Screenshot: the egalitarian lure of late-night TV commercials

So I'm now semi-addicted to Law & Order: SVU -- although, honestly, it is difficult for me to understand why there are apparently so many people with sex dungeons in NYC when they can market that sucker as a mid-town studio and rake in $1200 a month, and I wish an episode would explain why Buffalo Bill has forsaken the siren song of capitalism for a lifetime of pushing his skin cage regimen onto others -- and today, as I was intently deshelling four pounds worth of pistachios, I was burning through the backlog of the USA Network's marathon and not bothering to fast-forward through the commercials.

And what a mother lode of sociological imagery I stumbled upon!

Daytime TV commercials make me want to scoop out my brain with salad tongs because they usually revolve around the following themes:

A. Woman, your house is a filthy hovel, and you're too blame.

B. Woman, these short people living with you insist on being fed. What are you going to do about this?

C. Woman, you have failed to maintain the tight and slender contours of a 15-year-old. Try these chemical cocktails in lieu of eating nutritiously and recognizing that it's patently insane to try and look like a teenager when you're in your 30s or 40s.

I don't know about you, but I see being a stay-at-home parent as a job, and it's sort of insane that it's one of the few workplaces where you get on-the-job critiques from total strangers via a talking box. Sure, you can turn off the TV, but why should you have to?

(Sidebar: I am persistently baffled that the most popular mass-marketed, female-targeted sales pitch in America is "Lady, you are FLAWED." What did working- and middle-class women do to deserve such contempt from the people trying to sell it stuff?)

ANYWAY. The infomercials on the USA channel at night tell a whole different story. There's a two-minute spiel where men in baseball hats earnestly tell you how penis pumps have reinvigorated "the best part of life," and there are chatlines that are refreshingly contemptuous of the dumb suckers paying $1.99 a minute to talk to what are allegedly lingerie models, and there are machines exhorting everyone to tone their obliques.

The entire landscape is one of alleging to solve problems you may not have known you had had ("Oh my gosh! I hadn't realized I needed to dial into 1-900-Algonquin-roundtable!") and it's blissfully egalitarian, because for once, it's everyone who's got embarrassing little conditions like Acute Beer Belly. And because we are all flawed in TV's eyes, we are all on equal footing. That makes it easier to reject all the pitches and not wonder why the channel seems to have it in for anyone who identifies as female.

And we can come together, to watch Billy Mays scream at us to get a device that broadcasts our cellphone conversations on our car radios, and murmur, "He's pitching from beyond the veil." If that's not bliss on TV, I don't know what is.

by Lisa Schmeiser
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