September 10, 2009

Welcome Home: The Simple Genius of SkyMall

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I’ve never known I was closer to home than when I was flying back from Paris, France to Dallas, Texas, and found a SkyMall magazine in my seat pocket. Granted, I was flying high on Dramamine and a Jim Beam and Coke, but I could have sworn I had died and gone to aeronautic heaven. America, I’d missed you: Who could have forgotten such knick-knack paddy whack pleasures still exist?
Perusing this catalog of crap is almost like the joy I felt as a child picking out a gross (144 pieces) of worthless birthday party favors from Oriental Trading Company (…the name is for real). I was in deep, puppy-sick love with the materiality of shitty goods. Mmm, first world buying power, you taste so sweet.
So now, I submit to you a few reasons why SkyMall is so absurdly excellent, and the ridiculous products one can find therein.
According to Wikipedia, “[SkyMall, Inc.] originally offered goods from other companies’ catalogs for same-day delivery to customers arriving at select U.S. airports or, if the customer preferred, to their home or office via express shipment. To accomplish the same-day delivery promise, SkyMall operated its own warehouses located on the grounds of or near the selected airports.”
Genius! Allow passengers to take advantage of their lightheaded, irrational motion sickness by selling useless nonsense. Or if you, the passenger, forgot to buy one of those, “Someone Went to Salt Lake City, UT, And All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt” t-shirts, really impress them this time with a yeti lawn gnome.
Speaking of Big Foot lawn gnomes, thank Jehovah SkyMall exists, because I’d not know where to turn otherwise if I ever needed a life-size sculpture of him slinking stealthily through my begonias.
Guess who wasn’t upset to see the Ten Commandments installed publicly in front of a Texas and Kentucky courthouse? Dudes who already had their very own Ten Commandments lawn sculpture. Think you’re master of your garden? Moses and SkyMall would like you to guess again, my friend.
And that’s just the thing: Consumers are apparently driven to buy out of a want for kitsch. According to a New York Times article entitled “Coffee, Tea, Lawn Ghoul?” by Sarah Kershaw (Apr. 30, 2009), buyers are looking for a laugh. Says Christine A. Aguilera, SkyMall’s president, “There’s nothing wrong with that. But when you are standing eye to eye with a giant spider, you will be thankful you bought the ‘Keep Your Distance Bug Vacuum.’”
Look, X-tina, I will withhold judgment on this bug vacuum of yours. But otherwise, you are correct, Madam: there is nothing wrong with buying, buying, buying just to supplant that deep, aching loneliness inside.
Take, for example, the joy one can derive from the “Personalized College CD.” SkyMall describes it thus: “Give your sports fan of any age a thrill with a custom-recorded CD that makes him or her the star of a College game. The custom CD sounds like an actual 12-minute radio broadcast with crowd noise and amazing sound effects, but the announcer will say your fan’s FULL NAME more than 30 times!”
… To live vicariously through a fake game with fake game noises, with a fake sports broadcaster shouting your first and last name over 30 times in 12 minutes? Yes, truly thrilling. It’s almost like you’re getting exercise without doing the exercising!
Then again, if you have too many friends, you can just buy the nightshirt that says in clear, Times New Roman script, “Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel.” This item is sure to scare away any potential friends and lovers with the greatest of ease.
So, you see, SkyMall’s wackiest thrills and spills do indeed show that money can buy happiness, if happiness is the delight you experience upon unwrapping the four-foot package you ordered same-day during your transnational flight; to unwrap the box and stand face-to-face with a sweetly roaring T-Rex garden sculpture; and then to realize you spent, like, $400 on a lawn gnome during a recession.
As author Bill McKibben wrote in 2006 in Orion Magazine: “To browse [SkyMall’s] pages is to understand the essential secret of American consumer life: That we’ve officially run out not only of things we need, but even of things we might plausibly desire.”