Monday, February 23, 2009

In These Uncertain Times...

RANDOM ramblings:

I did a highly unofficial survey the other night which I will nonetheless use to draw several major conclusions.

In a two-hour period, I counted at least eight television commercials that began with the phrase "In these uncertain economic times."

"Uncertain"? There's nothing uncertain about it. The economy is in the Dumpster, it appears to be getting worse, no one is sure what to do about it and instead of mounting a unified attack, our lawmakers are playing two-hands-below-the-waist political football.

That doesn't stop advertisers from playing on our fears. Which is nothing new. Our homes smell bad. Our laundry is dull. Our insurance is inadequate. Our dreary lives would sparkle with the right car, the right beer, the right deodorant.

We are continually reminded that we are one step away from the horrors of identity theft, restless leg syndrome and erectile dysfunction.

And now the economy. Send in your unwanted jewelry. Get rid of that timeshare. Borrow money against your next paycheck.

There's one firm, however, that is flying in the face of all this gloom.

An ad in the Los Angeles Times sports section last Sunday promised to free us from the surly bonds of bad news if only we'd slide behind the wheel of their product.

That product would be a Rolls-Royce.

Which is great if you can come up with the $40,000 or so you need to plunk down at the inception of the lease. And handle the $4500 a month charge,

You have to wonder how many potential Rolls owners are out there in the land of foreclosures and layoffs.

Then it became clear. That ad wasn't aimed at the rest of us. It had to be aimed at our professional athletic class. Who else could afford a ride like that?

Speaking of advertising, there's a new cult classic out there brought to you by the good folks who produce infomercials.

Infomercials are to art what burritos are to fine dining but the cheesy acting and corny products have endeared them to many who find humor in such things.

Most of them have on thing in common: They offer to cure problems you didn't know you had.

The runaway hit of the season is the infomercial for the Snuggie, a kind of blanket with sleeves that you wear as a robe. It promises to keep you warm on the coldest of nights.

The commercial opens with a Women in Distress, a staple in the infomercial genre. This particular lass is struggling to stay warm under a normal blanket. It's too small and as she wiggles seeking warmth she becomes entangled trying to free her hands to answer the phone. Her only alternative is to crank up the thermostat which emits dollar signs when she turns the dial. What to do?

The Snuggie to the rescue. No matter that this article of clothing makes you look like a Druid or a member of a cult that worships comets.

Why, they're perfect for the entire family and one size fits all. We see one Snuggie-adorned family toasting marshmallows by a roaring fire and another enjoying a sporting event from the stands.

Of course, none of the non-Snuggie crowd will have anything to do with them since they look like they may be conducting an Inquisition sometime soon.

This informercial has become such a pop culture stable that a couple of 20-somethings in Chicago are organizing a Snuggie pub crawl next month.

Their aim: To get 1,000 people wearing Snuggies to walk down Clark Street.

It may come as a surprise but journalists have a human side, at least on occasion. Take Gay Talese, for example.

The reporter turned author was running errands the other day, according to his New York Times blog, when he encountered a number of panhandlers seeking money.

Most of them held signs reading "Homeless. Please help."

Under the theory that everyone needs an editor, Talese decided their message needed an upgrade.

So he went home and printed out a new message for them to use: "Please Support Pres. Obama's Stimulus Plan and begin right here at the bottom ... Thank you."

At least one of the panhandlers reported that the new message boosted his daily take by $10 or $20.

Given the state of the newspaper business in this country, journalists may want to consider creative panhandling as an income supplement.

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