Useless inventions

Somewhere out there, the next Thomas Edison is perspiring toward some great new invention — some ingeniusly clever New Thing that will prove to be indispensably useful and will launch the next great industry, creating thousands of rewarding, decent jobs for the future.

While we’re waiting for her to do that, the rest of us are grasping ungeniusly for any half-baked idea for anything that might be manufactured and sold — the next ShamWow or Snuggie. Such inventions might not change the world, or even improve the world in any meaningful way, but they might at least help our moribund economy limp along in the meanwhile.

Yes, the Snuggie is ridiculous — just a less-comfortable variation on wearing a cheap bathrobe backwards. But for all that, the people making and marketing Snuggies and Slankets (the original sleeved blanket) have at least created some jobs. And in my book that puts them ahead of parasitic job-destroyers like, say, Craig Dubow.

In the current jobs crisis, with some 14 million Americans looking for work — any work — I wish I could come up with an idea like the Snuggie. I don’t care if it’s ridiculous. If hocking some useless trinket on infomercials could provide employment for even a handful of people who need the work, then that trinket wouldn’t be entirely useless.

But I got nothing.

Well, not quite nothing. I do have one idea, and you’re welcome to it. It’s just not very promising.

It’s a T-shirt. Specifically, it’s a powder-blue T-shirt in that distinctive, flannelgraph shade of powder blue, sold in a package with precut Bible characters from the classic Betty Lukens flannelgraph set.

My first thought was just to make the T-shirt out of flannel, relying on the basic flannelgraph technology to keep the figures in place. But I doubt that would work on a windy day. One good breeze and you could lose half of the twelve disciples.

So now I’m thinking Velcro. The outside of the T-shirt would be the soft, fuzzy, receptive side of the Velcro and the Bible figures would be backed with the pointy, clingy side, thus guaranteeing that the animals won’t fall off two-by-two before they make it to Noah’s ark.

The beauty here is the T-shirt could be different every time you wore it. One day it could be the parable of the Prodigal Son and the next day it could be Daniel in the Lion’s Den. You could start with the Garden of Eden and work your way through the whole Bible.

Alas, as cool as I think such a flannelgraph T-shirt would be — and it would be very cool, indeed — I suspect it would have only a select appeal, limiting potential sales. If we made a Venn diagram showing People Who Grew Up in Evangelical Sunday School and People Who Appreciate Irony Seasoned With a Touch of Fond Nostalgia there would be only a tiny sliver of overlap between the two circles. The only people I can think of who might actually wear such a shirt are my friend Bradly and Daniel “Brother Danielson” Smith.

So I’m afraid that anyone taking this idea and running with it probably isn’t looking at a big money-maker. You’d probably be better off trying to tap into the broader appeal of, say, a Colorforms-themed Velcro T-shirt kit. Those might sell with the Hot Topic/Spencer’s Gift crowd.

Or maybe just a flannelgraph app for the iPhone.

Anyway, that’s my swing-and-a-miss idea. What’s your idea for the next big infomercial phenomenon?

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  • Ellen

    I realize I’m reading your entry a year after it was written, but one of my kids put a “Black Volco T-Shirt  Adult X-L” on his Christmas wish list already.  I’ve been searching online and apparently there are such things!   (With stick-on letters — to change your message as you like.) I just can’t find one in the US.  I kinda like your idea better!