View to the West | Stealing Fun for Profit
May 29, 2007 | 275 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Peter Shelton

Since 50 is the new 40 and March is the new May, I guess it’s only natural that Halloween become the new beginning of the Christmas season.

Judging by the gift catalogues we’ve been getting, there is something else going on besides ambushing shoppers earlier and earlier. Not content to peddle the merely useless, manufacturers are now pushing stuff that actually subtracts fun from previously enjoyable activities. Here’s a sampler:

The $400 chrome/electric bongo board. (I still have a 1960s wooden version, consisting of a laminated wood cylinder and a plywood plank. It’s a mini teeter-totter on which you balance like a colossus, only with a rolling fulcrum.) This new catalogue incarnation “pitches and yaws at three different speeds – slow, medium or fast – forcing your abdominal muscles to contract in order for you to keep balance. An automatic timer shuts off the device after 15 minutes,” should you find yourself inconveniently unconscious on the floor.

Or how about a nice set of Unbreakable Crystal Cut Tableware? “This elegant tableware is made of the same durable polycarbonate used in fighter jet canopies and is completely shatterproof for formal holiday gatherings.” Set of six wine glasses, $44.95. Talk about taking all the drama – the Zen hand-work – out of washing the dishes! What about the clink of holiday toasts? What happens when your Greek friends come over and it’s time for the lusty hurling of the ouzo glasses into the fireplace? Anybody else concerned about the taste of fighter jet canopy?

Here’s one that ought to bring social services running right over, the Children’s Audio and Illuminated Comforter. For $200 you, too, can own a child’s comforter “that incorporates over 100 twinkling LEDs and an integral speaker that produce a three minute sound and light show to provide a safe, reassuring, relaxing way to help children fall asleep.” Child abuse! Ever try reading to your kids? “The boys’ comforter plays sounds including truck engines, sirens, walkie-talkies, rocket engines, and the beep of a satellite. The girls’ comforter plays cats purring, gentle breezes, music box melodies, babbling brooks, and chirping birds.” (I am not making this up.)

On the “run along outside and play” front, there’s this: The Television Interactive Snowboarding Simulator. For a mere 60 bucks, your kid can plug in and the game “translates a rider’s weight shifts into movement on screen, allowing young snowboarders to challenge lifelike slope in four game modes (show-off, time challenge, pipedream, and Tokyo megaplex).” No snowsuits, no fresh air, no slippery slope. No movement, no consequences, no worries!

This one’s right up there with last year’s Perfect Skipping Stones® in a can. It’s The Marshmallow Rotisserie. There we were beside the campfire. Everybody else was struggling with their crude juniper twigs, dropping their marshmallows, catching them on fire. So I whip out my Marshmallow Rotisserie, which “holds three marshmallows at once and uses a battery-powered motor to gently rotate the marshmallows for even melting without scorching, and uniform browning on all sides.” Eat your heart out Neanderthal s’mores makers! $39.95 without batteries.

I saved this one for last: The Crossword Puzzle Solver. “Simply type in partial words with question marks filling in for unknown letters, and in seconds a list of possible fits appears on the LCD.” Yessss! Heck yeah, I do the New York Times Sunday crossword!

Forget about dumbing down. The notion that this kind of extreme capitalism survives in the marketplace, that people actually buy this shit, crosses over into absurdist philosophy. It reminds me of the illustration I saw tacked to a friend’s wall. Two chocolate Easter bunnies face one another. The one with his tail bitten off says “My butt hurts.” And the one with his ears bitten off says, “What?”

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