I admit it. I watch reality TV.
It’s not the drama, the fights, or the voyeurism that draws me in. It’s the career escapism.
By career escapism, I am referring to the inevitable process of fantasizing about trading in my office job for the adventurous one shown on reality television. What am I doing here? I should open up a pawn shop! Or buy a storage unit! I should start selling real estate in Honduras! Or maybe join on as a deckhand on a crab-fishing vessel in the Bering Straits!
One night, when a tough day at work provoked a career escapism binge, I tuned in for an episode of “American Digger.” It might have been a re-run, but I’m not sure. Ric Savage, an ex-professional wrestler turned amateur archaeologist was leading a team on a dig located at the site of a former gold mining operation. It was private land, so he negotiated with the property owner to split any potential proceeds. Then, the team began the search, eventually unearthing numerous 100 year-old treasures, like an old mining pan, a cross-cut saw, and even a bear trap, which he sold for profit at a local antique dealer.
As I watched, I began to picture it. I saw myself combing Salem’s streets with a historic map and a metal detector, followed by a team of burly men with shovels. “Dig here, fellas.” I would surely exhume some rare (valuable) locket or silver spoon from the 1700’s! I would then swagger onto the set of “Antiques Roadshow,” stun the expert with my incredible find, and bring home big bucks.
I wondered how this professional wrestler got his start in the treasure hunting game, so I started searching on Google. I came up with this article published in March 2012 in “The New York Times.” It gave me pause. Professional archaeologists were in a snit over this show, the article reported, and they were using fighting words like “looting.” The American Anthropological Association had drafted a letter to Spike (the network that airs “American Digger”), explaining that archaeologists are “highly trained professionals who follow a strict code of ethics in order to preserve and interpret knowledge of the past for the benefit of all peoples.” They also spoke out strongly against profiting financially to the detriment of our collective cultural heritage.
I had not considered the damage that could be done. The treasure hunter searches for an item, and when the object is found, it falls into the hands of a private collector. This piece of history, a history in which we all share, is now a private commodity. The archaeologist is scientist, and his or her goal is quite different. He or she seeks to develop a greater understanding about society and the world. Even if the archaeologist profits from career accolades related to a successful dig, the greater public ultimately shares in the knowledge gained.
To be fair, I don’t think the American Anthropological Association is all too concerned about history enthusiasts digging in the backyard, as long as their motivation is genuine intellectual curiosity. It seemed to me that the letter to Spike was disavowing large-scale, for-profit endeavors, and they felt that a show like “American Diggers” might inspire a multitude of get-rich-quickers to tear up critical, historic locations with their backhoes.
But even so, the idea has lost a bit of its original sheen for me. So, maybe I’ll buy a storage locker instead.
Do you ever daydream about changing careers? What would you do? Fireman? Restaurant owner? Ice road trucker? Let me know in the comments.