Saturday, March 14, 2009

How Buying a Dryer Is Like Watching CNBC

We decided to buy a new electric dryer today, since our 13 year-old model is creaking and, well, not drying very well. If you can't perform the task that you're named after, it's time for you to go.

The dryer purchasing experience made me understand how CNBC can be so successful in spouting financial nonsense and then escape accountability when the economic world comes crashing down. It's all a matter of the audience.

The first step I took, since it's been 13 years since I last bought a dryer, was to hop over to, figuring that they would have a wide variety of dryers to give me a point of reference to makes, models, features, and prices. I was shocked.

379 washers and dryers, combined. 245 dryers alone. Are you kidding me?

What does this country need with 245 different dryers? I want to toss my wet clothing in, punch a couple of buttons, come back 45 minutes later and have dried, mostly wrinkle-free garments that I then labor to fold and put away. It's not rocket science. It's the same process that my mom followed, minus the clothes pins and line in the back yard.

I started to think about what sort of supply chain is needed to support the design, manufacture, distribution, and maintenance of 245 dryers. How could it possibly be efficient? Then I remembered that there's probably only a handful of companies now building dryers and then slapping different colors and nameplates on them, so a small group of dryer folks are really running the show here.

The illusion of choice and competition.

There's really no difference between the various product offerings, other than price points as you move up and down the feature sets. Plain white, low cubic foot, dial-controlled dryers at the low end, fancier multi-cycled, stainless steel drummed models with glass front-loading doors in the middle, and high-end, steam-breathing, 56-cycled designer-hued behemoths with NASA-esque electronic controls at the high end of the spectrum.

I've been using one of the low-end models for 13 years, and it's hasn't been a detriment to my career or social standing. I haven't witnessed people giving me scurrilous looks or whispering behind my back about the dryness of my garb or the ratio of wrinkles to smoothness. So why do I need the $1800 Electrolux Wave-Touch Perfect Steam model?

To set me apart from others. I'd be the guy who paid more for my dryer than my neighbor's monthly mortgage. Not because I needed 56 different cycles or to steam my boxer briefs, though. Because I could.

It would be an example of excess, of having so much that I could be frivolous so astonishingly outside the boundaries of normalcy that I would be different than others. Not that everyone else would know, unless I participated in the "Parade of Dryers" like local home builders hold "Parade of Homes" events every year, but my dryer could be just one example of my excess.

Which brings me back to CNBC and the lashing given to it, and to front-man Jim Cramer, by The Daily Show host Jon Stewart this week. It's a game...and they know it. It was all for the roughly 288,000 average viewers of the network, to pump it up, buy some of this and sell some of that, all the while ignoring the reality and necessity of both need and the ability to meet your obligations if it all went horribly wrong. As long as you had twenty screaming heads blasting nothing but positive news at you 24 x 7, it was easy to convince yourself that they sky was the limit, and 56 cycles were better than 9, because, I mean, it's 56 cycles!

And so you had a ton of people caught up in the cycle of cycles, of taking larger and larger risks, because doing well isn't the same as doing great, so I'm going to keep listening when I'm told to keep doing this, because these guys are still doing it, and they're doing great!

Except they were on the inside, and they knew when to stop playing, but they didn't tell you, because those weren't the rules of the game. It was their game, their rules. They just let you play for awhile, sort of like letting the new sap sit in on the weekly poker game, where everyone else has been playing together for ten years and knew everyone else's ticks and tells, but you didn't, so you were an easy mark. It would be fun until your money was gone, and then they would go back to their game without you.

And here we are, with 245 kinds of dryers, but most people don't have the money to buy a dryer these days, so people who have never listened to the screaming heads on CNBC are suffering greatly. People who make the parts for the dryers, who put them together, who truck them to the warehouse and to the big-box retailers. Sales associates and store managers and delivery drivers are being let go, and their hours cut back, and so are the folks who waited on them in restaurants, and sold them popcorn at movies, and who cut their grass or cleaned their hotel room when they took a vacation.

I don't watch CNBC. I watch The Daily Show. And I bought a dryer today.

Fuck you, CNBC. Fuck you.

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