Mar 6, 2009

As Shilled on TV!

[edit: due to popular demand, I've linked many items and characters to the most embarrassing rendition possible. I apologize for the link-pollution. -ed]

Star Trek
creator Gene Roddenbery was once asked why 90 percent of television is "crap". His response? "90 percent of everything is crap." That's a good thing to remember the next time you're sucked into an infomercial so unbelievable it makes Lord of the Rings look like a PBS documentary on little people.

Watching an infomercial is like watching two sisters on
Jerry Springer fight over the same philandering, 95-pound hillbilly. It defies all logic. A half-hour commercial... for a product you don't need... during a vampirical time-slot. Yet somehow quantities are limited, so you have to act now!

Pop Quiz:
It's 3AM. You're watching a pitch for a WiFi antenna that promises to turbo-charge your mobile porn-surfing.

a) realize that this twelve-cent piece of plastic will never work, and spend the money on a good book.
b) say to yourself, "That sounds pretty impressive, but I'll wait until I hear positive reviews from someone I trust."
c) decide right then and there that your online MILF-hunting could use a serious power-boost.
d) already own it.

If you answered (a)... congratulations; you're one of seventeen people on Earth who have more than a dozen firing synapses. If you answered (b)... you have a pretty firm grip on the oxymoron "truth in advertising". And, if you answered (c) or (d), you may be in need of an intervention. There's a reason "caveat emptor" is written in Latin. It's because stupid people can't be bothered to look it up.

I'm not judging. I've been there, and I know the routine. The toga party's over, you're alone in your apartment (as usual), and the TV's on. Your possibilities include the last, disturbing hour of
Deliverance; scrambled porn that you've already seen; or... what's this? A shammy that can hold 82 times its weight in water? Where's my Visa?

pillows, rotisserie dehydrators, super slurpy-mops... I've ordered products so useless that to call them "doorstops" would be an insult to wedged pine. Hell, I put Ron Popeil's first daughter through college. But, like many former addicts, I'm here to help.

First of all, don't be embarrassed; the products you see on TV
are cool. They erase ink from white silk, make guacamole in ten seconds, and turn back time on your Ron Howard-like scalp. (btw, if you knew I was talking about Oxi Clean, The Magic Bullet and GLH-9, you and I are going to get along just fine.) The reality is that these things just don't work; or worse - they do, but the problem they "solve" never existed in the first place. The former is their fault; the latter, yours.

Exhibit A: the
Miracle Thaw.
I ordered this beauty in 1993. The Jays had won the World Series, the Leafs seemed destined for the Cup... miracles were in the air. Now, instead of leaving a frozen chicken out all day as salmonella-bait, the
Miracle Thaw reduced defrosting to about two hours. What I failed to consider was this: you either want chicken now... or much later. Not to mention, whole birds are not really relevant to a guy who can barely scrape a grilled cheese together. Alas, after melting about 5000 ice cubes for my friends (in lieu of playoff hockey) the Miracle Thaw started to shed its mysterious black coating, flake by carcinogenic flake. It's out there right now, in a Michigan dump - probably melting its way toward the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.

A couple of years later, I saw a demonstration of the fabled
Miracle Blade at the CNE. Two things occurred to me that day. One: we have truly lowered the bar on miracles when bisecting a pineapple in mid-air is considered a reasonable step towards canonization. And, two: never leave the show before it's over. Resisting the urge to buy the single knife will reward you with 47 backup weapons and another complete set, "just for telling someone about it."

Although it has never raised anyone from the dead -
a miracle I was never too crazy about in the first place - this knife has served me well. But let's be honest. What I was drawn to were the useless goodies that were thrown in: the Radish-Roser, Grapefruit-Zester and Potato-Spiraller. These tools addressed problems that simply did not need to be solved. And even if you throw in the Rhubarb-Rippler and Spinach-Spanker, I honestly have no need for a knife that can saw through a goal post.

You want superfluous? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit the
Pushup Pro - not a bra, but a pair of high-priced door handles that you slap on the floor so you can do... pushups! The problem, you see, was that people were atrophying due to the endless reps of ordinary pushups they were doing. Men and women tried in vain to counteract their diet of deep-fried turducken and pancake-wrapped sausage by doing it 'old school'. And to what effect? Having a chest that looks like Keira Knightley in a tube top? Arms that would make The Ramones snicker? Buddy, if you're so ripped that you need a patented piece of plastic to perfect your pushup, I want you as a personal trainer. (I could use a little help on my alliterations, too.)

And why do all these infomercials want us to make chicken salad? Have we become a nation of culinary invalids? They constantly ask, "Have you ever wanted to make chicken salad and didn't have time to assemble a food processor?" No, actually.

I have never - so far as I know - ever wanted to get my meat-salad on. But those responsible for the
Chop-o-matic, Magic Bullet, and Slap Chop are convinced that - when confronted with a leftover drumstick, celery, and mayonnaise - the average North American will curl into a ball in front of the fridge and start weeping uncontrollably. Vince Offer, the Slap Chop guy, actually invites us to "slap our troubles away". Thanks, but no. The thought of being spotted by my neighbour, slapping my chicken with a jar of mayo in my left hand is too much to bear.

"You're gonna love my nuts," he promises. The shaman of ShamWow looks like a cyclotron accelerated Jim Carrey and Benicio Del Toro into each other at high speed. He's a fauxhawked whackjob you would lock your doors to, were he approaching your car. But Vince owns his weirdness. I would rather road-trip to Baffin Island with Slappy McNutchop than spend four seconds with Billy Mays.

You know him as "that
Oxi Clean guy"; the ubiquitous uberloser of channel 865... the Morgan Freeman of mail-order. Billy Mays has squinty eyes, a G.I. Joe beard, and an urgent need to make oxygen sound fascinating. He also speaks in a tone one would reserve for coaxing a toddler from a live grenade. This is guy even Don LePre would ask to "dial it back a little." And, no joke: he once shilled a product known as Caulk-Away. No further questions.

But wait, there's more! Although Vince and Billy have got the gift, most of us reserve true reverence for the real King of Krap, the one and only Ron Popeil. I want to say that the man responsible for the
Pocket Fisherman and the Inside the Shell Egg Scrambler looks like that uncle of yours who blah blah blah... but Ron basically looks like no man on Earth. His face appears to have been trapped in one of his many inventions, and his future likeness at Mme. Tussaud's will definitely look more human.

He is creepy and completely bursting with bullshit. But, Ron has quietly achieved what I believe is the 'perfect game' of product pitching. He has actually convinced a
huge number of people to - and I still can't believe I'm writing this - make sausage at home.

Sausage. At home.

And if you can do that... Mister, you
deserve my money.