Monday, August 15, 2011

Bullshit hunting at the Wisconsin State Fair

After 5 years or so of visiting Wisconsin regularly, I finally got to experience the Wisconsin State Fair for the first time this week. I was hoping to lift an official paragraph from the State Fair's website that would explain to the uninitiated what it's all about, but there was none to be found. Hopefully this Q&A lifted from the FAQ page will accurately set the tone.

"Will there be food on a stick? 
  Yes, our vendors will supply a delicious variety of your favorite foods on a stick. For a list of foods on a stick, please visit our Food tab[Note: This is a long ass list]

For the sake of expediency, let's just call it a ten-day long celebration of Wisconsin's food and culture presented in a carnival / street-festival / outdoor market hybrid. With concerts. And livestock.

I'm getting bogged down in details here, but the point is, it's a big deal (attendance is regularly over 800,000 each year), and there's stuff for sale there, so I knew that there'd be plenty of woo on sale.

It didn't take too much wandering around in the Expo Center before I hit paydirt:

Extreme Balance Bands!
Extreme Balance Bands! Awesome example of total bullshit, right there. These bands are a ripoff of the original Power Balance Bands from an Australian company who got into a spot of bother with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for claims made bout their snake oil, and they've since had to scrap their stock, cease the misleading marketing, and reimburse customers who felt ripped off.

Can't touch your toes? It's a balance issue that this accessory can remedy!
I've encountered and documented their cousins in Limerick City already, so I won't go into the tired reasons as to why the claims are nonsense, but I wanted to share the woo-porn.

Where these scammers have shown some originality, however, is the sports watch accessory, which according to the front of the package is a "Tourmaline power minus ion Healthy Sports Watch", so while you're getting a big fat load heaping of codswallop, you're at least getting a timepiece.

If you have a rigorous scientific mind, you might want to view the actual specifications though, so you'll be glad to hear that the back of the box boasts "1 ATM Water Resistanee", "Minus Ion(above 1900ions/cc), Far Infrared Ray (above 90%)", and of course, the "HQ silicone rubber is no harm to skin". [All of these typos are accurate, but read the back of the box yourself if you think it'll help to read this tripe in context:]


I asked one of the ladies shilling these products for the cost - she started by telling me that they sell in malls for up to $75 (I failed to suppress my scoff), but they were selling them for $20, and would throw in the watch for a few dollars more. If the watch keeps time okay, it's probably not an obscene price, but judging by the disposition of the salesgirls, and the decidedly unimpressed looking member of the public testing out the band, I think they were having a tough time flogging their wares. Taking this into consideration, I decided that toying with them by asking awkward questions about research and scientific concepts they had zero interest in seemed like a waste of time.

Since I was under serious time constraints, I zig-zagged through the 200,000sq ft.  Expo Center at random looking for more woo (passing only one table giving out free-samples, sadly), hoping to find some more nonsense to document. It rankled me that the stalls set up for massages were big, red, mega-Chinesey affairs, with Chinese lettering surrounding the word 'Acupressure'. Paying money to have a wizened old Asian person rub my shoulders is magical enough without all the 'ancient-wisdom' mumbo-jumbo.

As I pushed my way through the throng of people, choosing directions on instinct alone, I turned to my girlfriend and proclaimed: "I know there's more bullshit in here. I can smell it. And I'm going to find it if it's the last thing I do."


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