Monday 22 March 2010

The Thuggish Culture of Collectors

One might have thought that given the noble traditions going back to the Grand Tour, one might have met a better class of people among artefact collectors. Not so unfortunately, there is a lot of blatant thuggery in the milieu. "If you ever need someone to seriously slap some sense into you Paul, just let me know" is the latest comment on the Yahoo Ancient Artifacts discussion list in a thread which began with a discussion of the newly-surfaced Wenneb shabtis.

I had a look at some other forums yesterday, they exist for collectors of all sorts of things, from Barbie dolls, My Little Pony figurines and Care Bears, oriental carpets, bonsai growers, antiquarian books to vintage cars. Oddly enough on none of them was the prevelance of bad language, aggressive behavior and downright thuggishness that one sees on forums connected with collecting. We see this on UK metal detecting forums, on sites like Yahoo's Ancient Artifacts forum, on the Unidroit-L discussion list. Why is that? What is it that divides antiquity collecting from other types of collecting and causes it to attract a different kind of people? Or are these people normal until they come in touch with the shady side of the indiscriminate trade in antiquities? The guy that threatened to knock some sense into me is (he claimed earlier) an ordained minister. Of the Church of Hate no doubt.

But we need not be surprised, I suppose. Is it not thoroughly thuggish in itself to condone the wholesale dismantling of archaeological assemblages, deposits and sites to feed the indiscriminate market in "portable antiquities"? Dealers that do not take precautions against buying looted and smuggled items from lawbreakers are no better than thugs. The people who buy these objects without ascertaining anything are no better than thugs. In the old days collecting was the "hobby of kings", now through the continuation of the indiscriminate market into the era of te internet and credit card, it seems it has become a "hobby of thugs".

If any readers of this blog are interested in the real nature of the folk for whom the archaeological evidence of our planet's past is being looted to satisfy, please register on some of these forums and just ask them a few questions. Have a look at the Ancient Artifacts discussion group archives for example and you'll pretty soon find a reason why they are so concerned to keep them closed and out of the public eye.

Vignette: Thug with a ("passionate") "interest in the past"?


Scrabcake said...

Well, to be fair, barbie and matchbox car collectors don't generally have people show up in their forums accusing people of being liars, cheats, and generally evil and morally bankrupt because they collect barbies and matchbox cars.
I realize that barbie and matchbox car collecting doesn't result in the destruction of ancient sites, but most people who collect feel fairly removed from that. That's not ethically RIGHT, but it's the way things are, just as people have a hard time believing that they're contributing to gang massacres in Mexico by smoking weed. Rightly or wrongly, you're not going to get a lot of people to stop smoking weed if you tell them they're murderers. You're just going to piss them off and make them defensive.
Anyway, you might have a bit better luck not getting flamed if you adjust your tones such that people don't get defensive when they see you coming.

Paul Barford said...

Well, I do not know how carefully you read what I posted, but if you had, you'd have seen that this is not what I was saying.

There is a link there to a post I made after a quick search of that list's archives. The appearance of thuggish posts on that list has nothing to do with criticism of indiscriminate collecting, they have a long history going back to the beginnings of the group. ["Hateful posts go back to beginnings of group"].

Secdondly I have not tried this, but I am going to make the assumption that if you went onto the Barbie Doll Collectors Forum and said that you disagree with the way collectors' Barbies are sold and collected because they promote sexist attitudes and fix gender roles too firmly on impressive young minds, you would not get the reaction you get from antiquity collectors. I imagine you'd get somebody explaining why the collecting of barbies has nothing to do with those things. Maybe quoting some facts and figures (average age and waistline measurements of Barbie collectors for example). I doubt really any of them would say to somebody who fails to accept any glib self-serving arguments a barbie collector may offer that they are going to "Knock some sense into them". I also imagine that if one barbie collector lost her cool and said something like that, a couple of dozen other barbie collectors would immediately post something along the lines of "come on Doris, you don't want the young gentleman to get the impression we collectors are all thugs, do you? He is entitled to his views on our hobby". On antiquity collectors' foirums, few remonstrate with the bad-behavers, they accept it as the norm in their milieu.

As for my "tones", over in England there is an archaeologist that is as sweet as pie to the detectorists on their forums. Some treat him nicely back, others are incredibly rude to him and about him. There is a state-funded Scheme to be incredibly nice to detectorists, costing upwards of eight million quid. And what is the result? Some detectorists are outright hostile to it.

I do not happen to believe in calling a spade anything but a spade. Indiscriminate collecting is damaging sites, some collectors accept that and buy accordingly, others refuse to accept it, but really cannot produce any clear articulate arguments to support that position, so they resort to aggression presumably believing "attack is the best form of defence".

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