Is it possible to pelt a human being to death with adjectives? If so, the California Pines infomercial verges on the homicidal. This infomercial sells lots of land in the northern California community of California Pines, located in Modoc County between Reno and Redding. And from watching this program you would think this place was Mayberry on the Ponderosa—it is described as “perfect,” “heaven-on-earth,” “a dream come true,” and “God’s country,” just for starters.
Before viewers can hear any of this gushing praise, however, they are subjected to an eyeful of the host’s wardrobe. Ken Dabrow is decked out in a leather fringe jacket, blue ascot festooned with medallions, leather hat, flowing white hair and whiskers, and large rings and bracelets. He looks like a cross between Yosemite Sam and a pimp. Ken’s bizarre fashion-sense is meant to embody the “pioneer spirit” that is supposed to remain alive at California Pines.
Much of this infomercial consists of Ken’s breathless descriptions of California Pines’ natural beauty, accompanied by visuals of trees, hills, streams, fields, and sunsets: “You are going to be surrounded, I mean you are going to be surrounded, by the most incredible vistas. Soaking up this picture-perfect scenery—it’s breath-taking.” Ken comes across as a carnival barker with a penchant for alliteration, as when he speaks of “picture-perfect panoramic California Pines.” And when Ken really gets into a rhythm, he can even break into verse:
Let me take you high
Into the northern California sky
So that you
Can get a bird’s eye view
Of what is truly
This infomercial acknowledges that it’s laying on the praise pretty thick—but insists it’s true anyway. “Now I know everything you’ve just seen looks like the California version of Shangri-la, but the facts are that’s the way it really is in this very best of all natural worlds.”
And the scenery is not the only thing that receives boisterous acclaim. This locale apparently possesses the power to transform human nature. “When you…come into Modoc County it’s as though all the bad has dropped away.” Another resident claims, “Everyone gets along here.” One man even admits, “I don’t lock my house here in California Pines. I never have and I don’t intend to.” (Let’s hope burglars don’t watch infomercials, lest some of them head north and turn California Pines into their very own “Shangri-la.”) So we’re supposed to believe that human beings live in harmony among spectacular natural surroundings. One wonders how Ken ever got rid of the cherubim and the flaming sword so that his company could break up the land into lots and sell them on an infomercial.
All these perfect people surrounded by perfect nature get to enjoy “the most complete and rewarding living experiences possible.” The testimonials in this infomercial tell of how much better life is there than in the “big city” (though, frankly, these people look less like escapees from the mean streets than refugees from suburbia). Once you move into California Pines, “You’re going to be fishing in fully-stocked trout ponds. You can go hunting in the magnificent mountains. How about boating on pristine lakes? Hiking in the majestic hills? You can go snow-skiing in the winter. How about water-skiing in the summer? Or horseback riding through beautiful fields?” No one seems to do any work (although kids do have to attend “top-notch” schools). This infomercial, however, promotes California Pines mainly as a great place for a primary residence (as opposed to a retirement or summer home). How, then, are all those network engineers from Santa Clara and machine operators from Burbank supposed to earn a living once they move there?
The “small print” in this infomercial raises more questions. As Ken and the residents extol the glories of undeveloped land, onscreen words warn, “Some lots require well and septic.” Having to urinate behind a tree and dig a hole to crap in might make California Pines less then “heaven-on-earth.” And when the infomercial discusses lots with houses on them, a disclaimer states, “Homes shown are examples only. They are not located in California Pines and do not represent the actual homes for sale in this program.” Then why are you showing them?!
But any skeptic who has such qualms can get a free flight up to California Pines and take a “No Sales Pressure Tour.” Well, after seeing the subtlety of this infomercial, who would suspect a hard sell?
Ken Dabrow is one of the most interesting infomercial hosts of all time. But the producers of this infomercial must have concluded that someone who looks like the proprietor of a Gold Rush whorehouse might not be the best person to sell lots of land. So in the next version of the California Pines infomercial Ken is gone and replaced with…Erik Estrada. Yes, the actor who played “Ponch” on CHiPs.
Estrada stands before a tranquil stream; behind him, on the opposite bank, a group of children fish leisurely—which seems way to quaint to be mere coincidence, especially since they never seem to notice Erik or the TV camera. I suspect that if the director hadn’t paid off those kids they’d be pestering Ponch for his autograph, shouting “7 Mary 4,” and asking “Where’s John?”
Estrada reads pretty much the same script as Ken Dabrow but without Ken’s ease or enthusiasm. Yet he offers something Ken doesn’t: Estrada admits to personally owning property in California Pines.
Beautiful sunsets, friendly people, and Ponch as your neighbor: This is truly God’s country!
Ken Dab-Row Waxes Poetic
Hear Ken Dab-Row tells us why he is "one happy excited camper" as he paints a verbal picture of the glorious natural beauty found at California Pines.