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Letter from the Editor

Amish "Mantles" and Triangle Noir

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Hey, have you sent off for your free Heat Surge Roll-n-Glow miracle heater yet? In these tough economic times, who wouldn't want one? Of course, you also have to buy the genuine "Amish hand-made fireplace mantle" for $298.

I'm fascinated by this amazing ad campaign. The spots are all over television, and there was a full-page ad in The Commercial Appeal this week. I say "amazing," because this deal is so obviously a scam. Heck, they can't even spell "mantel."

The ads feature a workshop in which Amish-looking folk are "handcrafting" wood fireplace mantles. (I'll stick with their spelling.) They are a "steal" at $298, but we can only take advantage of this fabulous offer if we act within 48 hours. Right.

The ad copy is glorious: "Winter rush orders have turned country roads into pipelines to the big city delivery system." This is set under a picture of a horse-drawn wagon (with two heaters) being driven down a snowy lane by an Amish gent. The ad copy for the heater itself is also classic: It's a "work of engineering genius from the China coast so advanced you simply plug it in to any outlet." Wow. That is advanced. But here's my favorite part: If you don't want the mantle, they'll send you the "free" miracle heater for only $249.

The heater itself produces "an amazing 5,119 BTUs," we're told. I checked, and at most local hardware stores you can get a 5,000 BTU space heater for as little $29.95. In the advertising business, they call this "selling the sizzle, not the steak." I call it selling a cheap Chinese heater for 10 times what it's worth.

Branding is, of course, an important part of selling anything — political policy, soft drinks, cigarettes, you name it. Which brings me to "Triangle Noir," Mayor Herenton's development plan for the area just south and east of downtown. We are told that the name comes from the fact that so much African-American history was made in the area. I get that: It's sort of a triangle shape, and "noir" is French for black. And it's kind of a sexy name for a project of this type.

Only one tiny little problem: The term "triangle noir" was most famously used in Nazi death camps, where prisoners were forced to wear triangles of different colors to denote their status. Gays, for example, were made to wear pink triangles. Criminals wore red. The black triangle, or triangle noir, was used to designate the "socially maladjusted," including lesbians.

And maybe the Amish ...

Bruce VanWyngarden

brucev@memphisflyer.com

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