The Common Good
April 2009

It's the Simple Things

by Ed Spivey Jr. | April 2009

With the nation facing fiscal uncertainty (actually, complete and absolute certainty—just like the in­evi­table wedgie I got every day in junior-high gym class), maybe ...

With the nation facing fiscal uncertainty (actually, complete and absolute certainty—just like the in­evi­table wedgie I got every day in junior-high gym class), maybe it’s time to take a break from our anxieties and appreciate the simple pleasures in our lives, the ones not yet taken away by rogue bands of unemployed bankers.

What really matter are the daily celebrations of life, those little moments of com­passion and joy that separate us humans from the animals (except for dolphins, whales, mountain gorillas, Canada geese, and various other species who have highly developed social orders that have not, at this point, been compromised by a failed banking system).

Personally, I like to watch a little television of an evening, a cost-free activity that, though joyful and deeply satisfying to a superficial person such as myself, has not been without controversy in the home. My spouse and I have a long-standing difference of opinion about the TV’s location. I like it in the living room. She prefers it sitting on a shelf at a thrift store. So we compromised: I can watch, but without the sound. This way she is not distracted from the reading she so enjoys, including her latest book, an autobiography of a woman who lived for three decades in Stalinist Russia. (I skimmed through a few pages, and maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t think it was that funny.)

Not that I don’t enjoy reading myself. I, for one, can’t wait for John Grisham’s next novel, The Noun. But in these days of fiscal uncertainty … which reminds me of an incident at my junior high cafeteria ... [Editor’s note: We GET it, already! Move on.] I prefer television—specifically, really bad television. Even with the sound off, nothing purifies the soul and elevates one’s battered sense of superiority like watching the worst the small screen has to offer. I refer, of course, to the Home Shopping Network.

Though consumer confidence is at its lowest point in 40 years, you wouldn’t know it from HSN, that delightful and delusional oasis of positivity in a desert of fiscal doubt. While the Dow goes down another 100 points, 215 customers just bought Loulou de la Falaise T-Strap Heels—“just GORGEOUS!!”—for “only two easy payments of $39.95!” (You get the fun of paying twice!) Another 131 people just bought the $119.95 Teeter Massage Mat—with gravity boots, “so you can hang upside down!”

Host: “How does that feel, Bobby?!”

Fitness model Bobby (hanging upside down): “I’m upside down ... and I feel REALLY FIT, although that may have more to do with my family’s genetic history than this exercise device. Oops. Forget I said that.”

Its producers might not realize it, but the Home Shopping Network actually benefits from an absence of audio. Regardless of the product being sold, the rabid enthusiasm of the hosts is so visibly heartfelt you can feel the exclamation points projecting out at you. Guest host Tony Little—a short, ponytailed, and clinically insane fitness guru—needs no sound to convey his manic salesmanship as he darts breathlessly between various machines—each operated by a smiling fitness model with perfect form (see genetic predisposition above). Tony’s over-caffeinated product devotion fills the air with a constant spray of spittle, and he never stops moving (presumably to frustrate the efforts of white-coated psychiatric personnel hoping to apprehend him).

Other hosts are more stationary, but no less hypnotic. Their eyes bright with Material Love, they mouth rapturously as they caress the product of the hour. I am transfixed by the close-ups of ringed and manicured fingers holding objects in a buy-sexual bond of love that, let’s face it, Gandhi just wouldn’t understand.

When my spouse gets up to take a phone call, I quiver in anticipation while turning up the volume of a utopian place where bliss is only a bauble away and ... ohmygosh ... they’re about to do an on-air FACIAL! I settle more comfortably into the couch. The camera closes in on the face of a 70-year-old woman as she is slathered in moisturizing emollients. Minutes later she emerges, as if by miracle, as a woman in her late 60s!

Yes, be it cosmetics, travel-size appliances, or computer systems (“This one has a screen you can turn off or on at the touch of a button!” “Turn that screen off and on again, Cheryl. WOW!”), HSN is the welcome antidote to a world that now thinks it should, like, save?! (Shudder.) When a credit card number is all that’s keeping you from temporary happiness, why should you wait? Do the economy—and your nation—a favor. Tune in to the Home Shopping Network and see what you need. Operators—at least the ones not laid off and, possibly, speaking from India—are standing by.

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.

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