In the Valley of the Shadow of Misfit Toys

In order to write this post I had to read through Skymall three separate times. Cover to cover. which was all the time I had allocated for reading Skymall in my entire life. The person next to me thought I was insane, but was enough of a gentleman not to let his expression betray his thoughts. He did what anyone who rides the New York City subway on the regular does; he refused to make eye contact and retreated to the inner recesses of his own mind. And for that I couldn’t be more grateful. Faced with the choice of explaining that I was taking blurry photos for a half-baked post on a blog that no one reads or lying, I would choose the latter. I wouldn’t even have a choice in the matter. The reptilian part of my brain that controls my fighting or my flight-ing would kick in, and flee I would as far from the truth as possible. My lie, whatever it would be, would be the kind of terrible rambling out-of-control lie that I only tell when I have to fabricate something on the fly. Usually, when when I don’t want someone to know what I’m really doing, I say that it somehow involves my work at the Make-A-Wish Foundation. I don’t actually work at the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but the point of this lie is hide the fact that I’m narcissistic 20-something that blogs about my life. Connecting taking photos from Skymall with helping children with terminal cancer would be hard, but I’m confident that I could do it in a way that was convincing to no one.  Thankfully the gentleman in seat 20A was able to recognize how emotionally unstable I am and just decided to steer clear.

That being said, the story of Skymall is ridiculous, right? I wish I could have been a fly on the wall during the meeting between the person that first thought of Skymall and an investor.

“Listen to this, Bob. I’ve just had a great idea. We’re going to sell products that no one in their right mind would buy. Like bat-shit crazy products.”

“I must admit Neil, I’m intrigued. When you say ‘bat-shit crazy’ what exactly do you mean?”

“Well Bob, I mean we’re going to create a one stop shop for people who want to purchase reproductions of Harry Potter set pieces, couch-sized Louis the XIV-style cat beds, and NFL-themed ping pong tables.”

“A catalog targeted at elderly lesbians and the nerdy orphans they adopted who will one day join fraternities at their state-universities…Neil you’re a genius! With a business model like that, it just can’t fail! Here take all of my venture capital!”

The products in Skymall push the envelope of uselessness in ways no one could have dreamed. Part of me really wants to believe that Skymall is actually a piece of subversive  psuedo-dadaist Marxist performance art commenting on the absurdity of modern capitalism. Each page contains products that are tackier and more un-purchasable than than the last — seemingly targeted at some niche population that can’t possibly exist. Like this first product:

Just what every demented gardener with an advanced degree from one of our nation's top universities needs!

Just what every advanced degree holder who is also a demented gardener needs!

Behold the Collegiate Garden Gnome.  Skymall has lots of products meant to appeal to proud alums, but this is by far the most ridiculous. This product is meant for demented future hoarders of America who also hold advanced degrees from our nation’s leading universities. I believe if you were to Venn diagram those two populations you would find that there is very little overlap. This is for all those people who used to be sociology majors, but now want all of their neighbors to know they have incredibly bad taste. Most of the college grads (and non-college grads) I know spend most of their time doing things besides filling their yards with garbage.

The next product below is geared toward pet owners; normally low hanging fruit when it comes to convincing them to buy things that they don’t really need, but…

Here's a frame they would never sell at Pier 1 Imports

Here’s a frame they would never sell at Pier 1 Imports

…. I don’t know very many people who both loved their pet enough to want to memorialize it, but also feel that “Thanks for everything” really captures the entirety of their relationship. “Thanks for everything” is the kind of thing you say at the end of the night when you’re at a party, but only know the hostess through a friend of a friend. This product is for those pet owners who both really loved their pets, but are also pretty indifferent to its existence. Also, there is nothing that precludes you from using to frame something besides a picture of a dead pet. You could just as easily use it for a picture of your dead granny or John McCain.  Personally, I would find a picture of my boss’ boss (the sexier, the better), put it in the frame, and mail it to myself at work. See if anyone asks you about those long lunches ever again!

Lots of companies sell clothing through catalog. Skymall sells wearable art. I wrote that line before I read the description of the next product, which actually contains the phrase “Because these shirts are a piece of art.” That is false.

What to wear if you want everyone to know you have schizophrenia

What to wear if you want everyone to know you have schizophrenia

“This shirt is great for a night on the town, frat parties, bachelor parties, stag parties or any other time time you want everyone to know you’re colorblind and/or want your friends to think you are a guido and a court jester .” If it’s “One of a Kind,” how can you buy two? More importantly, why would you want to?

2013-11-05 15.27.20

This membership program is for the alcoholic in your life that doesn’t get out very much. Each month Skymall will send you a new t-shirt displaying the logo of a dive bar that you’ve never been to. Most of the dive bar’s I’ve been to don’t actually sell shirts with their logos. They don’t sell much of anything besides beer that tastes like piss and an opportunity to forget that your life has been a complete waste.

2013-11-05 15.15.03

The worst part about this shirt is that we all know someone that would wear it. He probably works in IT and he probably also wears tube socks and Teva’s at the same time. Be a friend and help this person avoid a sexless future by reminding them that women like men who wear shirts that don’t make obscure references to one-hit wonders from the early aughts. Buy this person a membership to the dive bar of the month t-shirt club. As bad as this shirt is, what really bothers me is that the “Me,” “Dogs,” and “Let” are capitalized.

Guys, this next product is amazing. Its an exercise in the futility of existence. It’s the functional equivalent of the sound of one hand clapping.

2013-11-05 15.22.51

When I first saw the $300 VHS to DVD converter, I didn’t really know what to think. It’s sort of like really primitive a time machine, in that it lets you turn something from 1987 into something from 1999. I was really disappointed to read that that it cannot turn DVDs into VHS tapes. I have no idea why this was disappointing to me. Why I would ever want to turn a marginally useless device (DVD) into an archaeological relic of a bygone era (VHS) is beyond me. Also, where would I even buy blank VHS tapes these days? Skymall doesn’t even sell them, and Skymall sells everything that nobody wants or needs.

Occasionally, however, Skymall dips it’s toe into something awesome. The only problem is that these products will kill you.

2013-11-05 15.19.15

These two items come from the “there isn’t enough insurance in the world to cover your liability when you maim someone from using these products” section.

The first item is more revolutionary than the segway, which is to say that it isn’t actually all that revolutionary. If you’ve ever wanted to harness the power of the wind to recklessly propel yourself into other people than the “Large Super Skate Sail” is just the product for you.

Dubbed “the newest craze in outdoor games” by whoever wrote the catalog blurb at Skymall, the incredibly menacing “Human Sling Shot” can only be described as a medieval instrument of torture updated for the modern day P.E. class. There is no way that this product hasn’t already resulted in broken bones.

And then, just as my plane was getting ready to land, I found it. If Skymall were the Lord of the Rings, this would be the one to rule them all.

2013-11-05 15.13.20

No, that isn’t just an amorphous amoeba-shaped blob. It’s a Christmas tree ornament in the silhouette of a classic Eastern European potato dumpling. “Sure to become a family heirloom?” Not even if I were the last/poorest/most inbred descendant of the Hapsburg dynasty and this ornament was the only reference to Polish history on earth. Skymall describes it as “tastefully decorated” Get it? Tastefully…because its food! Haha! Oh Skymall you might actually be in on the joke that is your very existence.

So the next time you’re talking to a paleo-conservative libertarian and they’re condescendingly explaining to you how great the free market is, because like Obamacare or something, I want you to ask them to explain the efficiency of a market that rewards Skymall and Justin Bieber with untold wealth meanwhile you’re first grade teacher (the woman who taught you how to read) is clipping coupons from the Pennysaver.


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