Picture this: it’s 3AM on a weeknight and you’re bored, maybe sporting a serious case of insomnia. You give up trying to get to sleep, because it’s futile, and wander downstairs to get a snack, maybe watch some TV.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll pour yourself a heaping bowl of Count Chocula and plop your butt down in the recliner, grab the remote and, if “Single White Female” (which you’ll watch) isn’t playing on some channel somewhere, you start to channel surf.
Unfortunately, there’s not much on TV at three o’clock in the morning, aside from the aforementioned “Single White Female” replay. Well, er, that’s not exactly true. What I should say is that there’s nothing on WORTH WATCHING at three o’clock in the morning.
There is stuff on, though. Oh Man, is there stuff on.
Flip through the channels and you’ll see this phenomenon we like to call the “infomercial”. The basic premise behind this is that instead of watching a thirty second commercial for some useless product you don’t want and would never need, you get to instead watch a complete half hour dedicated to hyping it up.
By far, the king of the infomercial is a guy called Ron Popeil. This guy is the genius behind (among other things) the Ronco food dehydrator. I’m sure you’ve seen this somewhere; it lets you turn a nice, ten buck steak into beef jerky, which costs significantly more than just going out and buying a Slim Jim. Logic was never more obtuse, but people are lining up to place their orders, and Ron’s subsequently made quite a buck.
But that’s not enough! No… because this Popeil dude is some kind of Frankenstein-esque mad scientist, who can’t rest until he has invented everything there could possibly be to invent. The government should seriously put this guy to use developing a practical nuclear fusion energy source. Either way, he sits back and wracks his brain until he thinks of something — like that insane machine that scrambles eggs while still in their shells — and then he’s back on TV, hawking it to the drowsy denizens of Television Land.
I should make it clear, to be absolutely fair to Ron Popeil, that he has in fact invented some pretty interesting things (that’s not counting the spray-on hair, which you just can’t defend). I recently saw an infomercial for some kind of cooking utensil, a rotisserie if I recall correctly, that actually appears worth buying, if you’re into that sort of thing. And the food dehydrator makes potpourri and trail mix and stuff, instead of just making beef jerky. That’s not the point I’m trying to make, though.
What the point that I’m trying to make is, is that it’s a veritable madhouse out there in extreme late night and early morning television; pointless products hyped by down-on-their-luck celebrities. Judith Light’s pawning off zit cream, some model’s doing tooth whitening, Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley (a migraine-inducing combination if there ever was one) have got some ab-workout device, and Suzanne Somers… well, let’s not even talk about Suzanne Somers.
Just as Ron Popeil is the king of the infomercial, though, there’s a another product being advertised right now by nigh unto a thousand different companies which is probably the most utterly and absurdly useless service ever concocted by mankind. And it’s taken the entire concept of infomercials above and beyond the call.
Yup, I’m talking about the psychics.
On at least eight channels on any given night, there will be some kind of infomercial geared towards one of the countless psychic networks. Apparently what happens is that if I call in, some person I’ve never met on the other end will tell me what my future holds or who I’m not going to marry or something. For only lord-knows-how-much per minute. I can hear their predictions now:
“You will be ripped off by a megalithic psychic friends company…”
Yeah. Thanks, Psychic Fiends, but no thanks.
It occurred to me, though, that I may have picked the wrong line of work. Why am I writing a mediocre gripe column when, if I could just invent something pointless, I could be, at the very least, a thousandaire? I mean, if Ron Popeil can make a few bucks with a pocket fisherman, just imagine what any of us could do if we just applied ourselves. All we’d need is a patent, a copyright and a celebrity endorsement (I’m free if any of you need one). Put us on late night TV, and we’d be rolling in cash by the second air date.
There is a catch, though, and that’s what I can’t get past. See, most of the stuff I think up has some kind of vague, practical value. And in the world of home-shopping and infomercials, practical value — however vague it may be — just doesn’t sell. I don’t know why, but you just can’t hype something practical.
But let’s start thinking, shall we? Let’s come up with something that nobody’s come up with, that has no real practical value, like the automatic cat-pan cleaning device (did anyone hear when one of these malfunctioned and took out a cat?), or any of these wonder-workout machines. Something that doesn’t really do anything constructive, but makes you think it does.
Usually, though, but the time I’ve reached this conclusion, the insomnia’s pretty well cured so I just go to sleep and forget all about it.
Maybe infomercials are good for something, after all.