Of all the colourless range of emotions visible everywhere on the many-headed Hydra that is the TEE-VEE, the one perhaps least often evidenced is that of chagrin. This is too refined, too classical, too ubi sunt a feeling for the age.
Shall we see Bruce Jenner or Kim Kardashian look back in sorrowful chagrin before "our" cameras any time soon? Shall we see that ruefulness, that bitter yet intelligent regret pass across the faces of the conniving characters on Gallery Girls? No, chagrin, neo-classical regret and ruefulness are antithetical to the usual crop of reality-teevee shows, whether they are documentary in intent or competitive. Even when the characters on The Amazing Race lose out on the million dollars, when they are cheated and betrayed and fucked over and humiliated at a "detour", they do not show chagrin. They froth and they seethe and rally their online offensives.
I saw some rare chagrin once on an episode of Dog the Bounty Hunter, when Dog was saying "I have fathered lo these my many children and God said it was right good and I have had to me in my times all these sons, and verily God took me down a notch or several." He was regretting, in Biblical tones, the loss of several of his children.
Dog is a bit like a nineteenth-century rural minister, or even a Colonial type, the Cotton Mather sort for whom the loss of six or seven of your children is simply the norm. That said, Dog's chagrin was sentimental in root, and it inevitably tipped over into broad bathos almost as quickly as it materialised.
An intellectual chagrin, however, of the type expressed by the last cultured denizens of a ransacked culture, I rarely see. This is funny, because the present culture is pretty fucking ransacked! However, on last night's episode of Market Warriors, there was a beautiful and quite stunning record of the culture in pieces and of a modest yet elevated coterie among the ruins, staring gloomily and in awe at the shards about them.
"These my fragments which I have shored against my ruin..."
Market Warriors is a superior (in both senses) reality show along the lines of Storage Wars. You will note the passing resemblance in the titles even. However while Storage Wars in its title and its outlook emphasises the wars themselves, the crude bellicosity, the skirmishing and the cutthroat machinating, the whirr of the axe, the musick of the cudgel, Market Warriors places a more humanistic emphasis on the Warriors themselves -- the mortal participants. It is not a paean to the slavering and unsophisticated god of War.
Perhaps that's cock and bull. Rather, Market Warriors is on Channel Thirteen, and so naturally has a more refined air and tenor. As my mother-in-law said when I naively asked her if she watches Storage Wars, "My dear dear man, I watch Antiques Roadshow. Pass me my snuffbox for I fain would lie doon." It is the difference between the Jacksonian log cabin and the hard cider misspelt Davy Crockett culture and the precious, patrician, John Harvard book-larnt culture of John Quincy Adams.
Market Warriors is made by the same artisanal yeoman-philosopher craftsmen that fashioned the U.S. version of the Antiques Roadshow and so naturally accommodates and indulges the genteel sensiibilities and sensitivities of those patricians who prefer that show. It also features [Antiques Roadshow compere] Mark Walberg as the disembodied voice narrating the goings-on, and in this capacity he gets off some real zingers. I mean boy. His sarcasm, as a disembodied voice, is remarkable to behold. It's as though because he is not visible he can be more cutting and droll than he would be if visible in the throng of an antiques show.
I should note, for foreign readers, that the Mark Walberg I refer to is not the similar-soundingly-named Hollywood film star and former purveyor of white rap Wahlberg, but another man of, incredibly, virtually the same name.
How can such things be?
You'll believe a man can fly.
"Which was the lie?"
"Does the race of man love a lord?"
Mark Walberg nearly made the leap from Channel Thirteen to prime-time teevee ("the very eye of history") a few years back in a show based around members of the public confessing tawdry secrets on live TV to the horror and bemusement of their loved ones. It was a miserable sight to see him crudely whoring for the prime-time greenback. Walberg had betrayed the cause of intellectual television in pursuit of the Hollywood dollar. It was like seeing Thomas Jefferson splayed out in a low bawdy-house. It backfired on him quite badly and the show was cancelled even in these savage times for being too much the inhumane Grand Guignol. Walberg returned, whupped and chastised and neutered and humbled and reformed to the Antiques Roadshow. Yet the disembodied Walberg we hear on Market Warriors happily retains some of that tart, barbed, annihilating negative energy that characterised him on his axed cage-match-hell-show.
To return to my first subject, which was that emotion seen so rarely on teevee (since it involves reflection and regret and quiet sadness and after all intelligence and remorse and humility), chagrin. On Market Warriors the same four characters go around an antique show or flea market or a bazaar and they have a set time and a set "purse" to acquire objects from the fayre. These, the distinguished objects eventually chosen according to the application of the contestants' superior experience and their celebrated breeding, are then auctioned off in another State. The profit, or the loss, is counted up and the winners derived from this totting-up.
Every episode I have seen of this show involves the contestants making massive losses. They pay too much in the first antique shop or flea market and then at the auction (in Cleveland, or Cincinnatti, or Madison Wisconsin) their refined tastes are as unto so many pearls before swine as the ignorant pigs of these rural towns bid mere pennies for they know not what. These grubbing swine are the likes of Mark on Baggage Battles or that swaggering, scrabbling grubber Dave on Storage Wars. They are the profiters from chaos. They are the riverboatmen on the Styx. They shall prevail as the old men with delicate manners go down, swept under.
It's a real barbarians-at-the-gate scenario, and it was pronounced this week. They bought in Old Mass and they sold in Ohio. They did fucking poorly. The four contestants are seen in the attached images with this very weblog so you can behold that what I say is verily true. I laughed to see them. There was nothing for them to say; they had complained on previous episodes about the crassness and the obliviousness of the auction attendees. There was no point in repeating themselves. All they could do now was to sit with these unfeigned expressions of despair and wait for Death to come -- as it will.
I have never seen such expressions on television ever. They are so pure and unadulterated! The soul is still alive and well and can be seen in the faces of these well-named warriors.
I can't help but love and sympathise with these faces. I spend much of my day with the same expression on my face, and not just when I am trying to sell off some books or CDs or comic books and getting fuck all for them from ignoramuses. The misery of the Market Warriors wasn't just that they had lost -- the money, after all, wasn't even theirs -- nor was it even at the repeated public loss of face they have undergone in the course of this well-meaning program. Their horror and chagrin is, finally, at the decline of a civilization entire.
One funny thing on a recent episode of Market Warriors, which I have to recall, was when the one character - the so-called "Professor," John Bruno - was walking through an antiques fair and he saw one dealer, with a long white beard, and said, "Hey guy" or something to him. The dealer responded with amazing wistfulness, "John... it's me..."
John Bruno looked closer at the man and recognised, through the cruel masque of reduced circumstances and that rude veil of hoary aging, an old and well-loved old bondsman. He said, in unfeigned shock and horror and yet tenderness too I believe, yes I believe there was tenderness in it, "My God... how long's it been..." or words like those.
Again, as above, here were real human exchanges and emotions usually too raw and vivid for the televsion to see or allow. Again, at the sheer candour of the showing of the raw human nerve system, I laughed out loud in delight and regret.