Somewhere around this column there is a picture of a table. Take a look at it. This table was created by someone who, upon completing and inspecting his or her handiwork, proposed its manufacture and sale. Another group of people agreed and placed it in a magazine. Enough people purchased the table to warrant its continued placement in this magazine, at a cost of 225 U.S. dollars. Unbelievable.
After spending four months amid millions of starving people in India, I almost forgot that conspicuous consumption of ridiculous things by clueless people with too much money still occurred and was considered the norm. Reminding me of my naïveté, SkyMall shopping magazine poked its ugly head out of the front seat pocket on my flight from Chicago to Minneapolis on Dec. 18, 2008. Our group engaged in some hearty chuckles at the useless junk contained within.
SkyMall Magazine is an extreme example—full of hilarity—but there is also a note of sadness underneath it all. The wares contained within are, after all, absolutely unnecessary. While 600 million people in India live on less than two dollars a day and half of India’s children are malnourished, we Americans can sit and peruse Roombas (vacuuming robots), debating if we would rather have a Snuggie or a Slanket.
For example, in SkyMall, one can buy a pop-up hot dog cooker with special slots for the bun and franks. A toaster for hot dogs. Who would buy this? “Prettyhotdoglady” from Boring, Oregon (hot dogs are apparently an important part of her life), says it is the “best kitchen appliance I have ever bought!” in her review of the toaster on the SkyMall website. One of the best parts of the toaster, she says, is that it “comes with that new car smell.” Also, in case you were tempted to do so, she warns against “sticking your fingers in the holes. It’s hot, trust me.” Thanks, prettyhotdoglady.
Other transgressions of SkyMall include a watch-like device that serves as a “Night Sweat Alarm.” The site explains it as such: “When it senses perspiration, it vibrates and sounds an alarm so that you can wake up and remove blankets or take other corrective action.” It’s only $139.99 for a watch to buzz at you in the middle of the night because you put too many blankets on and couldn’t tell that you were sweating. Deal!
The “AS SEEN ON TV” icon accompanied some of the goods in SkyMall. This adds a definite air of credibility—because if something was on TV, it has to be good.
SkyMall still sells formerly-seen-on-TV-but-clearly-fraudulent “Body Toning System,” otherwise known as the “belt thing that supposedly builds muscle but really just jiggles your stomach fat.” There were infomercials on TV for this a few years ago, commercials audacious enough to show people in jogging gear, suited up with the belt on in the grocery store buying ice cream. SkyMall seems to still think they work, or at least has found a demographic gullible enough to buy the “Body Toning System.”
Our group laughed at the SkyMall magazine, but I think in a way it was sort of bitter, resigned laughter. I guess the knowledge that suckers will pay any price for anything, no matter how stupid, isn’t a new revelation. But in that context, flying from India to the U.S., from the “developing” to the “developed” world, it was especially sad to see SkyMall. You could get angry and frustrated, but that is just futile, because this sort of thing comes with being human. I suppose you could say that not buying these objects of claptrap could be considered enough, but I wish there was something more proactive to counter this naked idiocy. I can laugh at it, at least. I hope you can laugh at it, too.