X-List: 3 PM Infomercials
If you’re like me, you spend much of your life in front of a computer or watching TV. I never really did anything as a kid except read, play computer games, and watch a lot – and I mean a lot – of television. If memorizing entire lines of dialogue from Cow and Chicken or Spongebob Squarepants aren’t enough, a broad knowledge of Pinoy showbiz chika is another. Heck, I grew up watching Beverly Hills 90210, Dawson’s Creek, and Melrose Place… so for all intents and purposes I’ve already watched Gossip Girl by matter of association.
No, wait… I do watch Gossip Girl. I still know Beakman’s World. I have watched The Crystal Maze, the original American Gladiators, and even abominations like Knights and Warriors, Scavengers, and of course, Battle Dome. Those make interesting ideas for the next X-Lists, but make no mistake about it, I practically lived all 23 years of my life in front of a TV set.
Yup, no playgrounds, no schoolyard games, nothing for this (literal) homeboy except TV. Save for that scary Chinese lady at RPN-9 who used a big scary cleaver while pushing around a hot wok, there were always the old reliable watchables at 3 PM. No, not Lovingly Yours: Helen or Shining Time Station, but infomercials. Mind-numbing, brain-burninating infomercials. The kind of infomericals that sell products that are either:
- So incredibly stupid that you wouldn’t even think of buying them, or;
- Make you so incredibly stupid that you buy into the gimmick, or;
- So incredibly stupid they’re so incredibly fun to watch.
We all know about the Total Gym, singing bass fish, and those 15-piece knife sets that always come with eight (not four, not six, but eight) steak and utility knives and a fillet knife that can fillet a fillet. See, guys, if a fillet knife cannot cut along the peel of a fresh tomato, it’s not worth the toll-free number on your screen. So are a lot of products “as seen on TV:” the only reality and truth that matters in this day and age is TV. Especially when they’re shown right after the 3 O’Clock Habit.
So, without further ado, here’s this week’s X-List of infomercials.
Hokay. Here goes.
Targets upper abs, lower abs, obliques, and hara kiri.
Take a look at the Abflex, and you tell me you don’t want rock-hard washboard abs in under three minutes a day. No exercise machine in the world can do anything in three minutes a day… oh, wait a second, every exercise machine does exactly that.
Using the Abflex was simple: instead of doing those crunches and leg-raises and sit-ups, the machine applies direct pressure to your abdominal area. Unlike rocker crunchers and such, using the Abflex is a lot like performing seppuku with a thousand-peso plastic device. Besides, if you have a machine that looks like an alien-destroying spaceship from a Battlestar Galactica ripoff, you’ll dial the 1-800 number on your screen now. And get exercise tapes that show you how to… squeeze, the thing into your stomach as if you’re impaling yourself.
Let’s face it: that doesn’t make any sense at all to anyone who knows a thing or two about crunches, but what do we know, right? The three-minute exercise offered by the Abflex is scientifically proven to give you the kind of abdominals that would have karate experts (who learned the “wax-on, wax-off” thing from the Karate Kid movies) smash cinder blocks right on your abs. With a freakin’ sledgehammer, to boot.
2. Ionic Toothbrush
In the future, toothpaste will be obsolete.
Brushing your teeth is an important part of personal hygiene, but all the mouthwash and toothpaste and dental gels and electric toothbrushes in the world will not give you the kind of pearly-whites you see on TV. There must be a toothbrush out there that spares you the drudgery of running a brush through your mouth for at least five minutes after each meal.
OK, I know of at least three people who bought themselves a Hy-G Ionic Toothbrush: the only toothbrush in the world that cleans your teeth without the aid of toothpaste. Yes, it’s possible, and they even had those cool computer graphics straight from Tron.
Working from definitely-maybe memory here: plaque and tartar are composed of negatively charged ions. Unlike an ordinary toothbrush, the Hy-G Ionic Toothbrush contains this specialized ionic plate that, when wet and touched (that sounded dirty), charges your positively-charged teeth with negative ions. Since similar charges repel each other, you get a total full-mouth clean without toothpaste.
Does the Ionic Toothbrush work? I don’t really know, but if you have a toothbrush that costs P1495, it should. After all, you can buy a perfectly good toothbrush for ten pesos. You can also use this Judge Dredd toothbrush with the teeth-whitening gel endorsed by Erik Estrada.
3. Nativity Cross
The moons of Nibia, the Antares Maelstrom, and perdition’s flames.
The late Ricardo Montalban – or as I like to call him, Khan – has endorsed everything from a crappy kid-comedy movie to soft Corinthian leather… but you can’t question his endorsement of God. In a world of infomercials after 3 PM, you need a product with vision; nothing less of being… divine.
The Nativity Cross commercial claimed that Jesus was not born in a stable, but in a cave in Bethlehem; the small rock found inside the Nativity Cross came from that very cave. You’re going to get a specially-designed gold cross, a necklace to come with the cross, and a certificate of authenticity that this particular rock in this particular cross came from that particular cave where Christ was born. Or so they say; the document can be read as a statement that denounces the Palestinian right to self-determination and sovereignty in their own territory. It is also a declaration of interest in the territorial battle for Israel that has been going on since, like, forever.
Now I don’t want to argue with doctrine or anything, but it just seems so… wrong, right? I mean, in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Khan Singh was pretty much The Man, and all these rocks sold enclosed in the Nativity Cross came from Ceti Alpha V.
4. Rocket Chef
You ain’t a chef… until you rocket.
If you don’t know who John Parkin is, he’s that British infomercial presenter who wears red braces, red suspenders, and a big red bowtie. He has pitched a lot of things over the years, but he has always been known for kitchen appliances that sort of make sense. Like the Rocket Chef, for example.
The Rocket Chef combines the power of a slicer (more on that later) with the rotating power of a salad spinner and a hand-operated blender plus the mechanical advantage of an Osterizer. You simply put the food inside the slicing chamber or drop them into the chute, and spin the handle. You can choose between a rough chop or a mince… which really doesn’t matter anyway since the darned device just swishes the blades all around. The Rocket Chef is pretty much a hand-operated food processor that comes with airtight resealable lids to… keep your extra minced garlic cloves fresh for the next day.
It’s when the Rocket Chef slices stuff that I guess made it so popular among housewives. You can place cucumbers, bananas, carrots, celeries, and zucchini into the self-feeding chute, turn the handle, and get those perfect slices. No wonder Lorena Bobbitt got convicted.
5. Super Slicer
Everyone bought this. Nobody cut anything with it.
Kitchen products are a mainstay of infomercials. Most professional chefs will call this device a “mandolin,” but that’s for gastronomic oligarchs who have nothing better to do with their lives than to oppress us through cooking shows, making things we can’t eat, using ingredients we don’t have. Hence, the Super Slicer; one of the many socialist versions of capitalist cooking implements.
I’m making a joke out of it, though; but the Super Slicer is an inexpensive plastic mandolin. The commercials for the Super Slicer made for a very convincing case for people to buy one (in the case of my folks, two), and everyone had the grand idea that french fries and vegetable sticks will never have to be bought from the frozen foods section of the supermarket ever again.
Far from being an effortless device, though, it took more effort to pass the potatoes through the mandolin than to cut it with a knife. The Super Slicer also came with interesting, non-super bonus items like a plastic stick used to cut V-shapes, a plastic whirly knife that does nothing, and a “juicer” that assumes that fruits are big balls of juice. About the only thing that worked in this collection of machines is the plastic cheese slicer-grater.
6. Dura Shine
Where we always burn the hood of the car.
I’m sure that selling car polish is a very difficult task, and not all people are built for the job that Jim Caldwell had when he was pitching Dura Shine back in the 1990s. “The water should be sheeting… right off of the car!” And so the cliché for all car polish commercials was born.
For people to buy all the Dura Shine products plus the super-absorbent chamois (it’s “chamois,” not “shammy”) cloths, they had to do something extreme. The Dura Shine commercial was not complete until Caldwell placed lighter fluid on the hood of the car, lit it up, and allowed the fuel to burn. After that, he simply wiped off the charred parts, and the car looked like new again.
I suppose that there are many other auto detailing products sold on TV before Dura Shine came along, but Dura Shine got every trope and cliché of car wash infomercials down to a tee.
Like many successful products, Dura Shine made it out of the idiot tube and can now be found in many hardware and auto supply shops, along with its cousin, Dura Lube (yet another car product that gave way to clichés like freezing the engine and making it run without the oil). When it comes to clichés, we can all thank Dura Shine.
7. The Stimulator
Yes, it’s a friggin’ pain reliever. No kidding.
Evel Knievel was one of the greatest stunt performers of all time, but a mishap that made him break just about every bone in his body meant that he had to live the rest of his life in pain. It would have been great if he wrote an inspirational book, but I think he watched Jackie Mason’s infomercial for “Phase-Out” (a quit-smoking device that didn’t make this list). From the guy who wanted to jump the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle comes… The Stimulator.
The Stimulator is a mechanical device that uses electrical impulses to stimulate nerves that cause pain. I don’t know how that computes, but I’m sure that there’s a completely scientific explanation to this. It makes sense in TV Land: if you induce more pain, you feel less pain.
Okaaay… but I won’t even try to make this sound dirty in a metaphorical sense. The design and the name of The Stimulator lends itself well to this thing being an excellent sex toy. There are many ways to interpret the more pain = less pain logic that Evel used to pitch this product with.
Not that The Stimulator didn’t work; like every product sold on TV, it had to have testimonials from chronic pain sufferers who used this device for everything from carpal tunnel syndrome to rare cases of rheumatoid nipples. I’m sure that many other products gave people their share of sexy-time, but none can compare to the literal mind-fuck that is The Stimulator.
8. Super Million Hair
Itaktak mo, itaktak mo, itak-itak, itaktak mo…
The Chinese… or the Taiwanese… have many interesting products sold through the infomercial circuit. There’s the torture device that makes you grow taller, breast-enhancing pills that make you grow taller, and those things that you plug into an electrical socket to conserve electricity and make you grow taller. OK, I wrote that with the full knowledge that someone out there will be offended, call me a racist, and write diatribes online about what constitutes satire.
Super Million Hair wasn’t a Chinese invention, but was part of the many products already sold by the Infomercial Guru himself, Ron Popeil. Super Million Hair is a product applied to your bald spot, then you give it a bit of a spray, and poof! A full head of hair in an instant.
This may seem humorous, but I have it on good account that many balding people have actually used Super Million Hair. Hmmm…
Now just because I have awesome hair (boo hiss) doesn’t mean that I don’t empathize with the plight of balding people, but Super Million Hair is better than having to grow out one side of your hair and walking the streets with a combover. I just don’t – and perhaps won’t – understand what’s the deal with powdered hair. The pitch also claims that Super Million Hair is made from real hair… I don’t want to think about it.
9. Ultimate Ladder
This is the Ultimate F*cking Ladder and I’m gonna kick yo’ ass!
Billy Mays is one of my favorite TV pitchmen because he can make boring things sound awesome, whether it’s banana-based cleaners or battery-operated drills. From the guy who introduced us all to socket wrenches (I think that was a pitchman named Beau) comes the Ultimate Ladder.
The Ultimate Ladder is an eight-in-one folding ladder. No, wait, it is the “SQV of Ladders:” safety, quality, versatility. If you watch professional wrestling, you probably can think of so many ways to use this ladder in a Hardcore Match or a Ladder Match. How and why you would need eight ladders, I don’t know.
The eight-in-one SQV of Ladders is not the first ladder to be sold in the infomercial circuit, but it did give way to a lot ladder infomercials. Or just two: the Ultimate Ladder, and the Total Trolley.
I’m not saying that the Ultimate Ladder is useless – I’ve seen it used by some people – it’s just that it’s the only ladder in the world marketed in such a campy, upbeat, Six-Sigma kind of way. It was also cool to imagine all the wrestling maneuvers you can execute on any position this ladder is in. Seriously.
10. Instant Fisherman
Cooler than the singing bass fish.
The Instant Fisherman by Flying Lure was cool. It was damn cool. If Joe Fowler (that geeky guy who pitched the Handy Chef) can look cool carrying this contraption, and make fishing shows remotely interesting, then this must be the coolest gadget in the history of humankind.
Any form of fishing can be accomplished with a hook tied to a string fastened to a stick, but the Instant Fisherman made a cool, badass-looking fishing rod that you can fold like a mechanical lightsaber. The Instant Fisherman does not belong on the belt-holes of outdoorsy types, but on the belt-loops of dorks like myself. Seriously, I can imagine playing with this thing all day.
The Instant Fisherman commercials were also way different from fishing championship shows; they were exciting. There seemed to be a fascination for fishing lines that don’t tangle, and how this machine fits in your glove box. Besides, the highlight of the Instant Fisherman shows was to catch a shark. With one hand. It went all Jaws-like, then you realize you’re catching a puny shark and just let the fish back to the water. Sheesh!
So there you have it. We accept all major credit cards, checks, and C.O.D. Order your (insert product here) within the next 30 minutes to (insert promo here). Don’t wait! Order your (insert product here) right now!