Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Infomercial Hell

Among my favorite guilty pleasures are half-hour infomercials.

I suppose I got the bug as a young man working in the video production industry, especially one day when I went out for an informercial shoot. The product was one of those stone surfaces that you bake (or microwave, or whatever), which then heats your food and keeps it warm. Honestly, I remember being pretty impressed with the gimmick back then.

On that shoot, I began to understand the initial message of all infomercials: Your life sucks. Too much back-breaking work, too many clogged lint traps, too many lids that you just can't open! Then comes the pitch, the revelation of a path to a better life: a device so simple, so elegant, so perfect, that you know you'll improve your life (and the lives of your family!) just by whipping out a credit card (Sorry, no C.O.D.).

Then comes the crisis. Surely this product is too expensive, someone will wonder. In persuasion theory the strategy is called "inoculation," injecting the body with a weakened virus - in this case a poorly crafted argument - to bolster one's natural defenses. "Too expensive?" comes the reply... "Why, how can you afford not to buy it?" Pretty soon the audience is convincing itself: "What's my problem? Why haven't I called the toll free number? Do I like living this sucky life?"

The commercial ends with glorious confirmation. Happy guests, happy host, happy audience members. There's just one thing to do...

That's the idea, at least.

But what happens if you never get to that moment of catharsis? What happens if you never escape the life "before" the purchase? To the folks at Funny or Die, the result would be nothing less than Infomercial Hell.

Want more infomerical hell?: Return to this past summer's episode of Daytime Dispatches

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