This week in TIME magazine, accidentally but appropriately timed with a cover on the decline of Europe and coverage of the general lack of good economic news anywhere, I have a plus-sized column about cable TV’s hot genre with a fitting theme for the age of austerity: shows about making money off old junk. The shows—Pawn Stars, American Pickers, Storage Wars and much more—are in the trash-to-treasure vein of Antiques Roadshow, but without that show’s pretense that people are getting their stuff appraised simply out of curiosity:
You walk into a pawnshop, on the other hand, because you want–or need–some damn money. In one episode of Pawn Stars, a man goes into Gold & Silver with a wooden propeller that his grandma says Charles Lindbergh gave her for selling war bonds. “It’s been in my family for years,” he says. “It’s been a treasure to them, and now it’s no longer a treasure to me.”
You could see a mini American-history lesson in that transaction right there: an artifact’s journey from the expansionary society of the Greatest Generation era to the everything-must-go days of the Great Recession. There’s a fallen-world nostalgia to these shows, a tribute to the artifacts of a better, more authentic time. “Remember back in the day when things were made by hand and people took pride in their work?” asks the intro to American Restoration–whose title sounds like the name of a political party from a dystopian future.
As a reminder, starting this summer, articles from the magazine are only available online—or in print or on the iPad—if you’re a TIME subscriber. So if you want that link above to work, you’ll have to pony up. That, or you can always wait a while, and eventually you’re bound to come by a stash of old TIME magazines in a landfill or flea market somewhere.