Salvage City: St. Louis Deserves Better

Categories: Media

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Discovery
Reality television is, more often than not, a thin veneer of reality placed atop a carefully crafted fiction. As viewers, we accept this white lie because reality programming is built with the same blocks as any other story: plot, setting and, most importantly, character.

Many successful reality shows even personify the setting to become a primary character. Alaska, Louisiana swampland and the Bering Sea are three of the more memorable -- and successful -- examples because each setting is a place that utterly defines and controls the lives of people who dare challenge it. Of course, it's not always clear whether Mother Nature is in control, or just the show's producers. But that is the story: relatable people in unique professions struggling to make it.

So, too, goes Salvage City, a reality show that sells itself as of, by and for the city of St. Louis. The show follows local carpenter/bar-owner Sam Coffey and his coterie of salvagers as they "break in" to abandoned St. Louis buildings and "steal" relics that can be recast into something beautiful and valuable. The first -- and for now, only -- three episodes were broadcast by the Discovery Channel on Sunday morning. It was a test run of sorts for the show, because the cable network has yet to decide if it will order more episodes from the two local production companies that collaborated on the project, Coolfire Originals and No Coast Originals.

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Discovery
Sam Coffey breaks into something.
For now the show is, if nothing else, carefully crafted. Coffey himself plays the fedora-clad chain smoker, a poor man's Indiana Jones who drives an old M35 "Deuce-and-a-half" Army truck and wants to make absolutely sure the viewer understands how dangerous his job is. There's also Chris "Trotter," the wisecracking assistant salvage man who provides muscle and pessimism to counter Coffey's reckless intensity. Other familiar reality tropes include a lone pretty female who is endlessly objectified, a dog, an auction, sexual innuendos, time-lapse sunsets and at least one manufactured crisis per episode.

It's a franken-show of sorts, which fails to exceed the sum of its parts partially because it so obviously borrows well-worn ideas from other shows. But where the producers really stumble is their characterization of St. Louis as a foe on the level of alligators or hurricanes. Salvage City is rife with images of decay or ruin porn, a style that fails to tiptoe the line between appreciation and exploitation. The salvage scenes are ostensibly about rescuing doomed valuables, but in reality glorify theft, plunder and trespassing.

See also: Salvage City: Fortune Teller Bar's Sam Coffey Gets a TV Show, But Is It Good for St. Louis?

And every reclamation is in a supposedly bad neighborhood, even when it's not. Take, for example, the Sun Theater, Coffey's target in the first episode. It's located in the bustling Grand Center neighborhood near Saint Louis University, less than a block from Powell Symphony Hall. But to Coffey, the historic building is a grave to be robbed. "I just heard a wrecking crew is coming to the Sun Theater. And it could start any day," he says. "If I don't get my hands on this cool historic stuff inside this building, it's going to be lost forever." That may have seemed true at the time of filming, but it turns out Coffey had bad information, because the theater is currently undergoing an $11 million renovation that was announced earlier this year. In other words, it's the right kind of renovation, not the kind that steals doors, theater seats and a trailer with no historical value from an abandoned building.

Continue reading to see why Chris Haxel says Salvage City is a total sell-out.


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90 comments
Martin Goebel
Martin Goebel

Nothing like making our city look like jackasses who live in a burnt out hell hole to an international audience

Jami Desy Schoenewies
Jami Desy Schoenewies

So we're importing our douche to the Brits? Guess it logically follows watered down beer.

Dan Sterkin
Dan Sterkin

They should make a reality show on how people think reality shows are reality...and then someone will cry about that being real too.

Lisa Landrum Troxler
Lisa Landrum Troxler

I did not see it listed on any of the primary stations in the UK. BBC, Channel 4, Channel 5, ITV. I think you got your facts wrong.

Jason M Parker
Jason M Parker

See how he does in a real.urban environment like Detroit or Chicago

Steve Dixon
Steve Dixon

haha...its such a sham. he has permission to enter these buildings.

Terry Reinheimer
Terry Reinheimer

We watched a few minutes of one episode and I couldn't take it, he was stealing stuff from the Sun Theatre which was about to undergo restoration, not like he was saving things from the wrecking ball. Plus he just comes off as a hipster/douche.

oocpfidell
oocpfidell

Love this show! turning scrap into functional art. I would love to see more episodes. AS far as portrayal of the city goes, I think it's good to have maybe the not so glamorous side to your city shown, it shows the rest of the population the hardships that the city is going through and attracts attention. This is a positive thing for the city. Please make more episodes.

glenng
glenng

Don't know how stupid you have to be that you think a three episode show gives "your" city a bad name.  I travel to StL several times (2-5) every year, have since 1998.  What gives your city a bad name is the thousands of abandoned uncared for properties that can be seen from EVERY highway.  You can see countless of these just crossing the I-70 bridge, or from 55 or 44, without even getting off the interstate.  You can see all the spray painted graffiti likely placed there from all these people that truely love their city.  (eye roll)  I love StL, and I love MO even more, thats why I travel there so much.  But seriously, if you really love your city then maybe you should help it look like something other that a western Detriot toilet.

Kevin-K
Kevin-K

A fake reality show starring a douchechoad?  Impossible!

stlbecky
stlbecky

All the pro Salvage City posts here are disturbing .....you all want your city portrayed this way....stealing, high crime, full of drug addicts.....I couldn't agree more with Chris Haxel.....for all of you saying "who the hell is he"....I say someone who actually cares about the city.....I was looking forward to the show....I love Salvage Dawgs....but this show is bullshit!

JamieJ1
JamieJ1

Chris Haxel probably doesn't even live in the city he writes about.  I could be wrong and it could be a losing bet, but I'll bet he doesn't.  He apparently doesn't have anything better to write about than hating his own city and existence.  RFT has been steering themselves in this direction for a few years now it seems.  Too bad some people can't seem to get over their self esteem issues and finally offer a little support to where we live.  Little Haxel guy, I've seen Sam build a lot of what he has on a shoestring budget (or no budget), so don't talk too much about positions to start from.  Sometimes we're forced to find creative solutions and recycle to get done what we need to.  Mr. Haxel, did your mommy and daddy pay for everything you have, your education, and move you into some fancy place in Chesterfield so you could write idiotic rants about how shitty the place you call home is?  ...makes me want to further ignore the RFT.

DaniRadoshevich
DaniRadoshevich

Perhaps the most problematic things I saw in the trailer were the siren sounds smattered over the whole thing, and the clip of two innocuous men shaking hands in front of Foam on Jefferson and Cherokee at (:30). If you’re going to blatantly objectify two anonymous men greeting each other on the street to emphasize the phrase, “Just Before the Cops Get In!” over a little hip hop scratchy beat, you’re trying a bit too hard to make your hipsterland street look “super edgy and dangerous”. This show doesn’t deserve any respect if it’s going to play with Reagan era racist tropes about the inner city it supposedly “loves”. Learn to respect your neighbors, even those who don’t own an art gallery or gluten free cupcake shop. This makes the Cherokee gentrifiers look [extra] ugly. People that sell racist images of their neighbors should not be allowed to move to St. Louis city. 

AlanTaylor
AlanTaylor

Who the fuck is Chris Haxel? Really, who the fuck? He's not a journalist because he writes like an English major with low self-esteem. He's not a TV critic because he'd otherwise not compare a three-episode Discovery reality show to the fucking Wire, which is like burdening an ant farm with the complexities of Shanghai. He's also not a historian because he wouldn't have invented a stereotype like "rustbelt scorn" (?) to justify an equally fictional phrase like "American psyche." Who he is is someone somehow surprised by "ruin porn" (porn being Haxel's lip-trembling projection) in a show called SALVAGE CITY. It could have been set in plenty of midwestern cities that have precipitously emerged "into" post-industrial economies. How any of this amounts to betrayal, though, makes me think Haxel wasn't potty trained. 


If people are credulous or astoundingly dumb enough, like Haxel, to judge St. Louis by this show, they shouldn't be allowed to move there anyway.

kristinmd
kristinmd

And, dear god people, do you not know about reality television yet? Is it really blowing everyone's mind this much that there's a man behind the curtain?

kristinmd
kristinmd

Reality television: no masterwork of cinema as these shows are not intended to be.

Reclaimed items: that chandelier from Cave Ballroom would be buried under the rubble of the roof and West wall that collapsed a few weeks ago. Is that better?

St. Louis: unfortunately (wrongly) suffers from a major inferiority complex and has for a long time. Reality shows don't "give us a bad rep", the decay and real track record of letting these buildings go to shit does.

The internet: allows people to say any number absurd things they would never dare to say in person but... like it or not... Haters still talk about it, which is pure gold for a show that's meant to be controversial. This is the conversation it was meant to spark, so realize your hate is being used for good, or evil whatever you want to call it.

Benjamin Simms
Benjamin Simms

Talk to me when you have renovated over 60 derelict properties, lost your ass on the cheap rents and disproportionate wages and the crash of '08, and still pressed on preserving historic buildings. I am proud to be Sam's friend, and nothing in this show is "selling out" "your" city. It's preserving "appendages" that are non-code compliant or serve no use to a renovation, and putting them to alternative use. But I will let him know Mark Reynolds says he is a Chump when I see him.

Mark Reynolds
Mark Reynolds

Tell your friend not to sell out my city Chump

Matt Thomas
Matt Thomas

He owns a bar on Cherokee. I forgot the name of it

Don Bittle
Don Bittle

There's no excuse for Discovery condoning or encouraging or dismissing this illegal behavior.

MiMi Brown
MiMi Brown

"Haters don't go on vacation or take holidays off. Haters just hate" -Trotter

MiMi Brown
MiMi Brown

Salvage City Cast LIVE on KPLR Ch 11 right now!

Benjamin Simms
Benjamin Simms

Ton of Haters on here...this City IS a mini-Detroit. It is full of abandoned buildings, derelict property owners including the City itself. Why let Southern Metal make all the $$ when the crackheads rob the copper, let these pieces be preserved. And any idiot that thinks the items taken could be preserved in a renovation is clearly an "arm-chair" rehabber. This kind of reaction cones from a City that can't recruit growth, asks what high school you went to, and only comes into the City for Cards/Blues games. Put your f'g money where your mouth is and renovate these eyesores, if you can get a local bank to lend a nickel inside the City Lines.

Greg Kiger
Greg Kiger

To Erins point; we St. Louisans can not watch all we want but if it has a national audience it a) stays on the air and b) unfairly portrays our fine City as something it's not, much to our real economic detriment.

Laura Dee
Laura Dee

If he's not really stealing, he IS lying and I don't care for that, either.

Laura Dee
Laura Dee

Dude's a thief. Plain and simple. And I hate that he is representing my city.

Heather Silver
Heather Silver

I liked the history of StL that the show offers, but not sure how I feel about them profiting off stolen items. I can't celebrate that when there is already enough crime in this city.

Mark Reynolds
Mark Reynolds

Guy sounds like a complete douchebag. What piece of shit bar does hr own?

Alex Peck
Alex Peck

Sounds pretty accurate to me.Im a native st.louisan&am realistic about how bad my hometown is run by crooks&self-absorbed locals.I am a proud resident of springfield,mo.now..

Erin Shetler
Erin Shetler

If you don't like it, don't watch. BS reality shows exist because we have an appetite for them. If no one watches, it will go away. If they do, he'll get his 15 minutes and be gone. St. Louis needs to stop worrying so much about looking better from the outside and start fixing things from the inside -- like all the abandoned buildings. If you really don't like how StL looks, turn the TV off and do something about it.

kangoids
kangoids topcommenter

My favorite part was the time lapse "sunrise" in the Crystal City episode.

"Something's not right" said my wife...sure enough, it was a sunset played backwards!

"Reality TV". What a bunch of fakers.

ozzdog
ozzdog

St Louis is the bomb! It has all sorts of great stuff like the Cardinals, Ted Drewe's. And at Christmas it's awesome. Cancel this crappy show and get a show about the real St Louis.

stlbecky
stlbecky

Couldn't agree with you more

glenng
glenng

I hope your not so ignorant that you actually believe they are breaking and entering?  They are obviously getting permission since Discovery can't would never place themselves in a place to be held liable for a crime they actually put on the air.

coles_mariah
coles_mariah

It's not illegal behavior - obviously Discovery would be held liable if Sam or his crew were to be arrested. They have to protect themselves too. It's filmed under the pretense of being illegal. Reality tv isn't really reality. Duh. I mean, it's 2013. How do people not know this yet?

coles_mariah
coles_mariah

Suddenly it's "your" city? I'm pretty sure the main guy was born and raised in St. Louis. Sounds like it's just as much his as it is yours.

glenng
glenng

did you think "reality" tv is actually reality?   Hope you arent that slow?

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