Confessions of a Recovering Infomercial Addict

This essay was written on July 9, 2006.

So I’m flipping through the channels late last night, or early this morning depending on your view, and I see hordes and hordes of infomercials. I suffer the occasional bout of insomnia, so I’m not new to the informercial world, but what struck me last night, possibly for the first time, is that I don’t think it possible for these products to do all they are advertised as doing. I mean can an air filter really clear 100% of pollutants from my home? And can this be proven because it doesn’t suck in balloons? And how is it possible if there is “no filter to change”? Hmmmm. Insomniac suckers the world over, beware! Infomercial products probably just end up at the Salvation Army where hordes of homeless and destitute people are learning how to buy real estate with no money down and are whipping up amazing coffee and icecream drinks in soup kitchens across the land.

Every once in a while an infomercial product is good, good enough to make it off wee hour television and into the stores. Look at the George Foreman grill; almost everyone I know has one, and a few of my friends sing the praises of this wonderful cooking device so loudly that I’ve even considered hopping on the bandwagon. The only thing that stops me is a history of bad infomercial buying binges and the fact that I don’t grill hamburgers at home, and I’m perfectly happy making my grilled sandwiches on a skillet. These latter two points wouldn’t have stopped me all that long ago, but I’m growing, I’m learning from past infomercial disasters.

Remember the magic leather fixer? A small pot of paint looking substance that instantly and undectably fixes your leather jacket, car seats, or sofa. And it came in “all” colors, meaning red, black, brown, and beige. Just smear it on, wait twenty minutes, and voila, your jacket, car seat, sofa is as good as new! And then there was the similar product for car bodies, this one would eliminate (not hide, but actually fix) all scratches on your automobile; again, the color range was limited, but in this case, it didn’t matter if it matched or not because the product not only corrected scratches but also changed chameleon-like into whatever color your car’s paint is. Amazing. There was also the magic wax shield that was so good, so strong, so powerful that once applied to your car, you’d never have to wax again, and you could feel reasonably comfortable parking your car near a leaking nuclear reactor. I have to fess up, I phoned in and bought this magic wax for $39.99, but as it never arrived, I can’t tell you how effective it was in the salty air climate of a Florida beach town.

I got my shameful affinity for purchasing infomercial crap from my mother; the difference being that the infomercial products she buys aren’t crap, they not only arrive at her house but actually work. That countertop cooker into which you can place a skewered whole chicken (or small pig) and will rotate and cook it for you in a matter of minutes is a personal fave because it’s one of the few that I’ve seen work; my mom has one, and she loves it. She also has the air sucker thing that you can use to extend the life of veggies, fruits, leftovers, etc. You just wrap the food item, place the end in the air sucker and sealer and it does just that: sucks the air out and then seals it up tight, just like at the grocery store. My mom swears by this gadget as well. In fact, she gets a bit edgy when she runs low on the special suck and seal plastic wrap needed for the contraption.

And me? Well, I bought a magic container that will chop, slice, dice, mince, peel, and julienne vegetables and fruits. And according to the infomercial also makes a lovely smoothie or mixes up the perfect salsa. Maybe it does, I wouldn’t know, I still use a knife and cutting board for fruits and veggies, and I still use my blender on the rare occasion I want a fruit smoothie and am too lazy to go to Dunkin Donuts. As for the salsa, well, I’m rather fond of the Tostitos salsa (medium) not only because it tastes wonderful but also because all I have to do is twist off the cap and voila! So my magic container thing (it also acts as a distinctive serving container, as advertised on tv) is crammed onto a shelf under my counter and will probably stay there until I move. At which point, I will donate it to the Salvation Army.

I think the trick to effective infomercial shopping is knowing yourself and your limits. My mom knows hers, so she gets things that she will actually use over and over again. I do not know mine, so I buy things thinking that once I get the product, I’ll suddenly become Julia Child or Miss Manners, cooking up amazing dishes from scratch and having lavish parties in my home. Shaking head. Sigh. Well, that’s just not likely, right? So when I resisted buying the ginsu knife set, I was really pleased with myself. So pleased, in fact, that I came this close to buying the miracle makeup that is all powder that you dust on with a variety of brushes and go from Plain Jane to Moviestar Molly in mere seconds. This powder makeup product I resisted (patting self on back at huge progress in resisting infomercial hypnotism) will cover all manner of imperfections, from acne scars to purple birthmarks (I have neither), and it will shave literally twenty years off your appearance (yes, that was the lure for me). It’s actually quite an amazing product (stopping self from picking up phone immediately).

Remember the Flo-Bee? That devise you hook up to your vacuum cleaner and the suck up members of your family’s hair to give the perfect cut every time. Well, luckily, that was on the air before I was solvent, or you can bet I’d be trying to con you into a Flo-Bee haircut because they really are economical and you really can’t tell the difference between them and a salon cut. Er, right. Okay, so I’m too vain for the Flo-Bee cut, even if it were still around, but if I had the slightest problem with acne, I’d have stacks of boxes of Proactive. I mean everyone who is anyone is using it: from Jessica Simpson and Kelly Clarkson to Brooke Shields and Vanessa Williams. It’s amazing how quickly and effectively it works; one day, you have a “crater face” that makes you want to hide in a dark room with a bag over your head, and the next day, you emerge a beautiful swan, with smooth, firm porcelain skin. Maybe it would be good to have a stash of Proactive just in case I ever get acne? . . . Maybe not.

About two and a half years ago, I was feeling whale-like and immobile and was up late watching television (or flipping through infomercials as it was about 3 a.m.), when I tossed my Doritos and ho-ho’s to the side and struggled to an upright sitting position in order to better see this new and wonderous exercise program. It’s genius, really. You barely have to move at all, and you don’t need to do it for hours and hours a day. In just twenty minutes a day, three days a week, you can go from being a portly Polly to a gorgeous goddess. And there was Daisy Fuentes, looking skinny and amazing, smiling happily at that pilates woman and enthusing about the ease and wonder of this exercise program. Now, I’ve always like Daisy Fuentes, even when she got stuck on that stupid show with that stupid Full House guy; she’s got curves and was a bit sturdy (before pilates came along). Like me. So when I saw her newly-sculpted body and heard how I’d barely have to do a thing to look like that, too. I couldn’t get to the phone quickly enough.

I remember, this was around Thanksgiving time, and I planned to have a fabulous body in time for Christmas. Couldn’t wait to get started! I even went out and bought a very special pilates mat for my twenty minutes a day, three days a week sitting and reclining exercise that really was so much fun and so easy, it wasn’t like exercise at all. Fast forward to now, the pilates mat is still in its original plastic, and the pilates video and instruction booklets are still in their original box, tucked away amongst all the videos I never watch (videos from a Shakespeare and film course I took a million years ago). And I imagine that’s where they’ll stay until I transfer their ownership to the Salvation Army.

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