Let me answer the first question on your mind: “Do infomercials ever count as television?” To that I counter, “Yes, they do.” After all, they are exclusively available for viewing on television sets, which is more than can be said for many of the moving pictures we beam our laser eyes at in this day and age. (I’m looking at you, Netflix.)
“Hold on a sec,” the astute critic might respond, “what about these shameless examples of the darkness of capitalism warrants serious commentary? Do you really think the same column space that heralds Bryan Cranston and discusses other such global concerns should be tainted with praise for the bottom–feeders of cable TV?”
I, again, say yes. For one, the infomercial, like all television genres, has a definite and time–honored structure. It soothes the weary with its predictable mise–en–scene like a cherished sitcom. It feeds your guiltiest of guilty pleasures, akin to the infamous daytime soap. It even oftentimes features celebrity guests, like select episodes of “Glee” or that one time Oprah was on “30 Rock.” And I dare someone to argue against the fact that it seamlessly incorporates a level of audience participation that “American Idol” will never reach (no matter how many times someone says, “America, it’s now up to you to decide”). Let’s be real, no one’s voted for anyone on that show since LaToya.
I still hold, however, that taste curators underestimate the artistic merits of the infomercial. The acting, for one, is seriously entertaining. (Just check out that one collection of GIFs of really ridiculously clumsy infomercial people attempting to do normal human tasks.) Unlike normal humans, however, infomercial actors drop lukewarm plates, slip on dry floors and break things with their ogre hands. They’re hilariously bipolar. Like Dorothy pre–Oz, their worlds are in black and white one minute and in the next, with a simple transitional scene wipe, technicolor. It’s exposition, climax and denouement in ten minutes. That guy Shakespeare takes two hours.
Perhaps I should come to terms with the real reason for my desperate attempts to legitimize this corny form of entertainment. Confession: an alternate title for this piece was “True Life: I’m Addicted to Infomercials,” which is possibly more embarrassing than “True Life: I’m Addicted to Reality TV.” Yes, people who watch reality television include pot–smoking teenagers, air–headed sorority girls and ironic hipsters, none of whom constitutes a class I aspire to join. But the only people who watch infomercials are old people. I’ll leave it to you to decide which is more depressing.
The truth is, though, I don’t just enjoy infomercials ironically. I watch them for comfort. For the assurance that somewhere, in the alternate universe inside my TV, there exists a world where life–debilitating problems can be solved with a “thing.” And all you have to do is buy that thing with three to five small payments and wait for it to show up on your doorstep. Second confession: I’ve never actually dialed the number on the screen. But I’m also that wimp who’d choose the blue pill, so go figure.