Antiques Roadshow Infection Alert

This semester, in our “Heritage Narratives” seminar, we have been looking at all the different ways that heritage stories are told:  Novels, Films, Documentaries, News Stories, School Essay Contests, Genealogies (and the genealogical TV shows and websites), guided tours, computer games, and social networking sites.  And we examine the strikingly similar tropes, symbols, and storylines that lay behind each of these genres.

But certainly the wackiest heritage narrative is the “Dream of Riches”– that ever-popular televised genre perfected by the Antiques Roadshow, in which the guest character discovers if his/her antique is treasure or trash.  All that blah, blah, blah about provenance, historical background, and craftsmanship is just a prelude to the electric moment when the monetary value of the object is revealed:

What became clear in our discussions (not only of Antiques Roadshow, but also art auctions, antiques flea markets, and E-bay) is that the repeated enactment of the “Dreams of Riches” scenario is really a public ritual of the industrial age:  in which the “use” or “sentimental” value of a piece of heritage is replaced by its market value.  And that market value, that monetary commodification, trumps everything.

It’s certainly something to think about not only on the individual level, but also at the level of communities and states.  How often has an old neglected part of the landscape be seen with new eyes as a potential tourist attraction?  Is the World Heritage List process just another form of the Antiques Roadshow?

It’s also a sign of a stage of globalization when markets and commodification begin to penetrate and disintegrate other exchange systems and human networks.  My thanks to exchange student Wen Hui for pointing out the following article:

From The Independent:

China’s antique lovers turn to TV for education


Thursday, 1 April 2010

China has in the past few years begun to buy back the antiques and art works that have for centuries been spread all over the world, and at the same time the country’s new generation of collectors is learning how to recognize exactly what is real and what is not.

And much of that newfound knowledge has come thanks to a series of television shows which lift the lid on the nation’s antique industry.

China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage claims there were 70 million antique collectors in the country in 2005 – but there are around 90 million now. And that increased interest has seen TV programmers acting fast.

China’s state-run station CCTV launched the country’s first show to deal directly with the antique industry – Artwork Investment – in 2001 but the country’s media has this week reported there are now 50 such programs screening across the nation.

The top-rated Xun Bao – or “Treasure Hunt” – airs weekly on CCTV-2 and claims 27 million viewers per episode.

That show features a team of experts searching for treasures in far-flung corners of China. They then explain how to identify what the piece is, when it was made – and what it might be worth.

Another top-rated show takes a different tact.

Tian Xia Shou Cang – or “World Collection” – often gets collectors to bring their antiques in to the studio for appraisal. If they are found to be fakes, down comes a hammer to smash the offending piece to smithereens.

And the show’s host, actor Wang Gang, makes no apologies. “This is done so the fakes never reappear on the market,” he told the China Daily newspaper.

The common theme among the shows’ producers is that they are helping protect Chinese culture. And Chinese collectors are doing the same….

For full article, click here.


4 thoughts on “Antiques Roadshow Infection Alert

  1. Neil, you are entirely right that the show is not about the objects but all about value. However, according to my memory, the clip you are showing is rather unrepresentative – or maybe the American version of the show (which I haven’t seen) is very different from the British which I remember well. Because there those owning the pieces will inevitably say either “but for me it has emotional value” (when it is designated as trash) or “but I would not never sell it anyway” (when it would fetch many $$$). In other words, the show is not about monetary value but about (staged) social or emotional values where people are authenticated not things. (Is this only typical for the British show? That would be interesting in itself)

  2. Absolutely right, Cornelius. Elizabeth Chilton keeps reminding me that the BBC version is a lot less about that “electric moment” of valuation than the US one is. But lest we become too nostalgic about the British appreciation of the substance rather than the value of heritage items, watch this:

  3. great clip that one. It reveals him as a particular kind of person doesn’t it, nothing to do with the thing at all. That’s what I mean: it is about the people, not the things and not their (monetary or whatever) value.

  4. Agreed! This clip is of course unrepresentative. Most who are disappointed keep their disappointment to themselves. And I agree that it’s all about peoples’ valuation systems. But because of the narrative structure of the show, it’s ultimately the MONETARY value they have to react to.

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