Inspector Gadget

By Beacon Staff

If you’ve ever seen the classic television show, “The Honeymooners,” you may remember an episode where Ralph and Ed are convinced they’ll become millionaires with a kitchen gadget that they’ll sell on television. Jackie Gleason was “Chef of the Future” and Art Carney was his shill. Of course the deal went sour because Ralph got stage fright and no amount of prompting from Ed could save their pitch.

Yes, way back in the 1950s, even in its infancy, television was the medium of choice to hawk miracle gadgets that would perform any number of tasks, making claims that they would take all of the drudgery out of kitchen work.

Fast forward to 2009 and not much has changed. Tune in at any hour of the day or night on any television station in America and you are likely to hear a breathless announcer shouting: “But wait! Call now and we’ll double the offer!”

Almost every day, it seems, there’s a new gadget being advertised that alleges it will make your life easier, simplify any number of tasks around the house, or cure whatever it is that ails you.

I am a confessed gadget addict. Some of the drawers in my kitchen are brimming with every conceivable kitchen tool you can think of. The majority of them, of course, are professional grade. But I’ve bought my share of these alleged miracle gadgets, largely out of curiosity. Most of the miracles are now in boxes in my garage because I buy them, use them once, find out that in general they are useless and then toss them in a box for a garage sale of the future.

The most annoying pitchman has got to be Billy Mays. I don’t know why he feels he has to scream at me to sell whatever he’s selling. I’ll be watching TV late at night, close to dozing off and on comes Billy at full volume hollering at me because my laundry isn’t white enough, my tile grout is messy, my onions haven’t been chopped properly, or some other household catastrophe that has to be solved right away for only $19.99.

Then there’s “Chef Tony” in all his Brooklyn-accented glory, decked out in his chef whites pitching knives, choppers, storage devices, and every conceivable device to simplify things that I had no idea needed to be simplified. Now why would I try to cut a piece of wood or a leather boot and then peel a tomato? And if his knives are so great, why would he sell me two sets for the price of one (just pay shipping and handling)? That right there should give you your first clue about what these things are worth.

The airwaves also carry grandmotherly “Kathy” who also sells sandwich makers (who knew it was so difficult to put two slices of bread together?), pasta steamers, and other nonsensical devices. A few years ago she was hawking a plastic tube that supposedly cooked your pasta in less time. But properly cooked pasta needs the movement of boiling water to cook properly, yet Kathy claimed that all you need do is add hot water to this tube, close it up and it just a minute or two your pasta was “perfectly cooked.” In reality, it was perfectly gummy and nearly inedible. When the directions on the box say boil for 8 or 9 minutes, there’s a good reason for it.

The godfather of all of these direct response television ads and infomercials is inventor and entrepreneur Ron Popiel. He did the Ginsu knife, the pocket fisherman and his last endeavor was the “set-it-and-forget-it” rotisserie. A lot of his stuff was clever, but a lot of it was pretty goofy, too.

Most of these gizmos are pitched for a few months on television and they eventually make their way into discount stores. These are the things that keep factories in China humming, and they turn them out by the hundreds of thousands. So if you’re of a mind to buy this junk, save yourself the shipping and handling and wait until it shows up in Wal-Mart or Target.

But here’s the bottom line: P.T. Barnum had it right more than one-hundred years ago when he said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” With 150 million homes in the U.S. with television sets, there is an endless audience of suckers.

Do yourself and your local economy a favor. If you really need a kitchen gadget, go to your local kitchen store or department store kitchen department and spend the money locally. Chances are, whatever it is you buy will be a quality product and it will be a lot less hassle if you have to return it.

But wait! There’s more! No there isn’t. I’ve finished my rant.

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