Twisted consumer catalog takes flight

SkyMaul

TEXT OF STORY

BOB MOON: If you've had to fly in the winter weather recently, chances are you've had a little extra time in your seat. Maybe you looked through that glossy airline catalogue — the one stuffed with high-end gadgets you never knew you needed? Now, a small San Francisco company is entering the niche industry of airplane catalogs. But some might consider their products, well, shall we say . . .questionable. Jeremy Richards takes us on a tour of mile-high marketing.


JEREMY RICHARDS: The Kasper Hauser airplane catalog promises to solve problems you didn't even know you had.

For the music fan, James Reichmuth shows me the exclusive iPod Shredder. I offer my own iPod for the demonstration

JAMES REICHMUTH: How many gigs is this?

RICHARDS: Uh, 40.

REICHMUTH: OK, so I set the shredder to 40 gigs and I just . . .

[ shredding sound ]

RICHARDS: You just actually . . . you literally shred my iPod.

REICHMUTH: Yeah, yeah. And, very fast. It'll shred 20, 40, it'll shred the new video iPod and it's just, it's the only thing in the market like it and I think we kind of got a lock. It's been very popular in dorm rooms. It'll also shred Ferrari posters and sunglasses.

Other Kasper Hauser items include the Home Beluga Whale Aquarium, the combination baby stroller/lawn mower, and the Llamacycle — a real life llama with its front legs replaced with a bike wheel.

Welcome to SkyMaul, that's M-A-U-L. If you haven't guessed by now, don't bother busting out your credit card. None of these parody products actually exists outside of the twisted minds of San Francisco Comedy Troupe Kasper Hauser.

But James Reichmuth admits there is a real intent behind their satire.

REICHMUTH: The SkyMaul catalog parody is just, it is a wolf in sheep's clothing. It's not at all like, what you would expect when you see that cover is that it's, you know, zany products. But what you find is kind of a line that runs through it. There's a sort of morbid and dark kind of existential side to it.

But what makes us so susceptible to buying crap when we're 30,000 feet up in the air?

Two things, says Reichmuth: The suspended reality of plane travel and the typical profile of the frequent flier.

REICHMUTH: Remember who you're communicating with when you're communicating with an air traveler. You know there's a product in there, in our catalog parody that's the flask that's engraved with the lyrics of, "When you comin' home dad, I don't know when," and the lyrics are engraved upside down, so you can read 'em as you're drinking the flask. You know, like who have you left behind on these business trips? It's not pathetic, but it's very much like Death of a Salesman. You're on the road and you've left something behind and you're just striving, you know?

For now, the guys of Kasper Hauser continue with their own striving — touring the country with their live sketch comedy show, shilling their book and repeatedly reminding people that the fake Hummer Hybrid decal is not really for sale.

But you have to admit: It's a not a bad idea.

I'm Jeremy Richards for Marketplace.

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