SkyMall has been grounded, perhaps permanently. The parent company of the ubiquitous airline catalogue announced it filed for bankruptcy protection Friday, and not even a Hotshot Corporate Turnaround Specialist ($24,499.95) may be able to rescue it from the abyss.
If that is its fate, then fans of indefensibly stupid products the world over will weep.
SkyMall was never the first thing you grabbed on a long, dull flight. It was a surrender, coming somewhere over Wyoming, after you’d been softened up by the lulling rhythms of the airline’s official in-flight magazine (“Walt Disney: Man of Vision,” “The San Antonio You Don’t Know,” etc.). It was always there, tucked behind the barf bag and the laminated safety card. Its glossy pages suggested the end limits of material excess. It was never about what you needed, or even about what you’d thought you wanted. SkyMall moved to the apex of the commercial value chain — way past food, shelter and decent clothing — to a capitalist Valhalla of the sublime and the ridiculous.
The value added to this grotesque shlock was SkyMall’s enthusiastic descriptive copy. SkyMall’s writers never let on that they were essentially glossy carny barkers. No winks or nods, and no snark, ever. They played it all with a straight face — making, say, a Bigfoot garden “sculpture” seem like a reasonable, even classy, every-home-should-have-one purchase.
“With alleged Bigfoot sightings the world over, from the Himalayas to the Americas, this elusive, mythical legend has been captured for Toscano in a quality designer resin statue and hand-painted for startling realism,” reads the copy on Bigfoot, the Garden Yeti Statue ($2,250 for the life-size model), which “commands a unique presence in home or garden.”
Such small and cynical genius! “The Himalayas to the Americas.” “Quality designer resin.” “Captured for Toscano,” as if it’s something straight out of the Italian Renaissance. Somehow the words “amuse your friends, alienate your neighbors with this hilarious affront to good taste” never made it to SkyMall’s printer.
But let’s not be so superior, fellow travelers. Don’t tell me you weren’t tempted to tear out the page for something that fired your oxygen-starved brain at 35,000 feet. Don’t tell me you didn’t order it once you landed and got to your Ramada or Marriott. (More than anything, SkyMall was brought low by the Internet, which makes ill-advised impulse buying actually impulsive.)
I’m almost ashamed to confess my one SkyMall purchase, in what seems like a wasted lifetime of SkyMall perusing (in fact, the company has been around only since 1989). It was 15 or so years ago. As the constant but largely unsuccessful keeper of my lawn, I remain a sucker for anything that will keep it green and lively. One day, I spied in SkyMall’s pages a solution for my ever-dying grass: Spiked Aerating Shoes.
Yes, for $12.95, I could strap on these clogs, at the bottom of which was a bristling array of long, metal spikes. By stomping around for a few hours — “wear them even while working in the garden!” — I could punch holes in my lawn, enabling water and nutrients to permeate the turf and eliminate a job that a professional lawn-care company could charge hundreds for (feel free to use that line, SkyMall). Anyway, I was sold.
The aerating spikes arrived a few weeks later, long after I’d forgotten I’d ordered them. I eagerly attached them to my shoes and strode to my front lawn to commence aerating. The spikes certainly performed as advertised, but with one unadvertised problem: Every step in them was like stepping into quicksand. They sank deep into the soft earth, holding me fast. Each subsequent step was an invitation to a torn hamstring. Plus, I looked like a dork walking around in 9-inch spiked clogs.
My $12.95 purchase immediately went into the backyard shed. I can hear it rusting away still.
I’ll miss you if you go, SkyMall. Amazon just isn’t as much fun.