American Savage: Paved with Gold
By Collin Reischman
Gold. Sweet, wonderful, shiny gold. It makes jewelry, and it once backed our currency. Oh Christ, don’t stop reading. This won’t be an examination of the Federal banks. No, this is a simpler concept I’m etching out here. Less than a week ago I was sliding down the channels on a friend’s cable connection, because I have none of my own. I landed on the Discovery Channel (the television equivalent of comfort food) and the show “Gold Rush: Alaska.” I watched and I remember thinking, “Why does the populace seem to have a hard-on for the 50th state?”
Darkly, I wondered whether Sarah Palin and her disoriented staffers were behind the trend. Her show had been mildly popular, lamenting the beauty and simple happiness she had when far away, and absolutely refusing to stay there.
But no. The show features the most classic American Dream. Hard working family men (men who have the decency not to beat their kids until church is through) literally trying to pull gold out of the ground.
What a strange, nostalgic trip, to see 21st century men trying to sift gold with a metal pan in some frozen creek in Alaska.
California was born on the wild delusion of instant ecstasy, riches and power. Gold was the gasoline fueling the whole sorry mad influx of Gold fiends in the 1800s.
It’s a depressing tradition, a place where the few great success stories seem to outweigh the thousands of monumental failures.
But this is the 21st century. Aren’t we past this kind of hysterical nonsense? I had assumed that the unfettered gluttony of the masses had become more sophisticated.
This is a savage regression. It can’t even be said that our methods, or our inherently success-fixated dispositions, have gotten any more refined. We are still looking for the easy score.
The Ol’ West taught the greedy wolves of this nation to live and die by the quick fix — that dangerous, insatiable desire we all have to take everything we can, have more than is wise or reasonable and spit on anyone else.
These mighty, mad scientists are shown to the whole world once a week. Every Friday night you can watch the classic American western tradition, broadcast on television — the truest American art form.
Gold may be the key ingredient in the quintessential American fairy tale. As part of our collective unconscious, the archetypal tale of a man moving West, finding some great kind of riches and success and sending home for his loved ones, this is the American Dream, writ large.
The miners of Gold Rush struggle, just like the brave and hardened men that tamed the west, the show would have you think.
They seek profits for their endeavors, and are not afraid to violate rules of safety and sanity to see the shiny, fantastic glimmer of gold among the brown and black dirt of Alaska.
There is something poetic and barbaric about watching these men and their families camping in the dense forests like people trapped in another time.
Wives and children entertain themselves in the woods, or learn the equipment with their fathers, so they too may one day chase a fantastic dream.
The men stare with diligence at their metal plates, eying carefully for a single glimmer, a flake, anything to indicate success; like a sign from the creator telling them, yes, you’re headed the right way.
Maybe they’ll strike riches. Or maybe not. All they need, all the viewers need, is just a taste; a hint; a glimmer of hope.