Daniel Johnson's profile


For your reading pleasure via the SF Chronicle

When Ron Popeil and his doting crew of bulge-eyed spectators appeared in the
margins of basic cable at twenty-eight minute intervals during the twilight of the
Clinton Administration, the product they were hawking, the Ronco Rotisserie
Oven, wasn’t so much a two-chicken capacity oven (with a steamer tray FREE if
you call now!), but an idea.


It was much more than a slogan. This phrase seduced so many (my parents
included) into handing over five easy payments of $19.95, because it was a
mantra that tickled the aspirations of the American subconscious with a near-
religious potency.

The Ronco Rotisserie’s earworm refrain was a natural extension of the post-war
mindset. To quell the disquiet of nuclear anxiety, we needed the omnipresent
illusion of a better tomorrow. And by investing in supposedly reliable systems, we
could live the promise of the post-war era and abdicate the drudgery of our daily

That premise did not pan out. Trusting Americans invested their hopes for a
better, simpler life in an endless procession of “time-saving” gadgets sold via
persuasive mass marketing that in retrospect seems more akin to mass hypnosis.
The Ronco Rotisserie Oven no longer crowds our countertops. The once zealously
shouted phrase lurks only in the margins of our national subconscious where we
store repressed slogans. Yet, the mindset endures as a definitive feature of a
society that has abdicated the responsibilities of citizenship in favor of a lethargic
complacency. “Set it and forget it” epitomizes a people so enchanted by the
immediacy of comfort that we numb ourselves to any and all long-term
consequences of our broken politics, screen-mediated social interactions,
fractured communities, and extractive material largesse.

Today’s Americans truly live in the wreckage of the “set it and forget it” mentality.
Our world is strewn with the toxic repercussions of ill-conceived decisions made
worse by a culture of willful neglect.

The handiwork of the “set it and forget it” mindset is on display for all to see. In
2005 it inundated New Orleans via negligent levee design and exploded in post-
war Iraq thanks to the arrogance of an inconceivably underdeveloped plan for
reconstruction. Americans felt it freezing their very flesh this winter when the
majestically vulnerable Texas power grid succumbed to otherwise predictable
climate events. Still hundreds of thousands more felt “set it and forget it” wheeze
out with their last breaths as our patchwork pandemic response catastrophically
failed to react to and manage COVID-19. This pales in comparison to the millions
who have lost something or everything to a pharmaceutical sales industry whose
arrogant apathy gave them carte blanche to carpet bomb our society with a
gleeful surplus of opioids.

“Set it and forget it” unites Americans across the political spectrum in an ostrich-
like game of willful ignorance, in which someone else will deal with the problems
at hand. Be they a real estate grifter turned politician or a career wonk whose re-
emergence in national politics is heralded by many as a mystical fix-all deus ex
machina. Surely someone else will emerge to guide us as we slumber through this
long night of complacency.

Accultured as we are to infomercial solutions that promise to solve the raft of
complex problems that vex us as a species, we are unprepared as a people for the
cruel reality of our day and age. We are the only ones who can save us from

So many of the tectonic rumblings felt in our society today—be they movements
toward social equity, the realization of political ideologies, or even shifts in the
way we interact with our environment—are premised on the notion that
awareness, vigilance, and responsibility are the only proper mentalities to guide
modern life.

Yet, cultivated apathy, complacency, and inattentiveness, like the smell of
perfectly cooked rotisserie chicken wafting in from the kitchen, are things this
nation will likely never overcome. The promise of each captures us with a
powerful seductiveness that operates in unseen and cunning ways.
Today, awareness, supposed vigilance and a certain privilege of “woke”
mentalities seduce us anew with the notion that we are actively awaking from the
slumber of the infomercial era. We do well to remember the narcotic appeal and
tragic consequences that accompany easy promises of utopian solutions bought
on installment.

The ugly truth is that there are no easy solutions. No YouTube influencer can sell
you cheap prosperity. No snake oil philosopher (myself included) or gadget
pusher has a painless solution to what ails us and our world. You cannot pray the
solution into existence, nor vote it into office.

No matter what a lifetime of infomercials has taught us, Americans cannot simply
buy the enrichment of our cardinal values. If we aspire to decency, justice, and
equitable prosperity, we will have to work diligently towards these goals. We will
have to dedicate ourselves changing the way we live and the responsibilities we
carry to address the complex of problems at hand.

To do so we must accomplish the most difficult task of all: remembering.




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