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Suckas and Scammers: As Seen on TV

I was genetically predestined to order products from TV commercials. When I was a freshman in high school, my mom sent away for the GutBuster and the Thighmaster, and used them dutifully for two days, while my dad ordered the Dura-Shine car wax that ate the finish on his Datsun. For Christmas that year, I found a Braidini in my stocking and amused myself creating mohawk and topknot hairstyles that would have had the promoters of the "hair braiding and styling tool" cringing.

I did go through a phone-ordering phase as a child. I remember sitting in front of the tube during one of the Brady Bunch's commercial breaks dreaming of one day getting a credit card so that I could order a Craftmatic Adjustable Bed, Kenny Rogers' Greatest Hits, and a set of super-sharp ginsu knives that could saw through a tin can and still slice a tomato with ease. My brother and I sent away for Sea Monkeys when I was ten. Though their Instant Life was mildly impressive, we lost interest in our briny friends because the tiny shrimp never grew up to resemble the fantastic mer-monkeys on the box, even with their patented Growth Food.

And then -- as all idealistic children bombarded by Flowbee hair cutters and Richard Simmons' Exercise videos must -- I grew cynical. I had watched my grandmother battle her addiction to the Home Shopping Network (she still has a stockpile of cubic zirconia pendants in her garage...), and I heard about my cousin's phone bill after his indicriminate calls to 1-900 numbers.

TV entrepreneurs grew stealthier, though, and began to disguise their sales pitches as informational talks complete with enthusiastic audiences and testimonial from "experts." Although they didn't quite convince me to take out my credit cards and pick up the phone, some of these infomercials achieved some unintentional entertainment value. Susan Powter's "Stop the Insanity" fitness and weight loss infomercial, which shattered the late night TV airwaves for several years, deserves a belated Emmy. Anyone who saw Powter's frighteningly exuberant performance knows she would certainly dominate the "Outstanding Individual Achievement in an Infomercial" category.

The latest on-air spectacle to rival Powter's is Howard Berg's furious page-turning performance as he demonstrates his product, Mega Reading. Berg claims his "course" can turn anyone into a super speed reader in just four hours. And for only $169.95 plus $12.95 shipping and handling. A similar product, Ed Strachar's Reading Genius, claims it can show you how to read in "the zone." "Your eyes absorb entire sections," the promotional propaganda insists. "The pages stand out. The book becomes "alive", your memory activates and you remember it like a movie." Remembering books like movies, that makes sense. (Wait a minute! Who was it that starred in "Forest Gump?") You can order Strachar's Reading Genius for the low price of $395 ($297 if you order it over the Internet!) Go Speed Reader, Go!

If products for the home are more your area of interest, my friend Rachael has found a few with mind-boggling new technologies. She's been grappling with the mystery behind Miracle Thaw -- a simple piece of metal which claims to "speed up the natural thawing process" for frozen foods. According to the commercial, "The super-conductive metal tray absorbs natural heat energy in the air and transfers it directly to the frozen food." This alleged heat transference occurs without batteries, electricity or chemicals. Somebody, please explain; I just don't get it either. Miracle Thaw) can be yours to examine in the privacy of your own home for only $9.95.

Another product Rachael brought to my attention is George Foreman's Lean, Mean, Fat Reducing Grilling Machine. This amazing grill claims to cook healthier food in half the time by eliminating most of the fat. And the novelty process behind this miracle product is no mystery. As George explains, "Because the grill is higher in the rear than in the front, the fat runs away from your food." It's that simple. And it can be yours for three easy payments of $19.95 plus $9.95 for shipping and handling. If you act now), you will also receive The Lean Mean Thawing Tray (which bears a striking resemblence to Miracle Thaw...) absolutely free!

Oh yeah... remember to mention you saw it on TV.


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