Smile Politely

The joy of infomercials

One of the first credit card purchases I made occurred in the mid-’90s, when I was a much younger, stupider girl of 21 and my credit card was new. I called the number on the screen and bought myself a Bodyblade™ for $115 (I’m shocked at the price even now) — just five easy, monthly installments of $23.

Let me just tell you about the Bodyblade™. It’s a long, thin piece of rigid but floppy, uh, carbon fiber or something, used by NASA on the Space Shuttle or something, and you hold it in your hands and shake it or something. As you shake it, the ends of the floppy thing begin to wave back and forth, and through some scientific mumbo-jumbo that I’ve omitted here, this “inertia provides resistance to the body.” Hence, exercise!

My Bodyblade™ didn’t look like the current incarnation of the Bodyblade™, which is shorter and yellow and has apparently gained quite a following (based on all the amazingly hilarious YouTube videos devoted to it), and it most definitely was not worth $115. Essentially, the hard sell I fell for was this: Work out without really moving your body around at all! Target muscle groups! Tone and sculpt in just minutes! Avoid the hassle of storing big, bulky exercise equipment! Call the number on your screen in the next 15 minutes and we’ll knock off ONE WHOLE PAYMENT and throw in a free Bodyblade™ carrying bag!

Ah, the infomercial, my favorite of all the –mercials. I know I say I love a lot of things, but I really do love infomercials. I do not turn them off late at night. I have written poetic odes to infomercials. I love the hosts. I love the testimonials from happy customers. I love the experts who vouch for the efficacy of the product. I love it when they use NASA technology to create the product, because the people at NASA seemingly have a whole lotta expertise. I love celebrity endorsements  and the Saturday Night Live lampoons of them (Christina Applegate did make a great Cher). I love it when it’s an extra-long infomercial, like an hour, and the infomercial has commercial breaks for the product within it. I love Ron Popeil. I love Cathy Mitchell and the all new Xpress Redi-Set-Go™.  I love infomercials for fishing lures, Ab Rollers™, food dehydrators,  Sham Wows™, those vacuum food bag thingies, Grip ‘n Flips™, Scoop ‘n Strains™ … I could go on and on.

Now, why? I don’t buy these things anymore. (I really don’t.) The Bodyblade™ was my first and last infomercial purchase, and I chalk that one up to the excitement of having a credit card for the first time (which is sad commentary on the availability of credit cards on college campuses these days). I am rarely tempted to purchase the NuWave OvenPro™ that cooks food using three kinds of cooking power (convection, conduction, and infrared) in half the time of conventional cooking. I truly don’t want or need any of these things in my home, but being someone who once called the number on the screen, I do occasionally get the temptation. (I also come from a family of QVC watchers, though, thankfully, that gene seems to have skipped me.) These things they’re selling can do amazing things for me — and there’s televised proof! That steak was frozen solid 30 minutes ago, and now it’s a juicy, delicious, healthy dinner for me and my family made in record time.

Considering the temptations and the ease of making the phone call (or even worse, buying online) in the privacy of my own home, it’s very understandable why sellers would try to move their wares in this fashion. But temptations aside, if I were in a mall and an actual human being came up to me in person and was standing right in front of me with the enthusiasm of a Ron Popeil trying to sell me something, I would run in the other direction immediately. I would not make eye contact. I would say “no thanks” four times in a row and walk faster, which is what I usually do when the aggressive hand-lotion salespeople try to get me from their kiosk (you know the one — it’s in every mall right by the kiosks that sell blacklight belly-button rings or hermit crabs or air-brushed t-shirts). The physical immediacy, the sheer desperation of trying to make a sale and my complacency in it would gross me out. I don’t want to see that in real life. I just want to see that on TV. These salespeople are making the hard sell to me through the filter of my lovely TV, and I love it. I’ll watch it, and I don’t feel like I have to buy anything, so I can just sit back and be amazed. And I usually am. 

I will say that I am especially amazed by the infomercials for cooking products, because I am a lover of cooking shows. I like watching people make things, and I like it when they’re over- enthusiastic about the making. It takes a lot of courage to make things in this life. Ron Popeil, I salute you.

Lastly, I think I donated my Bodyblade™ to the Goodwill in Iowa City a long time ago, so if you live in Iowa City, you could probably score a Bodyblade™ for, like, a dollar, if someone else hasn’t snatched it up already. If I remember correctly, it sort of worked. How’s that for a testimonial from a happy customer? Call the number on your screen!

Related Articles