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July 10, 2006 | by  | in Opinion |
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Elephants and Transvestites – The Shocking World of Infomercials

As any good university student knows, the mid year break is an amazing period of time. The shackles of education fall away, leaving nothing but free time, and the chance to cause suspect amounts of trouble.

Well that may be the case for most of you, but for an entertainment ‘journalist’, one’s job never ends. While you were out drinking yourselves silly, pretending to enjoy spending time with your parents, and trying to chat up that eighteen year old Swedish girl in the Yahoo chat rooms, I was chained to my TV scouring the airwaves for shows to review.

One of the highlights of my three odd weeks of TV watching was an infomercial for “the best slippers ever”. The product itself was nothing amazing – slippers that use foam designed by NASA scientists to contour to shape of ones feet. (Ironically it is foam that has caused NASA so many headaches with its shuttles…but unless you plan on launching your slippers into
space they should be safe for civilian use.) With a rugged rubber soul you can wear these wonder slippers out shopping, to the local barn dance or even on a date. They come in one colour only, Navy Blue, and make use of a highly under rated substance, suede. The makers could not have designed an uglier, more awful shoe if they tried. Still, the slippers did seem to possess at least some kind of orthopaedic benefits. Now before you get out your credit cards you may want to heed my warning – slippers are for crazy people.

The fact is, if you wear slippers out anywhere past your letter box there is a good chance that you will become one of those people whose sole source of enjoyment in life will come from complaining to younger, saner supermarket workers about the price of meat and produce back in your day.

Usually infomercials present a series of acid tests designed to show just how fantastic their product is. These tests are followed by coached “oos” and “ahhs” from a paid off audience and generally the whole thing is a complete and utter farce. Not this infomercial though. An elephant wearing a fancy outfit (a top hat and an overcoat) was lead up to a chunk of wonder foam. He was then instructed by the hostess to place his foot on the foam, and low and behold the foam not only did not buckle under their weight of the elephant, but actually supported his rather large elephant limb. The elephant was heard to say he quite enjoyed the feel of the foam against his skin and asked where he could get a pair for him, and the missus.

The fact that an elephant was used was brilliant. The fact that they found a talking elephant with a credit card was truly amazing. After this endorsement, any reservations I held about one’s mental status whilst wearing slippers disappeared in a flurry of speedy 0800 number dialling. OK, so I saw this at 3am, and perhaps my memory of the infomercial is a little hazy but the fact remains, if you want to sell your product, shock value is a good way to do it.

Susan Paul, one of the pioneers of the New Zealand infomercial scene recently used shock value in an attempt to resurrect her cosmetic empire. Her new product, a wax that takes off unsightly body hair with ease is, like the slippers, nothing new or amazing. But her infomercial for the wax made use of scantily dressed man-ladies. Nothing burns a product into your brain more than a large Samoan man being waxed by a small British woman. Sufficed to say my legs have never been smoother.

Have a good second trimester everyone!

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