Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Tale of Two Garage Sales

Two memorabilia sales involving two of my favorite TV shows took place this weekend. Each left a distinctly different impression, although I wasn’t present at either and didn’t take home any bargains. Both sales reinforce the notion that what is one person’s clutter is another’s treasure. What separates these sales from most others is the nature of their international Internet coverage.

Lost’s “garage sale,” better known as LOST the Official Auction, began yesterday. As a long-time Lost fan, I was curious how the sale would turn out. As a fan also counting coins to save toward another holiday (to the U.K., once the lovely holiday to Canada is paid for), I decided to sit out the auction. Good thing I did—I quickly would have been outbid on everything that caught my eye in the extensive, six-season catalog. (I listed some of my favorite items in my PopMatters blog on Friday, and I likely will follow up with another post-auction blog once the bidding dust clears.)

Lot 91—one of Charlie’s Season One costumes—brought in $3500, and "Charlie" wasn’t even wearing it at the time. With items fetching multiple thousands of dollars, the auction undoubtedly is a success story for the sellers. Anyone with the cash to bring home one of the many items on the block yesterday alone should be happy not only to have snagged a piece of Lost but to have won against some extremely determined bidders, both online and in person. If not shelling out $3500 or more to own part of Charlie’s past makes me a lesser Lost fan, I guess I’ll have to live with it. I’ll just use that cash to fly to Hawaii to make some beach memories of my own.

I followed the auction online for almost six hours before I gave up—it was still going strong, even if my eyes had glazed over at that point. The initial adrenaline rush of the auction's pace finally gave way to sadness. The sale of “personal effects” reminded me that this character is long gone. And that saddened me.

I only learned about the second sale this morning as I read entertainment news online. This sale took place with very little fanfare, apparently, beyond its neighborhood, where signs proclaimed Torchwood's John Barrowman was holding a garage sale. This morning’s online Welsh newspapers—and soon, undoubtedly, more entertainment media—offer multiple slideshows of the “everything must go” sale.

Although each story tries to reassure U.K. residents that they won’t be losing their national treasure to the U.S. come January, like many who read the story, I think the disclaimer sounds a wee bit suspicious. Sale items ranged from couches to a car, clothes to TV memorabilia, dishes to a stove—I wonder if the sale signs touted Everything including the Kitchen Sink! Somehow this type of sale (and, in last week's OK, an article allowing readers to check out the house) sounds like the estate agent will be making an announcement before long.

But back to what’s important—TV memorabilia. According to Wales Online, Barrowman sold Torchwood scripts, among other memorabilia. (If I’d known, I might have made a quick trip to Wales—or asked a friend or two to go shopping for me! Hmm. Definitely need to think about my budgeting priorities, don’t I? I’m noting a few inconsistencies in my own approach to garage-sale buying. Perhaps that's the point, though; Barrowman's fanbase wasn't encouraged to storm Sully.) For a mere £1 more, Barrowman signed an item. Just think how much one of his signed Torchwood scripts would’ve raised on eBay—especially given the feeding frenzy I just witnessed during the Lost auction.

The Lost auction made me feel sad at the ending of a series—once and for all. Barrowman’s garage sale left me with a different impression. Yes, I’m saddened that Torchwood won’t be completely filmed in Cardiff next year—it’s one of my favorite cities, and I loved the original concept for Torchwood. Yes, I question how much longer, with U.S. filming on the horizon, Barrowman will be so accessible to his fans, whether in the U.K. or U.S. Some connections, such as saying hello to stage-door fans after a West End production or holiday panto, just won't be possible when Torchwood is being filmed in L.A. Nevertheless, Barrowman’s sale just sounded so un-Hollywood that I couldn’t help but think it was a great way for the neighbors to spend a Saturday.

Sure, it might involve ego to think that plenty of people might turn up to buy one’s clothes and household items (whether from an island TV show or an SF actor) simply because of one’s celebrity. But it also indicates a distinct lack of ego to place homemade signs around the neighborhood, keep the event low-key until it’s over, and donate money to a children’s charity. Barrowman's garage sale could’ve been over the top and as highly promoted as the Lost auction. (OK, so there are probably lots more Lost fans than Torchwood fans internationally, but Google the actor's name to see just how many articles have appeared in the past month alone.) Instead, it did generate post-sale media attention (which, I suppose, could be ego inflating), but it didn’t generate the kind of fan interest that could cause problems for residents or inflate prices out of the average neighbor’s price range. It sounds like the kind of neighborhood garage sale I’d browse in hopes of finding that one-of-a-kind collectible I’d take home to treasure, not because I spent a fortune on it but because it meant more personally than what I paid for it.

My niece, who will someday inherit my collection of personalized autographs and action figures, assures me that she will enjoy the profits from eBay. (I’ve learned that not all my family members are as sentimental over the same TV shows or films that intrigue me.) For all that she might envision a Lost auction-type sale, I rather hope that a Barrowman-style garage sale sends my once-prized possessions off to good homes.

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