"Well, I'll Be John Brown"

Real stories about folks who have blessed my life with the joy and fulfillment of laughter. Long may they live.

Location: Atlanta, Georgia, United States

A Southern Boy - Born In Alabama, Reared In Georgia, and Matriculated, Married & Initiated Into Manhood In Tennessee.

Monday, August 25, 2008

257 Channels & Nothing On

Bruce Springsteen is a musical prophet.

A few years back, “The Boss,” penned and recorded a song entitled, “57 Channels & Nothing On.” The song was about the empty, broken viewing promises of the intellectual and entertainment landfill commonly known as cable TV.

Given the three channel menu that this writer remembers from TV in his youth, it seems reasonable that the entertainment industry would find something substantive to air within the broad spectrum of fifty-seven airwaves. Little did Springsteen know that his words hinted of an even greater dilemma for the TV viewer of the future. With the advent of satellite we now have, “two hundred fifty seven channels & still nothing on.”

Recently, while recovering from coronary by-pass surgery, this writer experienced the chronic, nightly insomnia that comes with having your chest sawn open and new plumbing installed. Since you can’t sleep and there is no one awake to play with, it is assumed that finally someone in your house will get some good out of the $50 being shelled out monthly for satellite. TV in any form has become a service that most families are too busy to use, but wouldn’t be caught dead without. This patient remembers thinking, “well, if I can’t sleep, at least there will be something I can watch on TV.”

Enter Bruce Springsteen.

Enter the newest innovation from our friends down at Direct-Dish –Network-Comcast TV.

Namely, The Infomercial.

Night-time TV would be better described as, “Infomercial Hell.” Like snake oil merchants at an old time carnival, the personalities of night-time TV come into your living room with one purpose in mind – “sell!” (which, again, rhymes with “hell”). Like an already way-too-long sermon gone to seed, these extended sales pitches are to the marketing world what Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 14 minute classic anthem, “Free-Bird,” was and is to southern garage-band rock. They go on and on and on and on. Enter the Energizer bunny.

Infomercial creators and producers evidently have one and only one cookie-cutter template they adhere to in making these, “Nightmares on Insomnia Street.” Their ingredients are predictable. Their format is mindless. If you have seen one infomercial, you have truly seen them all. And yet, night-time TV is saturated with these inane productions. They spew endlessly and uninterruptedly through the broadcast night - like feces through a goose.

One night’s excursion through the infomercial haven chamber by this, “Sleepless in Sickville,” heart patient left the following impressions.

First, infomercial folks will shamelessly sell anything. In one eight hour stint the viewer is offered hundreds of items for sale including: grills, vacuum cleaners, jewelry, record (excuse me – CD & DVD) collections, perfume, cat litter, automobile and truck accessories, hunting and fishing gear, DVD’s of the well-traveled series “Girls Gone Wild,” dishes, paintings, feminine hygiene products, light bulbs, lingerie, stamp and coin collections, golf clubs, male enhancement drugs, trips, vitamins, club memberships, aerobic CD’s & DVD’s, internet business opportunities, erotic sex toys (yes ma’am – saw that one three times in one night – advertised by two of the homeliest women in broadcast TV), yard tools, furniture, cosmetics, swimwear, computers, stereo equipment, books, diet pills, exercise equipment, and (did I mention?) erotic sex toys.

It is easy to understand why Wal-Mart now stays open all night. The competition never sleeps. If it can be manufactured, imported, packaged or marketed in any way, it is gonna’ show up eventually at 2:30 AM on channels 240-310.

Second, cleavage. One particular infomercial evidently did not trust that one young lady’s endowment was enough to capture and keep the buying public’s attention, so they added a second. The two young ladies that “starred” on this particular infomercial are likely going to wind up one day in some chiropractor’s office with serious back trouble. All they did for the minute or two that this insomniac was watching was to lean exaggeratedly forward with their extremely low-cut blouses hanging open and talk wild-eyed into the camera about their product and/or service. It is amazing that this viewer even saw their eyes. The next morning, I could not for the life of me remember what they were selling, but their marketing approach was forever “implanted” in my mammary, uh, memory.

If the feminists are correct and sex does not sell, someone forgot to tell the folks down at, “Infomercial Central.” From the very least hint of cleavage all the way to a full-blown avalanche of female foliage, infomercial folks live and die with exposed female tissue.

Exposed female legs enhance the package - as panelists do their best to mimic the poses that made Entertainment Tonight’s Mary Hart famous. But - make no mistake – the folks who produce this sort of thing are placing all their bets above the female waist.

Third, infomercials are the world’s haven for testimonials. They are bizarre, and they are extremely entertaining. “This product worked for me even though I was on death row!” “I made $3 million my first week with my brand new internet shoe repair business.” “I learned the entire Chinese language in my first month with this new speed-reading course and never even cracked a book.”

Infomercialists always hedge these outlandish testimonials with legalese fine print at the bottom of the screen which cautions, “Not every person achieves the same level of performance as results may vary.” This really means, “We are lying through our teeth and don’t care if one day we will go to a devil’s hell because of it – just buy our product, sucker!”

The thing is, in the middle of the night, lying there like a zombie in a cage, with all sorts of medicine coursing through one’s system, some of (many of) these bald-face lies start to sound believable.

If only we could sit down face to face and find out how much the liar was paid to sell his soul – not to mention the sponsor’s product – then we could get the real scoop on whether or not this new magical diet supplement will make us look like Brad Pitt.

The power that the infomercial demons have over us is that if we bite the bait and try the suppository, buy the DVD’s, or drink the kool-aid and the promises do turn out to be lies, who are we gonna’ tell? It is embarrassing enough to admit that we might spend an evening watching this junk – let alone that we might be foolish enough to spend $150 just to see if a pill can make hair grow on a bald head by six inches in just two days.

Finally, infomercials are hosted by losers, has-been’s, wanna-be’s, and “ain’t-gonna-be’s.” For example, note the infomercial host who was previously an out-of-work actor, whose last meaningful role was as an island native rowing a canoe in a three second long-distance shot that didn’t make it to the final cut in one of the lost episodes of Gilligan’s Island. Or, the former forth runner-up in the 1901 Miss America pageant. Or, the ex-big league ball player whose sole claim to fame came through his being at bat as a pinch-hitter at Wrigley Field in 1972 when someone fell out of the upper deck behind home plate.

If the promise of your next big gig in the entertainment world involves hosting an infomercial, either get another agent or get another gig – one with steady, day-time hours. Truth is - you ain’t about to go from hawking Popiel’s Pocket Fisherman at 3:00 AM on the Lifetime Network Channel to a starring role opposite Jenny McCarthy in Mission Impossible V.

Being sick is a drag.

Being sick and unable to sleep is an even bigger drag.

Being sick, unable to sleep, and then being lured into watching 175 year old Jack Lalanne try to convince you that his longevity is due solely to his drinking regularly from his Bionic Juicer Machine – which you can have right now for four “easy” credit card payments of $375.99 – this is the biggest drag of all.

It is the spiritual and existential equivalent of dying a thousand deaths, waking up to find that reincarnation is true, and that you have come back each of those thousand times as the padding in Hillary Clinton’s brazier.

Strange, but, here we are back again to the chest area of a female. Well, at least with Mrs. Clinton, maybe not.

Time to go to sleep.

Good night, Edith.

- David Decker