I have severe insomnia, and sleep less than the bullfrog (which Google tells me is the one animal that does not sleep. At all, ever), which means that I spend my time with a book, in front of the computer (which, obviously, I am doing right now) and in front of the television, which I only do as a last resort because there really is nothing even half-decent on there anymore.
So when it’s nearly 6 a.m, and I’m still struggling to fall asleep as my mum wakes up, I switch on the TV to see what’s on there, which is never, never anything but infomercials for all sorts of things. I always wondered who in their right minds would watch the shit that was on the telly, then I yelled ‘mea culpa!’ ‘mea culpa!’ and resigned myself to being one of those people:
a) too lazy to get off their behinds to get the remote and change the channel
b) Have serious insomnia and cannot sleep a wink, not even if they wanted to (which they rarely/never do)
c) You, dear reader, because let’s face it – at some point or the other in your life, no matter where you’re from, what you do, or how old you are, you’ve watched that stuff. Without flipping channels. And watched the infomercial from start to finish – sometimes even multiple times. (Don’t be embarrassed. We all do it.)
You see all kinds of stuff being sold on television. Everything from stain removers, newfangled vaccum cleaners, smoothie makers, blenders (and about 3021452 other kitchen appliances) and exercise equipment to body shapers, cosmetics, face washes, hair-removers (more on this one later) to the most disgusting of all, women’s underwear. ( I do NOT mean women’s underwear is disgusting, far from it, but in my humble opinion, wanting to buy it off the telly/internet is. Extremely so.)
While a lot of the infomercials are for products designed in the United States or United Kingdom, the funniest are the local ones, all of which have people peddling religious stuff to ‘protect you from the evil eye’ – they even show bright red laser beams coming out of the person’s eyes, and shooting into somebody else’s, like some sort of alien mating ritual, or something straight out of The Man Who Fell to Earth (although that’s paying the idiots who make these ads a compliment they really, really do not deserve.)
I’m going to discuss the global infomercials first, the ones with obscure products from the United Kingdom/Germany/China/you name it.
These guys seem to have some rule of thumb they go by while making their little ‘movies’. Most of them are for cosmetics/cosmetic related products, and control underwear seems to be extremely popular.
First, you find a diverse group of women (tall, short, fat, thin, old, young and all different races) because we have to show how they’re all the same. Before you say ‘of course all people are the same, no matter where they’re from’, that’s not what I mean at all. By the same, I mean all of them seem to have that same haven’t-taken-a-shit-in-three-weeks look on their faces when they look in the mirror, and they all have the same problem – husbands/boyfriends that have issues with their wobbly bits, and the degree of constipation seen on their faces is directly proportional to their general dissatisfaction. All-female audience (again, all diverse) nod their heads and cluck sympathetically.
Enter knockout, quasi-celebrity,super-fit hostess who really doesn’t need slimming ANYTHING at all, dressed in such a way as to show her flat stomach, breasts (if she has big ones, and they all always do), and her perfect bum, which is the result of exercise/dieting/starvation/surgery or some permutation or combination of the above, claiming that it isn’t her, but the undies.
The hostess then introduces another semi-celebrity — a makeup artist, washed-out soap opera star, or something in that milieu, with a 5-minute soliloquy on how difficult like this, with all the conviction of Meryl Streep.
Out come two models, who like the hostess are ridiculously skinny, modelling the shapewear, followed by someone we’ll call ‘lumpy-bumpy’. [She isn't, really, but from her behaviour (and that of the audience/hostess/celebrity guest etc.) you'd think she weighed 300 kilograms.]
Lumpy-bumpy is wearing a dress two sizes too small, and pinching at its clinginess. (Even if you’re a size two, you’ll feel suffocated and idiotic in a size 1 dress. Common sense. Which none of these people seem to possess, or aspire to.)
Cue constipated faces, apparent unsuccessful struggle to get gigantic turd out of system, and sympathetic head nods and clucks from the women in the stands. Suddenly, out comes the Hot-ess (that was intentional) with the miracle shapewear, getting an already normal sized, even petite woman into it.
A moment of suspense before new,made-over lumpy-bumpy walks out, to gasps, wide eyes, applause, amazed head nodding, and ‘Oh my GAWWWD!’ followed by much stomach-patting, nodding at self in the mirror, and, finally, the pièce de résistance – Lumpy’s husband, sitting in the stands or hidden somewhere, coming forth with a hug and a kiss and an ‘Oh my god, honey, you look GORGEOUS!’ – and Lumpy’s life-mission has now been achieved! You can have it too, if you order this crap:
Bad dubbing is something I won’t go into, simply because it’s far too commonplace.
Slimming products are exceptionally popular, no matter what they’re made of. To sell them in India (or to hippies elsewhere), all you have to do is attach the word ‘ayurvedic’ (even though their contents are extremely questionable) to them, and voila, you’ve got yourself wads of cash. For instance ‘ayurvedic’ Slimming tea, for people who ‘exercise and eat perfectly healthy food but are still obese’ (there’s a term for them, and it begins with B and ends with S). [This does not include people with genuine medical issues - but then again, they should be in a doctor's office, and not watching an infomercial, for a solution.] Slimming tea ads, however, are especially terrifying – one showed a ‘homemaker whose husband had had an affair because she had put on weight after having a baby’ – that is, of course, the most unnatural, abhorrent thing in the world.
There’s also slimming oil – they even show a VERY badly photoshopped obese man, complete with a terribly-edited, fake paunch that would make Santa Claus envious. If you have a busy lifestyle (and seemingly can only take in food that has been fried a trillion times in enough oil to give the world’s entire population enough cholestrol issues to last three lifetimes), it’s simple – all you have to do (and this is paraphrased from the infomercial) is spread the oil across your belly, and as the fake doctor on the TV tells you, oil attacks cellulite, then attacks fat, and then gives you an ‘even, toned body’, and in the case of the slimming tea “a new, great personality and many, many friends!” <—- Quoted verbatim.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but the only way you can get one of those is eating right and exercising, unless you’re genetically predisposed to it, in which case, you’re extremely lucky. Here is a link to an article explaining what cellulite is (and how advertisers mislead everyone).
THIS is my favourite type of Indian Infomercial – the kind that preys on the rabidly religious and superstitious (most of whom deserve it) .
You are warned of how, if you are successful, you will necessarily attract jealousy (sure, okay, natural human emotion).
But with jealousy comes the evil eye, of course, and with the evil eye comes your downfall, the end of everything you hold dear.
Your factory will burn down (sure, evil eye, not arsonist, because THAT is logical), your baby will fall ill and/or cry (because that can’t be colic, or the fact that its immune system isn’t as strong as a full-grown adult’s), your business will fail, and of course, a hot favourite – ‘marriage proposals’ or ‘rishtas’ will fall through.
*DUN DUN DUUUUUUN*
What does the evil eye look like, you ask? And I oblige. (And apologise in advance for bad sound/video, but this is exactly the bit being referred to, and brilliant it is.)
Miracle remedy to all these problems? The Evil Eye Bracelet/Necklace/Ring/whatever else you wear as jewellery.
The sheer volume of evil-eye related crap on TV (and apparent evil in these ‘characters’) is astounding, and makes me wonder, sometimes – are all these doddering, plump, supremely rancorous women really from Frodo’s visions in the Mirror of Galadriel, dressed in saris, trying to fool us all?
So I came up with my own little illustration of what I think REALLY happens in these infomercials.
And as I let the hilarity of random ‘foreigners’ and token white guys talking about how much the evil eye charm helped them, and housewives who used a singularly effective combination of slimming tea and charms to bring their straying husbands back to them play in the background and wash over me, I am lulled into a mindless, relaxed sleep.