A history of cheap stuff in America
WENDY A. WOLOSON
416pp. University of Chicago Press. $29.99.
WENDY A. WOLOSON'S history of America's toxic love of cheap consumer goods begins with an episode of the Twilight Zone from 1959, in which a kindly sidewalk hawker must attempt to distract Mr Death from taking a girl's soul. To do this, the hawker dazzles Mr Death with a fine array of neckties and the "sales pitch of a lifetime". He describes the polyester fabric as "the most exciting invention since atomic energy" and the sewing thread "as strong as steel yet as fragile and delicate as Shantung silk ... smuggled in by Oriental birds specially trained for ocean travel". Mr Death says he'll buy the lot. The episode, Woloson says, encapsulates the arousing style of American marketing: desperate yet charismatic salesmen and admen, seduction via diversion, and the upselling of trashy goods imported from overseas. Woloson's book is a history of buying "crap"--Magic Wand hand mixers, Beanie Babies, knock-off Staffordshire figurines, devices to measure the freshness of eggs (The Eggs Ray), hair in a can, Thighmasters, Baconizers--as well as a dossier of marketing ploys including one of the most fundamental of all: the "allure of...