There it sits, usually fairly dog-eared, in the seat pocket of every domestic American plane - the ubiquitous SkyMall catalog. Trapped in your seat for that first fifteen minutes, realizing that the seatbelt sign is still on and you can’t play with your computer yet, it’s pretty much the only thing you can do; graze though and marvel at the wonders that lie inside - the hotdog cookers, strange watches, Lord of The Rings limited-edition jewellery and endless technological doo-dahs that make the mid boggle. Time to look more closely.
SkyMall is a specialty publishing firm headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona that produces a quarterly in-flight publication with an annual circulation of approximately 20 million copies distributed in airplane seat pockets, seen by approximately 88% of all domestic air passengers in the United States, reaching more than 650 million air travelers annually.
Known for its eccentric and often seemingly random product selection, SkyMall is often parodied in popular culture. Comedy troupe Kasper Hauser released the book“SkyMaul: Happy Crap You Can Buy from a Plane” as an unauthorized parody of the Sky Mall catalogue. It features absurd products such as the Banana-ganizer, Self-Pepper Spray, Llamacycle, and Living-Room Beluga Aquarium.
Reference in music and TV include “SkyMall” by Jonathan Coulton and the How I Met Your Mother episode “The Goat.” SkyMall has also been parodied in the Nickelodeon show Victorious and was mentioned in a 2010 episode of The Simpsons. In the third Blue Collar Comedy Tour film, One for the Road, Bill Engvall jokes about the addictive nature the magazine has on him, comparing it to crack cocaine.
In his article in Slate: “A Close Reading of SkyMall,” Ron Rosenbaum states: “Gadgetization has even invaded the airline-mag category of “executive” self-improvement and motivational tools. In the ad for Successories®, “your complete source for workplace motivation, inspiration and recognition,” the magazine features the “Power of Attitude Pen Holder.”
Then, of course, there are solutions for problems you didn’t realize were problems: “Radio controlled snack float brings food and drinks to you!” while you’re relaxing on “the world’s most advanced self-propelled pool float!” While all the while inside your washer the “Bra Baby” is doing its thing, making sure that it’s safe to wash and dry padded bras “without worry!”
I could go on: the “pre-programmed wine chiller,” the “Life is a Journey” bracelet. And “the Ultimate Gear Management Solution,” a “travel-vest” that has “29 hidden pockets”—the emphasis on storage management reflecting the uneasiness of the traveler always feeling out of place, with no hidden pockets to hide in. Thus, the proliferation of ingenious storage devices which give the comforting illusion that, in a larger sense, everything can be made to fit—including you.”
What Of It? Well, someone has to be buying this stuff; in fact a whole lot of people do - I actually sat next to a harried tech executive a few months ago on a six-hour flight back from San Francsico and watched him systematically go though the SkyMall catalog checking things off - a revolving cigar humidor, a fancy decorative spool for his garden hose, outdoor fake-rock speakers for his deck. I guess the combination of content (stuff you literally don’t see in the stores) with the unusual context (trapped 33,000 feet in the air with its heady oxygen mix) provides a sense of secret pleasure, of treating oneself, an antidote to the confines of the business travel you are probably in the midst of, an ability to throw caution to the wind and buy, well, anything.
I Am Curious about the aesthetics of mass invention, about the secret permissions we grant ourselves when no one is looking, about shopping in different contexts and about the need to satiate ourselves with products that somehow amuse and lighten our daily loads.