as seen on tv: a love for infomercials and control
Written by Rachel Fernandez, Staff Writer
When I was about 7-years-old, my mom and I were on a vacation where we had to catch a flight at 7 a.m. After getting a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call from an equally groggy Best Western receptionist, we turned on the TV to keep us awake as I packed (my mom scolded me for not packing the night before). The purgatory between night and morning had a limited selection of TV viewing options, so we landed on a channel playing the half-hour infomercial for the (G-rated) Magic Bullet, and I was enthralled.
The commercial had such a unique charm through its terrible production value. Each character in the infomercial seemed to be acting as if they were aliens who had been studying humans and doing their best to replicate them. Everything was exaggerated, and more importantly, in control. When they used the Magic Bullet to make side-by-side alfredo and pesto sauce the product worked flawlessly – all of the ingredients were conveniently ready to use and the pasta was already cooked. My brain might have been in a weird place since it was 4:30 a.m., but I was absolutely mesmerized. I had no idea there was an entire world of half-hour demonstrative commercials waiting to be discovered.
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Fifth grade was the first time my self-confidence took a blow. Prior to then, I rightfully assumed that everyone I met kept a picture of me in their wallet, just like my mom, to show off how cool I was. However, when we were 10 years old, my step-sister and I started at a new school, and we suddenly had to make friends and convince a whole new group of people to like us.
My step-sister was petite and skinny with long brown hair and an adorable round face. I was gawky and chubby and the first one to start shaving my armpits. Making friends at our new school seemed to come naturally to her and not very naturally to me. It was the first time my winning personality wasn’t compensating for my mediocre appearance, and I started wasting a lot of time worrying about what other people thought of me, even though it was out of my control.
Making friends and appearing likable took over all of my thoughts and kept me up at night. During one of my bouts of stress-induced insomnia, I snuck out to the living room and turned on the TV to a channel showing an infomercial for a combination hair straightener/curler that could make you look like Jennifer Aniston in just 14 minutes. I was just as hypnotized by the efficient world as I had been three years prior.
Infomercial product marketability is all about defying expectations of what you can control. “This compact oven can roast a whole turkey in five minutes!” “This workout DVD only takes 30 seconds out of your day, and you’ll lose half of your body weight in a month!” “This blow-dryer dries your hair AS. YOU. SHOWER!” I never thought I’d be able to use a knife to cut through a rock, but now I could (with three easy payments of $19.95, plus shipping and handling).
There was something so attractive about the concept of control, and I couldn’t get enough.
For years I set my alarm for 3:57 a.m. so I could be up at 4 a.m. – the prime time for infomercials – and every morning I would groggily fawn over the glamorously dispensable products. It wasn’t the infomercials themselves, but the specific viewing experience that gave me a particularly gratifying escape from reality. I would sit in my bed during the most obscure hours of the morning, and while everyone else was asleep, exceedingly energetic D-level actors were yelling at me to buy a device specifically made to poach eggs in the microwave in two minutes. I became obsessed with watching the struggling actors hired to play the roles of “normal people” to promote how these products could make daily tasks so much easier. It was hypnotizing to watch all of these people have their lives together.
I’m still captivated by infomercials, and I haven’t come to terms with the fact that other people’s perception of me is out of my control. I am, however, thrilled to say that I now own an as-seen-on-TV rice cooker/vegetable steamer. Every time I use it, I think about how a couple of pots could do the same job, but there’s something so satisfying about the capability of steaming broccoli and rice at the same time in the same device.
It’s my small way of maintaining control while they’re still coming up with a product to make me 500 friends in five days.