Arrow-right Camera

Nation/World

Crass Infomercials Insult Intelligence, Reflect Dumbing Of America

Wed., March 29, 1995

An article in the Los Angeles Times recently said shoppers are smarter in the 1990s than ever before in the history of consumerism.

The revelation comes from a source with a credible sounding name - the Consumer Federation of America.

It turns out to be a Washington, D.C., lobby interested primarily in justifying and perpetuating its existence.

“Americans,” expounded federation Executive Director Stephen Brobeck, “are far more sophisticated shoppers today than they were 20 years ago - they have information coming from all directions.”

And how.

What’s more, crowed the lobbyist, “Sellers are more responsive to consumers and less willing to take advantage of them - but that’s because consumers are more aware and more demanding.”

Y-e-a-h, r-i-g-h-t.

And if you buy that, you might also agree that there’s a direct correlation between consumers’ newly acquired sophistication and the growing glut of infomercials on TV.

Ick.

Sunday’s Spokesman-Review carried a story from the Philadelphia Inquirer about the emergence of this new “mainstream marketing tool.”

Sad but true.

However, the article says infomercials are becoming “respectable.”

Impossible.

The format is patently deceptive and misleading. The script is unimaginative. Boring. Totally asinine.

And the acting is one step down from TV wrestling.

How otherwise sane and rational human beings can bring themselves to buy anything from these snake oil sharpsters is beyond understanding.

But obviously more and more of America’s increasingly savvy shoppers take the bait. This is a shocking commentary on the mentality of consumerism in a politically correct, permissive, non-judgmental society.

Playing to the lowest-possible common denominator, infomercials are chilling new evidence of the dumbing down of America.

“What we are seeing here,” syndicated columnist Dave Barry recently said of those who buy products pitched by sports stars, “is yet another example of a worsening problem that has been swept under the rug for too long in this nation - the invasion of Consumers From Mars.

“They LOOK like humans. But they don’t ACT like humans. And they are TAKING OVER.”

As to the offending sports figures, the Pulitzer-winner said, “Michael Jordan should be required to make a commercial in which he tries - and fails - to jump over the pile of money that Wheaties pays him to pretend that breakfast cereal has something to do with basketball ability.”

Or heroics.

Another humor writer (and closet curmudgeon, it would seem), Ray Recchi of the Fort Launderdale Sun-Sentinel, wryly observed a few years ago, “It’s time to stop pussyfooting.

“It’s time to stop asking each other what’s wrong with this country. As if we didn’t know.

“For years, we’ve been ignoring or denying the real problem because it’s not considered polite or politically correct to acknowledge it. But you know what’s wrong with this country, and so do I.

“A lot of Americans are just plain stupid, that’s what’s wrong.”

He was making light of those who watch television talk shows like “Geraldo” and “Oprah,” etc.

But the shoe also fits those among us who actually buy things offered on infomercials.

The whole infomercial approach is an insult to intelligence. The “host” or “hostess” is phony - a hired shill. The “special guest” is phony - typically the producer of this travesty. The audience is phony - paid to clap and exclaim: “That’s incredible.”

Nobody is who or what he or she pretends to be.

This concept could only appeal to someone begging to be exploited. But the medium is multiplying faster than any other “program” on the tube.

Infomercials used to be relegated to the wee hours. Now they air round the clock.

Psychic readings. Exercise equipment. Self improvement. Gimmicks and gadgets of every description. Miracle cleaners. Fast-buck schemes.

It’s a billion-dollar-a-year sales industry.

It has its own academy awards. Its own trade association.

The S-R story last Sunday said an infomercial by a high school dropout named Tony Robbins who teaches motivation, of all things, has grossed over $150 million.

The story quoted infomercial guru Jon Schulberg as saying, “The old-school players will be purged. It’s a bigger business that will require more sophisticated practices.”

Let us pray.

xxxx

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review



Click here to comment on this story »