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What I Watched Last Night: Infomercial Armageddon

By Scott Buckner

Jesus H. Christ! First Michael Jackson croaks out of the blue, and now incredibly popular TV pitchman Billy Mays! Which rightly begs the question about whether having infomercial medical insurance is prudent, even if the federal government does happen to come up with its own plan, like, next week.

Either way, celebrity Armegeddon is certainly upon us. So even if you're only remotely notable, I wouldn't even bother getting out of bed for the next two weeks because the shit is really hitting the fan. This means you, Wilford Brimley.

*

Originally, I intended to write an endearing yet engaging commentary of Monday morning's 1:30 a.m. airing of Love, American Style on MeTV (UHF 26.2). Back in the day, my parents were huge fans of this show, which was basically a lot of fireworks and The Love Boat without the boat.

I'm going to guess that there were critics back then who didn't get Love, American Style because, in some respects, it wasn't what you'd call hallmark TV. But it was about as risque for the time as Laugh-In, and my parents - who were probably 10 years ahead of their time - got it, and I got it too back in the sort of groundbreaking days when my dad was installing an FM converter under the dash of our brand-new 1968 Ford Galaxie back when there was, like, only one FM station in all of Chicago - and that one station played polka music most of the time.

So what? Visionaries like those are how we ended up with the Lincoln Highway, the light bulb, and the Chevrolet Vega. Well, two out of three ain't bad, even though I was always partial to my uncle Dave's bitchin' pizza-delverin' Chervrolet Vega, especially since it was the only one in the United States that didn't rust out standing still or blow the aluminum engine. Hey, I had a 1972 Pinto in my news-reportin' days. We Buckners yam what we yam, and that's all that we yam.

Still, I've basically come to the conclusion today - with the help of WCIU's Me-TV and MeToo networks - that pretty much every TV show I thought I loved as a kid during the early 1960s through early 1970s was total crap. Sure, my parents and I and my two younger sisters shared our Sunday nights glued to Quinn-Martin/Irwin Allen TV juggernauts like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Land of the Giants, and The FBI; none of us knew then what we know now. We were a family, and we were all together every night over round steak and mashed potatoes and peas.

My dad, who used to laugh his ass off watching these shows for some reason or another (and the reason still escaped me during Monday morning's episode of Love, American Style), died in 1976. The fact that he thought the show was kick-ass funny even back when we were still watching it on a black-and-white TV set still makes the show more endearing to me because there really isn't much I have left to posthumously share about those days with a guy who who died almost 30 years ago.

Damn, I miss that man these days like I never knew I could 30 years ago.

*

Which really has nothing to do with what really pisses me off - which is the fact that, as usual, Love, American Style always happens to be followed by at least seven hours of infomercials on every single free-TV station in this city. I realize infomercials pay the bills that give cheap-asses like me free TV, but they also make people like me realize that the only thing everyone on the face of the planet wants to do is make you part with your hard-earned and hard-saved cash. Worse, it's an exercise which extends far beyond basic creature comforts like a box of cereal, a new washer or dryer, a bottle of beer or hair shampoo, acne makeup, a home gym, something to deal with that raging case of erectile dysfunction, or a new car.

Which in turn makes me appreciate every single public-TV station between Chicago and Northwest Indiana all the more. Even on pledge nights.

Truly, I'm not pissed off by the fine folks at General Mills or Kellogg's trying to convince me to spend five bucks on a stinkin' box of Lucky Charms cooked and packaged K-E-double-L, O-double-good, Kellogg's-best-to-you each mornin' by the fine, hardworking Americans of fine, hardworking American communities like Battle Creek, Michigan. No, it's the payday loan outfits. It's the bankruptcy lawyers. It's whoever's out of skim a huge percentage of your insurance annuity or workman's comp claim so you can just piss all your money away today. It's the the mortgage-loan renegotiators. It's the timeshare resellers. It's the car dealers that'll let you drive off with a car for $500 cash if you can get someone to give you the same paycheck stub that'll also legally (sort of) let you buy a gun for them in more neighborhoods than any cop might want to to think of. It's the bottom-feeder car insurance companies that'll be there just in case you don't need anyone to fix your car when it gets wrecked. It's the bottom-feeders.

Forty-five years ago, the worst thing any Chicago TV consumer had to be pissed off about was if they went to Ben's Auto Sales on Ashland Avenue and found out that Channel 26 TV wrestling promoter Bob Luce lied and nobody on the lot would Ben over backward to give you good deal. Or if you went into Burt Weinman Ford and found out that Linn Burton really wasn't for certain.

Now - and correct me if I'm wrong - I get the overwhelming feeling that if it's a commercial that pops up on a Chicago TV (and more so if it's on free TV during Cheaters, Maury Povich, or one of the plethora of TV-judge shows), it's a total fucking racket. How do I know this? Because I tried - for the hell of it - to play like I was a consumer (often more than once), only to get baited into buying expensive ancillary products like monthly newsletter subscriptions, website services, and maybe even my daughters sold into white slavery if I wasn't watching close enough. Sure, maybe you can get the latest government-freebie info through a hugely expensive newsletter subscription, but who are you going to trust more with your $500+ a year: Kevin Trudeau or Warren Buffett . . . or, on the very outside if you're not all hinky about him, Ross Perot?

*

The worst infomercial sucker-bets are - duh! - real-estate people like Dean Graziosi and John Beck, who swear they can show you how to buy pretty much all of the South Side - the Field Museum including the U-505 submarine, Millennium Park even without The Bean, the South Shore Railroad, and every strip joint and all the crack whores who come with them - for fifty bucks. Or, if you've listened to a certain Saturday morning AM-radio local-investor personality, you might know that renovating apartment buildings and renting them out to Section 8'ers is the way to make a bloody fortune in these trying times. Hey, maybe it is. And maybe I've seen enough on the Web to dissuade me from the infomercial to join SMC in favor of an outfit like Mail Order Associates in Montvale, New Jersey, if selling other peoples' shit is your thing.

However, I have a lifelong friend whose investing syndicate basically owned or rented an impressive chunk of Hegewisch, saw the crash coming months before it happened, and dumped absolutely everything. Smart motherfuckers, and they're not complaining - or buying - a bit. Sure, they're back to relying on good, old-fashioned hard work to make their neighborhood businesses provide the kind of living many of us would die to have. As if there's something wrong with that; I'll take getting rich the old-fashioned way over getting rich by leeching off others. Which is probably why I'll never be rich. Or famous. But that's OK. I can live with that.

*

The second-worse heap of the UHF infomercial dreck is Kevin Trudeau, the self-proclaimed public servant ("I'm not making a single dime off my books not available in bookstores I'm selling you right now!!! I'm doing this for you!!!!"). I became very aware of Kevin Trudeau when he was selling vitamin products for a multi-level marketing company before he discovered infomercials in the early 1990s, when I was working for an MLM guy's home-entrepreneur magazine in Tinley Park. Over the past 10 years or so, Trudeau's been making a living selling people tons of shit nobody wants anyone to know! Apparently, he's been entrusted with all kinds of shit the government doesn't want us to know about The Masons, whether UFOs are real, where Jimmy Hoffa is buried, whether swingers really have more fun, the answer to the Lincoln/Kennedy-Kennedy/Lincoln secretary conundrum, and whether Tiger Woods really could sail to Antarctica on a raft made of all the money he owns.

Wait, come to think of it, there was a time not too long ago when Kevin Trudeau was infomercial'ing a book about everything vitamin companies don't want you to know about, either. Hopefully you got your copy before you, like, dropped dead.

Next in line is real-estate guy John Beck, who almost certainly has a program (and beware of anyone who says you're buying a "program") to make you rich beyond your wildest dreams - as long as those dreams are considerably more complicated than buying the entire far southern suburbs by doing anything more than just walking into the Ford Heights village clerk's office and announcing, "Look, I'll take the whole mess off your hands for five hundred bucks."

Simply put, there isn't a single person on the face of the planet short of Mother Teresa doing anything (and really, even she's not doing much of anything these days) out of the goodness of their heart - especially if they're putting out a fucking infomercial that cost a boatload of cash to produce and buy airtime for. So how are public guardians like Kevin Trudeau and John Beck making huge amounts of cash if they're just charging your credit card a stinkin' pittance for these awesome secrets that can make Superman impervious to Kyrptonite and President Obama impervious to the constitutional amendment preventing him from serving a 30th term? They're making it by their telemarketer/phone answering people pushing - and pushing hard - subscription services which will cost you more in two months than most honest and decent mothers without a WIC card will spend on groceries in a year, that's how.

How do I know this? In the first place, I know this because I made the mistake of ordering Kevin Trudeau's book (which he says has sold millions!!! of copies, but now is only available available when you order his second book on free government money) about credit card secrets that even God doesn't want you to know about for my mother, who happens to be into this sort of shit. At the time, I ended up spending a good half-hour trying to convince a very nice woman on the other end of the line that NO!!!!!!!! I DON'T WANT ANYTHING OTHER THAN THE STUPID FUCKING BOOK I CALLED TO ORDER IN THE FIRST PLACE!!! So just take my goddamn order, willya????

After about two weeks, I got the book and thumbed through it just lightly enough to make it seem to my mother like it was brand new. She hasn't been repossessed or anything so far, so I'm guessing the book helped somehow. If she delivers me a wheelbarrow full of cash, I'll know Kevin Trudeau is a living, breathing god who with the ability to incinerate Mayor Daley with laser beams of death that shoot out from his eyes. In the meantime though, look away from your TV sets just to on the safe side.

Even worse was when, just for yuks and identifying myself from the beginning as a member of media, I thought I'd see what sort of flaming hoops I'd have to jump through to order John Beck's real estate course for the phenomenally-low price of what it cost my great-great-parents to buy a loaf of bread in 1862. Jesus fucking Christ - before this, I never thought I'd ever envision a time when an American consumer with a job and a valid Discover card with a cushy credit limit would actually have to beg a phone operator to relieve him of $39.95 just to so I could stop listening to a pitch asking me if I wanted to buy something to cover every individual grain of sand on the fucking beach. In an economy this fucked up, most smart order-takers would just take the money and run. Not so for this order-taker, who was apparently on a mission to piss the living fuck out of me to the point where, if I recall right, I told her to just screw the entire $transaction if that's the way she was going to be about it.

By the end of my experience (and I'd be happy to dredge up the transcript of the 2 a.m. call with the hapless John Beck telemarketer that I think is floating around my hard drive somewhere), I kept thinking people in Russia and China aren't just laughing at us - they're digging up Stalin and yanking Lenin off his dead-guy platform and pointing their crunchy 100-year-old fingers at us and making untoward comments about Red Dawn.

Too bad Lenin and Stalin can't come back and purge our infomercial shysters. For all I don't know about Russia, Siberia may actually be a halfway-decent place for them to spend the summer months at least.

-

Visit the What I Watched Last Night archives and see what else we've been watching. Submissions welcome.



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Posted on June 29, 2009


MUSIC - How Africa Adopted Jimmie Rodgers.
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POLITICS - SCOTUS's Border Wall Fiasco.
SPORTS - Black Athletes' Underused Trump Card.

BOOKS - The Hidden Places Of World War 2.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Wisconsin Is America's Goatland.


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