Reality TV has always survived on its wackiest of characters. Behavior that would get you shunned – or fired – in most settings is both encouraged and if you believe some reality TV actors, expected or forced in that sphere.
Every season of Survivor has a handful of “bad guys” who most fans love. American Idol had Simon Cowell to berate wannabe pop stars, and The Apprentice had Donald Trump humiliating then firing B-list celebrities. Enter Pawn Stars. This blue-collar cast of Not Quite Bikers run a Vegas-based pawn shop. Each episode people bring in odd bits of this and that, and the manager or owner argue over what they should pay the people for the stuff they don’t want. It’s sort of like a trailer park version of PBS’ Antiques Road Show.
And, following the formula of every other reality series before it, Pawn Stars had a loveable and slightly goofy cutup who fans loved and other characters relentlessly picked on. On the show, he was called Chumlee, but now the world knows him as Austin Lee Russell, 33.
Generally, when you see your full name and age in a news report, you’re either running for political office, or you just got arrested. Guess which one “Austin” is doing?
Russell was arrested on felony weapon and drug charges during an investigation related to a sexual assault investigation. Initially, no one said if Chumlee was the target of the original search warrant, but police found meth, pot, and a gun in his home, so he went to jail regardless.
Subsequently, police have not charged Russell with any sex-related crimes, so he’s apparently not That Guy. Unfortunately, his name has been attached to media narratives that all mention his actual charges right alongside the original reason for the warrant. Even in this article, we had to do it to establish the proper context. Let’s take a minute to repeat: it doesn’t look like Chumlee assaulted anyone, sexually or otherwise.
But, that won’t stop people who don’t bother to read entire stories. Which, if you believe the routine internet polls about user habits, is pretty much everyone. And, by extension, this means everyone at Pawn Stars will be stuck answering questions about this situation for the duration of this case … and then some.
It means producers have some decisions to make. Do they ditch Chumlee now or let the situation play out? Can they air shows previously shot with him as a feature character? Assuming their viewing audience doesn’t care overmuch about a little pot and some meth, what’s the public’s appetite for innocent until proven guilty? That may be an unsavory question for Middle America, but guaranteed, it’s one the producers have asked. A follow-up: what about reruns and syndication?
A lot of decisions must be made. A lot of rippling consequences based on the actions of one guy who probably didn’t have anything to do with the crime that brought the police to his door.
And whats also wacky? Is wig wearing Yunes Doleh was arrested.
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