When you spend as much time as I do dancing in the pale moonlight, you eventually turn on the tube and join the rest of the late night owls perched on the power line of infomercials. We all know the lines:

“Only three easy payments of $x.xx, but if you call now we’ll sell you this piece of crap at an even lower price which is probably closer to how much it’s worth!”

In the few times that I had begun to reach for my credit card, I instantly recoiled in horror not only from the principal grounds of knowing that its all a scam, but also from the philosophical dilemma created by common sense—something I have trouble ignoring.

PART 1:          THE SCAM

In case you didn’t already know, many of these ridiculous products are developed literally as fast cash machines. The gadgets and household tools sold to you through infomercials are specifically developed to provide minor improvements to already existed products, or introduce some new aesthetic twist on a product e.g. Now more fun to use with the massage handle!

The products themselves are utter shit, but because they propose to solve inconvenient situations that seem to be a big problem, only a marginal amount of functionality is necessary to satisfy the customer. Plus, most of them are cheaply priced (only 19.99 for 2 sets). Throw in an attractive TV sales personality with some flare and a strong voice, and you’ll sell 100,000 units before enough people realize they got ripped off and are willing to do something about it. As soon as reality hits the consumer market, the developers have moved on already, having closed up shop after making a quick $2,000,000. Even more clever is a perfect pricing scheme that allows them to sell products cheap enough so that IF in fact someone feels the product is shit, the price justifies it so the costumer doesn’t feel AS cheated, and therefore, doesn’t feel compelled to pursue a complaint or refund.

The whole sales trick begins by creating a product that is just functional enough to solve a minor inconvenience in our lives which is salient enough so that it presents itself as a serious problem that needs to be solved. The other way sales are achieved is not only by addressing situations that everyone encounters, but also addressing situations that one might even imagine possible for themselves. In this way, people sometimes buy such products to tackle some warped perception of future problems they might have, even if they haven’t really experienced them before. The final and third way these products are marketed is to people who just want to feel accomplished. Now armed with the tool necessary to solve problems presented by the infomercial, they actually pursue and create a situation where such problem exists in order to solve them. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that works out well for all parties involved.

PART 2:       THE PHILOSOPHICAL DILEMMA

When I was in 2nd grade I failed spelling. And, although I’d like to think I’ve recovered, as an adult, I experience daily reminders of why I don’t really care that I sat down first during spelling bees: being smart alone doesn’t pay as well as being smart and preying on people who just “don’t get it”. That’s what informercials do. That’s why that dude Billy Mays was making serious bank, and well, as for karma catching him with a heart attack at a tender age, we can only speculate. But me? I’ve never really been the kind of guy that could do that kind of stuff anyway.

I got along back then by essentially ignoring my failures and concentrating on my strengths, and that at that time, it was talking and entertainment. I talked more than the girls and the class clowns combined, though I lacked both the delivery of the clowns and the gender stereotypes of females.

Though I didn’t pay attention much in class, I had always thought that I might do something special one day. In the imagination of my youth, I’ve been a distinguished professor, an adventurer, an astronaut, and a rock star. Yet, as I’ve grown older, it’s become increasingly difficult to stay motivated when honorary genius titles are given to people who happen upon a way to exploit novelty or lapses in common sense.

Society and popular culture like to revere persons who make such trivial contributions to society. Their introductions into the consumer market usually involve an alteration so minor that, if given sufficient time, a neglected toddler with duct tape and a clear afternoon schedule could have came up with it. The real thing that gets to me is that, often times, such ideas attempt to remedy an inconvenient situation easily solved by common sense:

“Wow! How am I going to fit all these clothes in this closet? I’ll use the “Transforming Hanger System” that folds up to conserve space while still keeping my clothes wrinkle-free!”

It is my opinion that fitting clothes into a closet is not a problem of ingenuity, but rather a problem of consumer greed. This basic philosophical lapse can be exposed with one question:


“Why do you have more clothes than will fit in your closet?”

Whenever one of these nifty inventions surface, the novelty prompts people to ask: “Why didn’t anyone think of this before?”

I get excited and hopeful at this question, imagining that the inquirer understands the answer, and thus proving that common sense hasn’t completed expired. I imagine that seconds later people will realize that no one has invented it because they truly believe that the world doesn’t need another gadget to solve scenarios easily avoided by moderation and common sense.

The other thing about new products is that they often claim to make life easier and save time, yet sometimes, they also carry a whole new set of required actions or maintenance procedures that actually create more hassle. Having to learn a whole new processes of how to use, maintain, and clean a new device seems like more of an inconvenience to me. I know how to use a one-blade knife to cut a tomato; I don’t know how to use Charlie’s fast and easy slicer with replaceable blade inserts. The methodology behind both sharpening and cleaning the blade of one knife is infinitely less complicated that trying to sharpen or clean some complex slicing mechanism. In the end a one-blade knife is more cost effective too, because when Charlie’s blades get dull, I’ll have to buy a whole new set.

I remember once when I was young, my mother bought a rotisserie machine that the television practically possessed audiences to buy. Thinking back now to the informercial performance, the entire crowd was chanting a slogan about how easy it was to “set it and forget it”. The entire premise was what that you could put your chicken or whatever meat in this contraption and go watch more informercials while your food cooks; set it, and forget it. Doesn’t that work with an oven too? I can’t remember the last time I saw people hanging around ovens, peering through the little window while a 4-hour turkey cooked. Also, you couldn’t cook a four hour turkey with this contraption. But, my mother was dead set on buying one, so she did.

About 3 weeks into using it, it was clearly more of a hassle. Traditionally throwing a chicken in an oven involved preheating the oven, marinating the chicken, and throwing it in a deep pan to be put in the oven. Now, with this crazy rotisserie deal, you had to get a chicken small enough to fit into this rotisserie house thing, stab it with these long prongs, and hope that it would cook evenly. It never did. Often times we’d take it out of the rotisserie and throw it in the oven in order to cook the meat to its entirety.

Perhaps more alarming though, more than anything, was the cleanup. Traditional cleanup involves soaking a pan and scrubbing its one expansive surface. With this rotisserie house, you had to practically disassemble the entire unit to clean the removable parts, AND, cleaning the inside of the unit was not only necessary, but also impossible. The bits of chicken and pools of grease that would mount up had to be cleaned in order to ensure that the heating coils worked right. They didn’t cook the meat well if they were covered with meat and grease. The real issue, though, was that all of the nooks and crannies inside this unit were impossible to really scrub clean. Eventually after only a month or two of using it, it sat on our counter for a few years before we finally decided to toss it out.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Let’s face it, there are definitely some good products out there—even ones sold through infomercials. Anything that isn’t very complicated like a ceramic knife or some upgraded model of a tool that we KNOW already works for us, is probably a good buy. However, before reaching for your credit card like millions of other people at 4am, you need to really ask yourself two questions:

#1  “Do I really have a problem that needs to be solved with this purchase?”

and

#2  “Have I tried masturbation yet as a means to fall back asleep?”