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The good in shameless consumerist TV
On low oxygen levels inside the cabin, SkyMall, and why QVC might be good for democracy
Not that many years ago, the seat pocket in front of most air travelers contained three items: A safety card, an airsickness bag, and a copy of SkyMall. Though the last of the airlines stopped carrying SkyMall in 2015, the notion was sound. Bored travelers looking to amuse themselves in an era before free in-flight streaming could leaf through the pages of an objectively silly catalog of items. Most would buy nothing, but a few, perhaps under the influence of diminished oxygen levels, would find a novelty item irresistible and place an order.
■ The appeal of SkyMall wasn't far removed from that of "The Price is Right", America's favorite show to watch while you're a kid home sick from school. The unapologetic commercialism is the fun. It's not deep, it's not preachy, and it's free from any political agenda. It's just a celebration of the unvarnished sensation of consumer pleasure: Getting a thing you want for no other reason than that it's within your grasp and you (perhaps only fleetingly) want it.
■ Despite the proliferation of streaming services and channels tailor-made for every interest, there somehow remains room on the television dial for lots of channels devoted to nothing more than the amusement of stay-at-home shopping. In the Des Moines market alone, one can count several such stations, including "ShopLC", "Jewelry Television", and Home Shopping Network (both HSN-1 and HSN-2). There's a QVC affiliate, too.
■ At first, the observer might be bewildered that the stations can even afford to remain on the air (after all, how many people in a market of about a million viewers are even aware those channels exist, much less watching and buying things from them?). But perhaps we should set aside those bean-counting concerns and simply applaud the fact those channels are around.
■ A truly unfathomable number of hours are spent watching screens in American households. And the older people get, the more television they watch: Seniors are glued to the tube, on average, for about four hours a day. While we might like to imagine that the alternative to television viewing is time spent reading the classics or taking up woodcarving, it's a lot more likely that passive media consumption is the preferred mode of behavior for many.
■ And if that's the case, it may well be in the general public interest for many of those passive consumers to be plugged in to shows touting non-stick cookware and portable cordless fans rather than getting overheated and underinformed about more contentious matters, like politics. Just like SkyMall was a mainly harmless way to pass the time for people strapped into an aluminum tube zipping through the skies, perhaps the continued survival of at-home shopping channels is a mainly harmless way to keep at least some people blissful and mild.