On Friday, Jan. 23, 2015, this was the front page of SkyMall.com:
Business as usual. SkyMall was celebrating its 25th year on this Earth (and mostly in the skies above it) and wanted you to not go another one without getting your shit together. But their workmanlike attitude was all a façade, because behind the scenes, the unthinkable was happening.
BREAKING: The SkyMall catalog has filed for bankruptcy. Details to come.— Katy Stech (@KatyStech) January 23, 2015
Yes, SkyMall -- home of "the coolest stuff on the planet" -- has finally gone belly-up. If you've never seen an issue of SkyMall, you've probably never been on a plane. That's fine. There's nothing wrong with that. But you've seriously missed out. The publication, 20 million copies of which are crammed into seatbacks every year, behind the air sickness bags and the airline magazines telling you where to get the best steak when you're in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, featured the most bizarre, nonsensical and expensive stuff you could possibly find, shy of the black market or the Neiman Marcus Christmas book.
My fascination with SkyMall began when I was a teenager and never ended. SkyMall's original mission statement was simply "WHAT IF YOU COULD FLY IN AN AIRPLANE **AND** PURCHASE WARES AT THE SAME TIME?" Who could have imagined that dream would become outdated? The world has passed SkyMall by, and that is a tragedy. Given its business model (and the fact that no one you know has ever bought anything from SkyMall, ever), it's a bit shocking that SkyMall's website looks as current as it does (in terms of website design, at any rate). But SkyMall's vision of stocking weird crap at penthouse-apartment prices has never wavered, and for that they must be commended.
Everything you need to know about SkyMall, you can glean from merely scrolling down its homepage. Its wares are well-trodden material, but even its sections are worthy of a chuckle. Sections like:
IT'S YOUR BODY, JERK.
SkyMall was always great at being passive-aggressive. Sometimes aggressive-aggressive. You snore. You sweat in your sleep. Your hairline is shitty. You stink. Fix it, idiot. We've got stuff to make your dumb body slightly less dumb, so call up and buy it. We won't tell anyone. Probably.
You may be surprised at what you find. That, above all else, was probably SkyMall's mission statement. It may have been a lot of things, but SkyMall was never, ever, ever boring. You would ALWAYS find at least one item that would make you audibly go, "WhaaaaAAAAAATTTTttt?!" Look at that dog up there. That dog has NO IDEA what that thing is. And you don't, either. A solid 40 percent of SkyMall's products had elaborate descriptions and you STILL could NOT determine what the product was for or what it did. Somehow, this led to the company filing for bankruptcy. I thought this was America, man.
Often, you got the sense that SkyMall was compiled and written by robots who almost understood humans and our culture. They sidle right up alongside really and truly "getting" what humans like, but never quite clamber up out of the uncanny valley. IT IS DEFINITELY COLD OUTSIDE, cry these robots. SOOTHE YOUR PATHETIC HUMAN SKIN WITH THIS TABLESIDE FIRE POD.
ALLOW OUR METAL SPIDERS TO HOLD YOU DOWN WHILE WE PLACATE YOUR FEEBLE FLESHMINDS WITH RERUNS OF MIKE AND MOLLY. YOU KNOW YOU DESIRE OUR IRON RULE.
SkyMall always wanted to decorate your house, but never had any idea what humans might find aesthetically pleasing. The result was a hideous mishmash of garden sculptures, lighted orbs and picture frames that open up so you can quickly and easily swap out all your photos for pictures of your secret second family.
And finally, a spotlight that can be shone on the best-selling SkyMall items, which are illuminating and glorious. This header indicates that the people who actually, literally buy things from SkyMall favor items like an antiqued globe that opens up to reveal a champagne ice bucket and a set of brandy glasses. Perfect for resting a snifter of cognac on the arm of your easy chair. You know; the one with the silk throw pillow. This was SkyMall's clientele: the disposable-income set that fancied themselves the idle rich. There's no shame in that. Who among us hasn't aspired to that? It's just worth noting: SkyMall didn't really have things you needed. They just had tchotchkes you could pretend Ernest Hemingway would have approved of. (I mean, it has booze in it. Hemingway LOVED booze.)
The great secret of SkyMall is this: no matter how often you scoffed at its contents (generally once per flight or more, I would estimate), at least once per perusal, the back of your brain would tingle and send WHOA HOLY CRAP YOU SHOULD TOTALLY BUY THAT vibes into your body. They were excellent (perhaps the best) at selecting and featuring items that were just interesting, weird, unique or seemingly useful enough to make your purchase gland salivate. You probably never bit, but you at least thought about it. That's all SkyMall ever needed. We should honor them for that.
Perhaps this is all a Hostess situation. Perhaps some rich oilman, weeping crocodile tears at the thought he'll never again be able to purchase a mahogany desk set shaped like a tiny golf course, will swoop in and purchase SkyMall. Perhaps it will be folded into Target and turned into a sensible catalog where you can purchase things you actually need at sensible prices. But SkyMall, as we have known and chortled at it for the past 25 years, is no more. And for that, the world is poorer.