… and Forget It

I lurched precariously out of bed at the brisk hour of 10:43 AM, narrowly missed my side table and a nearby ottoman, and found myself standing near the television, waving slightly to and fro like a palm tree in the fair breezes of a Florida morning. My feet clung desperately and groggily to the berber carpet and the abandoned sheets moaned sweet jilted nothings, and in general the question of why I was awake seemed to pose itself in an infinite number of penetrating yet diffuse ways. I knew, if I did something frightfully clever with the little black plastic machine, that some sort of redemptive liquid would emerge, and yet the only salutary action that presented itself was to press the “POWER” button on the television, which I felt might reconnect me with the world I had once loved. At first, the TV supplied only further enigma: a menu of MOVIES and GUEST OPTIONS with a strange musical mantra to ease the transition to the television experience. (Digression: I have never understood the music hotels put behind these menus, music that lilts on and on in eerie abruptly recursive patterns … I have occasionally, in a tremendous access of laziness, being able to press POWER but exhausting myself in the process and being unable to press any further buttons, even nearby CHAN … I have occasionally fallen asleep to this “channel” and then reawakened at 4 am, with the music subconsciously clawing underneath the fingernails of my sleep, options glowing ominously in the dark, making me wonder in dream-images why life suddenly seemed a musical Mobius strip, looping and traveling but never finding any fresh surface. Life is a MENU of never chosen options?)

Where was I? Oh yes, on the carpet, swaying, and in front of the now-flickering television, while my fingers stabbed mercilessly at the channel button until something emerged: “The following is not a television program. It is a paid advertisement…”

For some reason those words were the right ones. I sat down upon the bed I had left and stared at the screen like Pierrot besotted with the moon. The story that unfolded was that of the “Nicer Dicer,” which converts silly vegetables into omelettes and salsas which emerge as if out of the brow of Zeus, fully intact, from mysterious cupboards. At first it was simply demonstrative: a few instances to prove the perfection of the device, like the Cartesian proof of God. But then, out of the turgid philosophy emerged Dionysian dicing delirium. A Brawny-paper-towel-esque man at least pretended (in that weird bad acting-style which, like that of professional wrestling, seems so characteristically perfect for the genre, which seems to be the key, in fact, to its artistic and economic success) to be passionately swept by the joy of the julienne, and demanded forthwith he be given a NicerDicer. Thwack and thunk and bap and I swear he grunted, and the two of them (the Tristan and Isolde of food prep) thunked together, faster and faster, grunting, squealing with joy! and you couldn’t help feeling a little disturbed by it all, and soon the tabletop was a morass of cubes, slices, and other carved forms, and the man couldn’t stop himself, he became impatient for even more items, yet more matter to sever and dismember.

It was so perfect. My eyes goggled and shone. Deep memories of humanity kindled, motivating fires amid the taupe mellow oblivion of my room. The pool glistened blue outside. One of my favorite infomercials is, of course, the one where a number of seemingly hungover persons straggle into the Great-Brunch-Resort-Poorly-Decorated-Kitchen-Morning from various bedrooms. All the Great American Types are there: the Crusty Waitress with the Miscellaneous Urban Accent; the Party Bachelor, balding and paunched, hopeful and pathetic; the Staid Married Couple, Probably Presbyterian, Pursing Lips; and the Cute Bemused Old Couple … it’s like a Tennessee Williams play about a food processor. The two presenters/priests stand behind a massive kitchen island (icon of American greatness, Golgotha of our modern mind), and as the characters emerge, they intersperse ongoing purées with amusing commentaries on each of the Types … a kind of social compendium, poking gentle fun at their devouring audience (which is of course not the “real” audience) and always returning, as in a rondo, to the virtues of blade attachments and color-coded cups. These virtues, they reassure us, can be enjoyed by all America’s melting-pot.

Surely the greatest infomercial of all time is Ron Popeil’s Hideous Rotisserie. Set it and forget it! On the strength of this minidrama, my incredibly cultured and brilliant friend E bought one of those things–an irony which appalled me, even among the manifold ironies of our lives–and despite my anguished protestations she loved using it until she left in the rain one night… (on purpose?) Watching Ron prong various cuts of meat, one could sense how, through the magic of the genre, the brilliantly untalented writers had plastered visceral masculine appeal onto a white rotisserie oven. Part of the shtick of that infomercial is the stuffing of ever-larger and more improbable carcasses into the device … Got a whole deer? No problem! just a few strokes of the knife and prong it here and here and click the thingy on, and SET IT AND FORGET IT! I am sure Melville’s Great White Whale, if caught, would be Ron-pronged and forgotten until dinnertime when it would emerge steaming and delicious. The blubber would collect in the removable, dishwasher-safe tray. And Ahab would emerge from the briny deeps to dine.

That indeed is part of the infomercial’s function: to demystify everything. There is no uncatchable whale. There is no secret to chopping! We are all successful Ahabs. There is no secret to rotisserie cooking! Just plop a cocktail wiener in with some pancake mix and stuff it in the sandwich maker and it’s … whatever it is. There are no secrets, no chores, no learning any more than what you are told. It strikes me that Webern would be an interesting (if dead) composer to commission to write some infomercial operas; his jewelled tapestries of arcane musical secrets might serve as a spectacularly incongruous canvas on which to paint these painfully overt masterpieces of our age. If Art is the cult of Beauty, the Infomercial is the cult of Convenience: they have their cultishness in common. Beauty hides behind veils while Convenience opens its doors 24 hours a day (though employees don’t have access to the safe).

My eyes had opened, the bed no longer lusted for me or I for it; I filled a styrofoam cup with water and set the coffeemaker; I had been called out of the wilderness by unadulterated mindsucking crap. And I answered crap’s call. I was back, baby. A beautiful sunny day awaited. I would slice and dice the whole world if I could (not literally, duh).

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  1. hari
    Posted January 22, 2007 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    that’s hysterical. those infomercials are too much. i bought a hand held spray iron once and it was awful. if it looks too good and too easy, beware. actually that goes for non material things too.

  2. Anonymous
    Posted January 22, 2007 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    If we’re lucky, we all have a few phrases,jokes,etc.that as memories can elicit a response, anything from a smile to a laugh,at almost any time,much like a few measures from a favorite music piece.They can be recalled at will or sometimes volunteer themselves out of the depths of our minds.The nice thing is a person usually knows when he reads/hears such a joke/phrase that it’s been immediately admitted to that very exclusive club. “Got a whole deer? No problem!” Welcome aboard.

  3. Geigerin
    Posted January 22, 2007 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    I love it when infomercials have really obnoxious, overenthusiastic hosts…then you hit the pause button sporadically and watch the incredible contortions his/her face makes 😉

    My friend and I will be at your/JB’s concert on January 27! I’ve heard nothing but great things about you two.


  4. Domina
    Posted January 22, 2007 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    Improbably, the ode to infomercials is perhaps my favorite post of yours yet. The wordplay is as always delectable, absurd references and couplings everywhere… ‘Got a whole deer?’ Too, too marvelous.

  5. David from Charleston
    Posted January 23, 2007 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Now available in red, blue and tangerine!
    From $39.99.

  6. Anonymous
    Posted January 23, 2007 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Life IS a menu of never chosen options, which we ignore as we stumble by looking for our just desserts

  7. Anonymous
    Posted January 26, 2007 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    Apply directly to the forehead
    Apply directly to the forehead
    Apply directly to the forehead

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