“Stop having a boring tuna, stop having a boring life,” exhorts peddler of the Slap-Chop hand-operated food-dicer, former comedian and ex-con Vince “Offer” Shlomi, as he uses the device to aggressively and impeccably mince canned fish. “Look, you’re going to have an exciting life now.”
It’s two a.m., and everyone else in your household is in bed, dreaming their electric dreams. You’re still in front of the tele, awake—if the state of t.v.-watching, a state physiologically indistinguishable from classic hypnosis—can really be called ‘conscious.’ You’ve been quite a trooper tonight, pounding out primetime switching between the three major networks, cruising right through the talk shows and Late Late shows, making it through the no-man’s land of stale sitcom reruns. Now, you’re in that sodden, sorry position of being too tired to keep watching, yet too tired to trundle up the stairs to bed. Your options are rapidly dwindling, as all your favorite channels end their nightly programming, successively ceding their airwaves to the pitchmen.
But you’ve secretly been waiting for this point—the light at the end of the tunnel, a guilty pleasure beyond compare. There’s a certain piece of American received knowledge, ingrained in us perhaps most strongly by the plot structure of our movies, with their gratuitous and ubiquitous deus ex machinas, that can be summed up by the oft-misapplied saying, ‘It’s always darkest before the dawn.’ As if a meteorological fact could have any bearing upon the chaotic, unscripted, and poorly directed human drama. O, how anthropomorphized our view of reality is! But I digress.
We’re not talking reality here, anyway; we’re talking Television! And in Tvland, the cliches all come true; here, good things really do come to those who wait. And Ford knows you’ve waited tonight, slogged through the hours of garbage, teetering on the edge of oblivion and despair. But here they are, to the rescue! Those transcenders of the quotidian, the Pitchmen.
The Pitchmen, purveyors of truth, justice, and the American Way, peddlers of the vast cornucopia of “As Seen on TV” goods, defenders of every patriot’s birthright, vindicators of every tinkerer’s dream that one day You Too can invent some silly contraption, hit the big one, and name your yacht after it. These are the heroes of today, their medium, the infomercial, the very shape of modern gospel. These are the men who can take a mundane everyday activity, like cleaning, cooking or exercising, and transmogrify it into a heroic act of creative self-affirmation. Don’t dice veggies, Slap-Chop them! Don’t snuggle under a blanket, use a Snuggie! Don’t tone your abs by doing crunches which require effort; use the Ab-Lounge, with its contradictory implication of fat-burning by reclining at leisure! Don’t just wash your clothes, Oxy-Clean them with magical bubbles! Don’t unclog sink drains with some gunk from the store, demonstrate your virility and Turbo-Snake them!
The Pitchmen’s goods appeal to our desire for short-cuts and easy solutions. Their pitches take the trappings of our ordinary lives, and place them in the realm of the stars, our modern gods—on the TV, under the lights, in front of the camera, and thus worthy of our respect and admiration. They show us a world where chores are cinematic events, and at the end offer us a course of action, a ticket to that world. A way You Too can appropriate the trappings of this Glorious Lifestyle and Exalt Your Self, most often for the scandalously low amount (a number scientifically chosen for its aesthetic appeal and acceptability) of $19.95, or a few payments of said amount, plus shipping and handling.
Take Vince Offer and his Slap-Chop pitch. Cradling his product like a living thing, Vince says, “Look, it pops open like a butterfly for easy cleaning.” Note his use of natural imagery. He’s blurring the distinctions between the domestic, culinary realm, and the forest, the green realm, where life is robust and abundant. He’s speaking to the housewife’s yearning for the freedom of the outdoors.
Dicing onions, he says, “You’ll be slapping your troubles away with the Slap Chop. Life’s hard enough, you don’t wanna cry anymore.” He’s tapping into every viewer’s personal sadnesses, and channeling that deep emotional pain into the consumerist drive, that great unifier and leveler of all human passions.
“Guys, we’re gonna make America skinny again, one slap at a time.” Vince is invoking nostalgia, the possibility of bringing back the good-ol’ flabless days of every viewer’s youth, and like a late-night Obama, offering the hope of Change, on a nationwide scale. Patriotism, redemption- it’s all here, folks. Step right up.
As Vince grinds cheese with the “If-You-Act-Now” bonus cheese grater, he improvises, “Fettucine, linguini, martini, bikini.” Every lonely male, especially one with nothing better to do at four a.m. than watch infomercials, dreams of a romantic evening of gourmet food, of a tropical bar and scantily-clad women. Vince, like a true beat poet, is bringing these fantasies to the surface with his free-association, free-verse rhymes, and (not like a true beat poet) marshaling them to the capitalist cause at hand.
As he sells the ShamWow reusable sponge-towel, Vince promises, “You’ll be saying ‘wow,’ every time you use this towel.” ‘Wow’ is the closest thing we have to religious language. It is what we say when we see a feat of superhuman ability, an act of unusual awkwardness or cruelty, or a deal that just can’t be beat. And again, he rhymes it so that it sticks in your head, like a catchy radio tune. If one rouses from one’s stupor, and does mutter to oneself, ‘Wow,” then the sale is cinched. And how could one not? It’s the ShamWow for Ford’s sake!
I was going to do another section on that paragon of pitching, Billy Mays, but concluded that his rhetoric, his swagger, and his sheer sense of style and self-confidence formed an impenetrable, steel chain-mail coat of masterful salesmanship that admitted of no prying idle curiosity. Perhaps it is possible to dissect the phenomenon that is Billy Mays, but I, a mere mortal, surely am not worthy of such a task. Suffice it to say that, with his bristly black beard and rolled up cuffs, Billy Mays was the walking, breathing symbol of Manhood and Chivalry, of all that our fallen civilization has lost.