My family didn’t get cable until about 1990, right about the time home shopping became a term. In this pre-internet era, the idea of buying stuff off your television was goofy and sort of modern at the same time. Not cool (decidedly not) but a solid step up from an infomercial. (Sorry, Cher.) For me, a teen who suffered from chronic sinus infections and was left home alone on sick days, the constant chatter of QVC was a comfort. (For the uninitiated, prepare to behold the Q!)
I wasn’t in the market to buy anything—not NASCAR memorabilia, not Boyds’ Bears, not jewelry from one of the Gold Rush Specials, not a new and improved juicer—but I’d watch it all regardless. Me, in my parent’s king-sized bed (their room had the television with the remote)—tissues strewn about me, a half-eaten mug of Campbell’s Chicken & Stars on the nightstand, daylight slanting through plastic blinds in a way that seemed incongruous to my reality. How was there still life outside when I was in here feeling like crap? Because it really did seem like it was just me and QVC in the world, which says a lot since we finally had more than five channels to choose from.
My QVC obsession was more than a way to combat loneliness. I was a wannabe aspirational consumer, and to my small-town, midwestern eyes, QVC was classy as hell. Everyone in QVC-land had their shit together—and apparently endless pocket money. I had neither. Folks (mostly middle-aged white ladies) would call in with testimonials about sets of Thanksgiving tableware or hand cream, their words thick with compliments like they were sucking up to the popular girl in junior high, and I would watch in awe, thinking, holy crap, who has dishes for a specific holiday, let alone a table that seats 12?!
My teen brain couldn’t gorge on this fantasy world enough.
Over the years, everyone who knew about my QVC fixation made fun of it. And I get it. QVC is hokey. But the Q was there for me whenever I needed it: on sick days in high school, when I wanted to avoid writing a paper in college, as a young mom breastfeeding at 1 a.m.
Watch Marie Osmond selling creepy-ass dolls. Are you not entertained?
As I aged, did QVC’s luster wear thin? Sure. Could I see it was a capitalistic engine for perpetuating conspicuous consumption while reinforcing culturally dominant notions of heterosexuality, gender, and middle-class whiteness? I mean, it wasn’t subtle. And yet, there were sparks of humanity: QVC started offering plus size clothing–and celebrated those sizes–decades before other retailers, and in pre-Amazon days, QVC was probably your best option if you were a rural shopper, or elderly, or shut-in for whatever reason. Plus the chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter. It was like having company over when none was to be had.
When 2020 rolled around, it took only a month into lockdown before I was itching for the Q: Comfort me, oh great herald of consumerism! Lull me with your promises of genuine gold vermeil and easy payments. Make me want. Make me need. Make me dream!
I hadn’t watched in at least a decade. (My baby was now an eighth grader.) A few things had changed. First, there was not one QVC channel, but three. Somehow this felt like cheating. Part of the glory of QVC binging was not getting to pick what was on. You didn’t care about being able to fax to a computer? Irrelevant. You watched anyway, and somehow, the host made you care, entrancing you with their knowledge of plastic buttons. That was my QVC.
The other big change was I didn’t know most of the hosts, and the few I did had the plastic, frozen look of aging television personalities. That was to be expected, I guess. Time passing and all. But part of the whole vibe was that QVC was timeless. I mean, if you’re going to lie to me, lie to me. You know?
I tried a few times to get into the new Q, tried knitting while I watched, drinking some tea, tried getting excited about the convenience of pressure cookers, but each attempt held a hollowness, a desperation. And it was a little ironic: I was finally QVC’s primary demographic—a middle-aged white woman who could buy an extra pair of suede woven clogs if she wanted to—but the very act of watching QVC made me sad now, took me from lonely to lonelier, heightened my awareness of how I afraid I was, and how I missed my friends, my routine, and how my kids were limping along in virtual learning, and how I worried the lack of socializing would make them weird, unable to reattach to the world again, and how scared everyone was, and how many people had died, and how many people were out of work, and how not one of us was going to escape without some kind of suffering. Instead of being awed by the glory of a mixing bowl with a built in squeegee, I worried about how much of the earth’s surface was going to turn into landfill for QVC products.
The magic of QVC–land was gone.
The proverbial madeleine molded. (Seriously, watch that clip. It’s a solid reading.)
I just wanted to go outside, be in the world again, but there wasn’t a safe world to be in. So I stayed indoors like everyone else. Windows functioned like televisions now, displaying a world that couldn’t be had, an aspirational life that made me ache with want.
The program at the window was always the same: endless nature. It was riveting.
So many birds: house finches abounded. Goldfinches too–lesser and American. I started googling birds. Apparently, our yard attracted Anna’s hummingbirds. I never knew there were kinds. Once, I spotted a cedar waxwing, a bird I didn’t know existed (the identification made by my searching for yellowish birds that look like jays but aren’t jays). I was no ornithologist, clearly, but I quickly learned that robins are a-holes (they do not share with anyone including each other) and crows like to bully fully grown hawks.
That spring, twin owls were born in our canyon. Sometimes they would hop around our yard a bit before flying back into our tallest cedar. The joy my whole family experienced every time there was a baby owl sighting, one of us shouting, the others running to see.
By summer, the owls had moved on. My family, though, was still in the house. New birds came to the yard. (Can I even tell you what a thrill it was the day I spotted a Hooded Oriole?!) The best part: you never knew what was going to fly into the yard or when. You just had to sit and be still and wait. It was the ultimate live show–and I couldn’t stop watching. I just couldn’t stop.
D.E. Hardy’s work has appeared (or is forthcoming) in X-R-A-Y Magazine, Lost Balloon, Sledgehammer Lit, New World Writing, among others. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be followed on twitter @dehardywriter and at www.dehardywriter.com.