Infomercials annoy me. They are social polyps that have grown to outlandish proportions on the intestines of a bloated and sick American media. The portmanteau term “ infomercial” is clearly an oxymoron describing the contradiction of programs that are both hosted and devoured by morons. The fact that infomercials are even allowed by the FCC is a sign of the advanced dry rot in our American entertainment, economic and regulatory systems.
The FCC, according to one gadfly, now stands for “Forget Catching Criminals.” It appears that after decades of exporting our innovation, manufacturing and customer service, the dregs of commerce have reached new lows where 30 minute advertisements fill vacant morning programming time – feeding bread crumb promises to an inactive and unemployed America gulping down like boat marina carp visions of cleaner colons, miraculous weight loss without exercise and abs as chiseled as parking lot speed bumps.
I can recall the first time I was ripped off by a false advertisement via a DC Marvel comic book. The “Live Sea Horses” actually turned out to be ionized pieces of tire rubber. As they floated and swirled in my “seahorse garden”, I felt my first sensations of buyer’s remorse. I had been had. Weeks later, I was tempted to send away for X-Ray glasses. The idea of being able to watch the older eighth grade girls PE class run laps with my three dimensional goggles was intoxicating. Yet, the cynical memory of pathetic black floating bits of rubber had already eroded the tint from my rose colored glasses. My father, the advertising man, later explained to me the simple Latin maxim that would echo in my brain for decades: “Caveat Emptor – Buyer Beware.”
I was not the only mark in our household. Despite her ability to adroitly parent four boys, my mother’s Achilles heel was aggressive advertisements and new gadgets. To my father’s chagrin, she purchased countless fad merchandise that measured biorhythms, cured headaches, preserved food and pureed any organic matter in the world. Her first purchase was the Popeil Veg-o-matic. “It slices, it dices and…it even juliennes! We had no idea what julienning was but it sounded French and very fun. I told my mother we must possess this critical appliance that promised to transform homemaking into a raucous affair. We might even eat more vegetables.
Ron Popeil, CEO of Ronco, was just beginning. He later invented something called the Pocket Fisherman and showed America how a young boy could land a bass the size of a small car with a simple one-foot, hand held plastic rod. I immediately saved my money and sent away for this compact angling gadget the size of a handgun. The fact that I never caught a single fish or used it beyond a local pond was Ron’s gain and my loss. I became a small brick in the $2B Ronco Empire which remains, to this day, hawking food dehydrators, rotisserie ovens, spray on hair, six star knives and the incredible “inside the egg shell” scrambler.
Ron Popeil actually attended college and received countless creative awards for his quirky inventions. However, Ronco was but a muddy watering hole on the edge of an arid landscape of leafless shams and burnt out merchandise with names like Ding Kings, Jupiter Jacks and iTies- – items that sadly, only a hoarder could love.
Consider the warped world of Kevin Trudeau. This handsome pitchman first solicited America with his Mega-Memory system promising to unleash the hidden Mensa member within each one of us. Apparently, Kevin forgot to tell the FCC that he had spent two years in prison for fraud. After being released from jail, Mr. Infomercial and a close friend (his fellow cellmate) joined Nutrition for Life, a multi-level marketing company that ended up bilking investors with natural cures.
No one seemed to notice our memory guru pivot into the natural remedies and self help cesspool. Trudeau’s Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About sold an astounding five million copies and was on the NY Times best seller list for nine weeks. Here’s a sample book review from a satisfied reader, “Kevin Trudeau is a scam artist. I am so disgusted with the book Natural Cures. Repetitive, redundant, riding on the coattails of others research and THEN to top it off referring the reader to his website where he wants to yank our chain for more money! He should be horsewhipped, tarred, feathered, and ran out of town. I am so mad. I have never before returned a book, but this one is going back.”
Oops! That can’t be right! He’s on a talk show set that looks right out of Larry King and he is being interviewed by a very attractive woman. Kevin explains that the cures that “they” were hiding from us include panaceas for obesity, AIDS, Alzheimer’s and muscular dystrophy. Trudeau goes on to set the record straight that sunscreen causes cancer and that “they” – the drug and food companies along with a complicit FDA – have conspired to use drugs and additives to get us addicted to food.
After thousands of consumer complaints, a federal judge whose memory regarding fraud seemed quite sound, ordered Trudeau to pay $ 37M to plaintiffs for misleading and false statements. Yet the Trudeau marketing machine could not be stopped. His next product was a clear threat to all plastic surgeons ( the proverbial “they”) offering a non-surgical facelift. He followed on with debt cures that “they” did not want us to know about, baldness remedies and a primer on addiction relief. It’s my theory that if you actually used or consumed all of these products you would end up looking like Don King and as broke as Mike Tyson.
On some nights, I surf across Klee Irwin, a contrepenuer and missing twin brother of bizarre cult director John Waters. This creepy, Pee Wee Herman, pencil necked geek pitchman is always discussing his miracle product “Dual Action Colon Cleanser”. If there is such a thing as too much information in an infomercial, this 15-minute advert crosses multiple lines. In fact, if the suggestions of the promoter are to be believed, we each have twenty pounds of sludge (my term) in our pipes (my term). Talk about an opportunity for weight loss and detoxification. Just use the Dual Action colon cleanse, grab your toilet seat and lose all the weight you want. One critic put it a tad more harshly, “We now see that America is not obese, it is just completely full of $#@#.”
We then shift to a smooth infomercial operator who attempts to dazzle us into purchasing his “Sham Wow “and his “Slap Chop”. Unfortunately, his career has been cut a bit short. It seems this dashing young promoter was recently arrested after a prostitute that he had beaten up, saw his infomercial and mumbled out of her split lip to the police officer, “That’s the dude”. My guess is he may need my new product the InstaShank – a new multi-purpose plastic construction tool that allows someone to quickly fashion a makeshift weapon such as a knife or spear out of any object. I already have the tag line: “The InstaShank – retailing for $ 9.99 – ‘Cause you never know when someone’s going to stick it to you.”
Some may have heard the tragic story of Billy Mays, America’s pitchman who recently passed away from cardiac arrest at the young age of 52. It appears that Billy’s heart literally burst from enthusiasm and perhaps, his recreational use of cocaine. It seems this hyperactive adolescent who put “Oxi-Clean” on the map was also taking copious amounts of Oxycontin. Mays was a major league “pitchman” in high demand hawking the wares of uber marketers who pushed everything from gardening tools like The Awesome Augur, to kitchen appliances including the Big City Slider Station, a must have for hoarders and very large people who want to eat five small hamburgers at one sitting. Mays sold it all – fly traps, ceramic plates with grater teeth and my favorite, “The EZ Crunch Bowl” which offered us all a “a new way to eat breakfast cereal”.
Some of you out there may already have scars inflicted from consumer fraud. It may have been a burn from sending off for your indoor pet’s “Potty Patch” or a cut from wiping out $ 19.99 of your hard earned cabbage when you bought the miraculous “Microfiber Wonder Cloth”. You found out that the purported 30-day money back guarantee started at time of your order and after a four-week shipping period, your return time was up – and you owned it. You called a consumer support line that connected you to a Cuban restaurant in Miami. You may have actually taken someone up on a “free” offer after just having to pay the $110 shipping fees.
I have to admit that after a bad day at work, it’s tempting to descend into the cesspool of infomercial marketing for a brisk and profitable swim. Given all my business travel, I am working on something called the “ScumBuster”. ” Ladies and gentleman, this handy cleaning gun uses a black light to identify every inch of invisible germs and pollution in your hotel or motel room. It comes with a battery operated sterilization spray, steam gun, arsenic pellets for rodents and six penicillin jabs. For an additional $ 1.99, we provide extender vials of holy water for to mitigate paranormal activity or out of control teenagers. If you act now, we will send the Lycrashield, a full body, antibacterial protection suit perfect for foreign travel, spring break motel sofas or your teenaged nephew’s bed when staying with your sister’s family at Thanksgiving.”
Showman PT Barnum summed it up best: “ There’s a sucker born every minute.” As our emotional IQs decline and our desire for rapid resolution increases, we seem all too willing to believe in the false promises and pickled pitches of snake oil salesmen.
Since the dawn of time, grifters have plagued us and exploited our fragile gullibility. Mortality, low self esteem and popular culture perpetuates a massive marketplace for false hope and instant gratification. While shyster Kevin Trudeau has been recently banned for life from ever appearing on another infomercial, I hear he is running for Congress on the back of his new book, Deficit Reduction Cures That “They” Do Not Want You To Know About.
Who knows? This time, Kevin may finally be on to something.