Pawn Stars vs Pinkertons

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jan 18, 2013

Not surprisingly, given that I wrote a historical nonfiction book, I like history. I also like History, i.e. the History channel. Much of what I watch on History, these days, is admittedly as much about contemporary life as history. But I actually note one theme common to Pawn Stars, Swamp People, American Restoration, etc., in common with Brilliant Deduction: generational conflict in a family business.

This appears over and over in the above television series. The Harrisons bickering with one another, Rick Dale balancing too much authority for his son Tyler vs too little responsibility, and of course almost every alligator-hunting crew on Swamp People includes a father-son relationship.

Many of the detectives in Brilliant Deduction made work a family affair as well. Vidocq had no children, apparently, while “Paddington” Pollaky had a large family but demonstrated no interest in bringing them into the line of work he himself grew increasingly eager to escape. The great American private detective firms of Pinkerton and Burns, however, were both family businesses. And even county detective Ellis Parker drafted his son Ellis, Jr., for help on at least one very significant case.

These father-son partnerships seem to have run more smoothly than History’s usually do, though that may not have been entirely a good thing. Both Ellis, Jr., and Sherman Burns arguably disagreed with their fathers too little and might have done considerably better to question the old man a bit more.

Within the Pinkerton family, however, this was definitely not a problem.

The friction among the Pinkertons probably more than makes up for the amicable relations among their peers and rivals. Here, you had just about all the soap-opera conflict a television producer could want. William and Robert would seek to exercise a bit of initiative, and Allan would explode in melodramatic outrage; Robert got so fed up at one point he threatened not only to quit the family business but to drop the family name as well; even William, generally the more dutiful son, disregarded direct orders from Pop and went on a rogue-cop chase for the quarry while in Europe, safely removed from Allan’s combustible personality. Then, after Allan and Robert had died, Robert’s son Allan II began nagging Uncle William for more authority over the business and the whole thing repeated itself.

I have no trouble imagining the Pinkertons in scenes very like the recent Pawn Stars storyline in which Corey gave his father and grandfather an ultimatum of partnership in the family business, or departure from it. Except that the Harrisons, even the cantankerous Old Man, are probably all relatively mellow temperaments compared with Allan Pinkerton. That guy put the arch in patriarchal.

You would not have tried switching him to decaff.

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