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Unprompted: Why Snake Oil Thrives in the 21st Century


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New fat-melting pill disintegrates fat cells while you sit on your ass. Its makers say it could put the diet industry out of business sometime this year. Wall Street analysts praise this new breakthrough. The analysts are unidentified. The ad features the picture of a really fat guy sitting on a couch, no doubt waiting for this pill to work. There is no “after” picture of the same slob.

A similar ad promises that thousands of plastic surgeons could go out of business by next year. Why? Because of Dermex-P, a pill that will make you look young again. Thousands of plastic surgeons will scramble for new careers. So says the ad. I called my derm. She wasn’t scrambling.

Then there’s this: Virginia ZIP codes turn up free silver coins for residents. For some reason it’s difficult to find a ZIP code that isn’t on the list. Everybody qualifies for the free money — that is, everybody who’s foolish enough to fall for it. Basically the ad says to send us money and we’ll send you more money.

Are people really that stupid? Apparently.

Where did I learn about this? Not the National Enquirer. It was an ad in a local newspaper. This otherwise legitimate publication seems to be so hard up for income that it will accept advertising for snake oil. It makes me want to buy newspaper space and advertise my perpetual motion machine, just as soon as I work out a few bugs. I have no doubt the newspaper will print my ad as long as I pay it to do so. It probably doesn’t care about the bugs.

I think back to my career in television, and the stuff we allowed advertisers to put on the air. Will never forget Mr. Microphone, or Grapefruit-45, a magical pill that melted away unwanted fat with no effort on the part of the stupid fat people who bought it. Of course part of the income from those ads paid my salary. But I never complained. Look around. There’s bountiful evidence that the love of money is the root of all B.S.

By the time I left television, other outrageous claims had taken the place of Mr. Microphone and Grapefruit-45. We’re now told on a daily basis that we can buy mattresses for 15 cents on the dollar. Sometimes less. A competing furniture store says it will sell you a mattress for 20-percent less than that. Run the numbers and you’ll see that there are hardly any numbers left. With free delivery tacked on you can go home with a $2,000 mattress you just paid 39 cents for. People will believe anything. That’s why we have so many weird religions.

All car dealers are overstocked. Next year they will be overstocked again. They’re always overstocked. If that’s an issue, they should stop buying so much stock. But then they couldn’t claim to be overstocked. Some say they have thousands of cars in stock and on order. That means if they don’t have the car you want in stock, they’ll order you one. MSRP is an acronym they all use, as if it meant something. It doesn’t. At best it means the manufacturer suggests you pay the moon for the car. But you don’t have to because, as I said, the dealer is overstocked.

On and on it goes. The diet supplement that tripped up our governor remains an unproven placebo — though Maureen took the pills and look what they did for her. Diet supplements like Grapefruit-45 and that other crap I mentioned earlier are just that … enticements to abandon our good sense and give our hard-earned coins to someone smarter than we are.

Speaking of which, I noticed the other day while flipping through obscure cable channels during weird hours of the night that Jim Bakker is back on the air. He’s lost his comb-over and looks pretty good. And he’ll gladly take your money if you’ll just send it to him. Jim has figured out that the end of the world is coming soon and he can help you prepare for it. Oh yes. Credit cards are accepted. S

Gene Cox is an author and inventor who recently retired from a 35-year career as a television anchor in Richmond. Connect with him at letters@styleweekly.com, or on Twitter at genecoxrva.



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