Thursday, November 10, 2011

Culture Corner: China - The Infomercial

Though they eat healthier here and tend to do a little more exercise than Americans, the Chinese are not without health problems. Heart disease and cancer, avian flu and AIDS are some of the things they worry about. And as in America, China also suffers from worse things, diseases such as inadequate breast size, teeth that just aren't white enough, ab muscles that refuse to come out of hiding, and the bane of geriatric men everywhere and constant source of junk mail with subject lines reading "get a stiffy in a jiffy", the dreaded acronym: E.D.  (Yes, erectile dysfunction has made its way to the Chinese market.  Some say birds carried it here via the tradewinds.) There are, however, some interesting twists in the way the Chinese go about infomercialling these health problems - some that even defy translation, but I will do my best.  (Though my tone may be… light, the information nevertheless comes from real examples I’ve seen on television.)

First up is that plague of plagues, disappointer of many a high school freshman, and
scourge of beauty queens: tiny breasts, which based on what I’ve heard, seems to be an epidemic here in China.  The line on tv goes a little like this:

“Having feelings of inadequacy seeing other women walk around with bosoms heaving to the moon? And as a result, do you want larger breasts? Sure, who doesn't? (In fact, I'll take an extra one just to show those hussies!) Well, all you need to do is drink this specially formulated tea - one recommended by the specialist Huan Liang who is just now slipping into his white labcoat so you'll think he's a real doctor.  Within three days, the tea will magically bolster your bust by inches! Look how it works so well in this amazing series of diagrams!  You can actually see the breasts growing!  Look at Jin Mei jiggling her tea-enhanced bosoms, can’t you imagine yourself with such mountains of chai deliciousness?”
Tea to make breasts grow, go figure. But it gets better.

“Are you feeling fat, overweight, and want to lose those four to five pounds you've been dying to get rid of? Well, wait till you see what we have for you.  Is it a pill? No. Is it an ab-flexer, or something like Tony Sith’s Gazelle?  No - but we have those if you want.  Is it a tea? (Good question.) No.  It's actually a pad that you stick to the bottom of your foot. Yes, we realize that it looks suspiciously like a Band-Aid brand band aid, but wearing it for two hours not only makes you lose a few pounds, it also leaves a stain on the pad that looks suspiciously like foot dirt.  Don’t believe this!  It’s de-molecularized fat!  Just look at the proof in this glamorous video representation of the patch at work.  Zhang Hao has just….”

Somebody is making a killing on this one. 

And as for bad breath, instead of offering highly attractive twins wearing bikinis, the Wrigley's Doublemint Gum people in China offer a depressed young man in his office's elevator.  But upon popping a piece of that juicy sweet, tongue-tingling winterfresh gum into his mouth, he is swept away to the grasslands of Tibet, the biggest of smiles is plastered across his face as he spiritedly rides a yak. (There is no other way to ride a running yak.)

I'm not making this up. It's true.

As for E.D., well, Chinese tv has yet to inform me how to cure this disease of civilization -thankfully. (Think of that diagramming…).  I've only seen Viagra on signs.  But based on the high level of biological detail advertisers use when selling a product on tv, I don't know if I want to know which levers are being pulled or buttons pushed inside the male… area to induce... happiness - relatively speaking.  In a more general, global sense, what I really want to know is, where does an 80 year old man find an 80 year old woman who wants to put this wonder drug, this marvel of modern science, to use? Any ideas?

My last example of an infomercial I’ve been witness to is something that could only come from China.  It goes a little something like this:

“Are you feeling down and out because Meiling is half-a-meter taller than you?  Are you tired of your friends looking down to speak with you?  Do you dream of looking the cupboards not the countertop in the eye?  (Cue black and white photos of Wang Ming looking sad standing next to his girlfriend who is significantly taller.)  Well, don’t fret any longer!  We have the solution for your height challenged desires!!  Just take a look at our amazing, stupendous, fantaba-babulous Ele-boot! (Cue color photo of Wang Ming standing a few centimeters above his girlfriend, smiling brightly.)  Yes, folks, without any chemicals or stretching, bone-breaking, or hypnosis (or tea!!), these amazing shoes, with their built in lifts, will give you those added few centimeters you need to be over the top!!  Just imagine walking the streets in confidence beside your love… standing in the office amongst colleagues during business meetings… and of course, having friends beg you to play basketball with them.  (As these lines are read, Wang Ming is pictured in the relative situation, his pearly whites blinding the camera on every occasion.)  And they come in a wide variety of styles and colors!  Just look at this Italian leather… and the black suede… and here, the sport model, suitable for any athletic activity!  (Words appear at bottom of screen: Ele-boot not responsible for twisted or broken ankles.) What’s our secret?  It’s in the patented design which cleverly disguises the lifts built into the heel of the shoe.  No one will ever know!  Call now and get a second pair free…”

You can imagine the rest.  That my friends, is globalization.

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