously remain low.

I don’t intend this as criticism of the show; I think I might give it a look.  I’m just suggesting that the appeal of the past is not necessarily a reliable indicator of any widespread historical awareness in America.

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3 Comments

Filed under History and Memory

3 responses to “Another sorta-kinda history series

  1. If we’re voting for worthwhile kinda-sorta history shows, my vote is for Full Metal Jousting, which seems (based on the first episode) to try to recreate that medieval sport within some reasonable standards of safety for the riders and horses. One notable difference I see is that they’re not using period, high-backed saddles — allowing the rider to get knocked off the back of the horse may actually be safer than the historic saddles that kept the rider in the saddle, but fully absorbing the strike of the lance with his body.

  2. There’s a petition circulating online which asks the public to “Stop Spike TV from looting our collective past!”

    http://www.change.org/petitions/stop-spike-tv-from-looting-our-collective-past#

    I don’t know enough about this group’s archaeological techniques to make a judgment on this, but if they start allowing professional wrestlers to dig up historic battlefields, then I have a real problem with that.

    I also agree with you that these sorts of shows do not necessarily reflect any real interest in the study of history. My theory is that these shows — American Diggers/Pickers/Restoration/Etc. — are a reflection on the culture’s general mood towards the prolonged recession, and a fondness for anything nostalgic, with the added hook of potential riches found within attics, garages, and buried in the dirt beneath our feet.

    • Michael Lynch

      To me, I guess it depends on what sort of areas they’re excavating. If it’s an isolated cannonball stash on private property, that’s one thing, but I agree with you that significant sites like battlefields (even if they’re in private hands) should be off-limits to profit-making enterprises.

      –ML

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