Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Several (many, many) years ago I had a little quest to find the mother of all tacky religious themed manufactured item.


Because after many years of traveling the world I became aware of one unifying trait: Religious themed trinkets, kitsch and gift shop items are tacky. Religious and spiritual beliefs aside, the items manufactured to represent or serve as talismans or souvenirs are shoddy and often...weird. Classic Jesus images can be bought on everything, and I mean everything. Ditto his mother Mary. Buddha? He's a cash cow. India has many gods and goddesses and they are all for sale at every market across India. Japan, with its lovely Shinto temples is not immune, the Shinto gods find their way onto some of the cheapest, tackiest items available for purchase.

Name a world religion and I'll show you something that's been die cast, injection molded, screen printed or laminated into some sort of merchandised trinket to represent it in a gift shop.

My quest was to find the weirdest and most misguided religious themed and merchandised tchotchke. I found a lot. People sent me photos of items that surpassed my wildest imagination.

As a marketing professional, it baffled me why venerated people or gods were being merchandised at all, but especially in such universally cheap and tacky forms.

If you love Jesus with all your heart, why would you cheapen Him by injection molding His likeness into a glow-in-the-dark backscratcher or feature Him on the inside of a snow globe or on a shotglass and then selling it for $3.99?

WWJD? I don't know. But I'm pretty sure He would not sell plastic pencil sharpeners in His likeness to make a buck.

Sadly, when I migrated my blog several years ago I lost most of the posts and images of those items. I thought it was a Sign that I needed to stop making fun of religious icons, even if they were tacky merchandising tools.

And then something happened. Maybe a miracle, maybe a sign of End of Days.

A website was brought to my attention. A shopping website. But not just any shopping website. It is proof that we have quite possibly reached the zenith of web shopping sites.

1) It reflects and represents many facets of our culture
2) They accept major credit cards
3) It hawks crap worth far (far, and I mean far) less than the prices asked
4) And yep, you guessed it, there's a religious angle

What is this amazing website that foretells and forebodes?

I present to you, in all its glory, The Sister Wives merchandising site.

Words fail. Truly. I sat, mouth agape, at this site for far longer than I care to admit. It's possible I was abducted because I had missing time. Or more likely I was in shock on so many levels my synapses fired too quickly and I blew a fuse for a few minutes.

But then I realized: We deserve this. People, someone, watches Sister Wives. A basic cable network would not continue to produce and air a show that produced low ratings, even a low (low) budget show. And we, as a society, are all being punished because of the deeds of the few who tune into Sister Wives. I am refraining from opining about the show. I see the ads for it and I saw less than ten minutes of one episode, so I am in no way qualified to have an opinion about the show or the family on it. However, I do know a bit about marketing and merchandise and therefore I am qualified to critique a shopping website.

Apparently because this family has a reality show that people (someone) is watching, they believe they have a fan base. And like all red-blooded capitalistic Americans they want to make a buck off their fame. That's fair, I'd probably do it, too. Strike while the iron's hot and milk it for all I could. It is hard out here for a pimp and if you can get someone to part with their credit card number, go for it while you have the chance.


The point of the show is based on this family's religious belief with happens to include Polygamy. So, it is, at it's, heh heh, fundamental core, a show about religion. I presume their viewing demographic falls squarely into two groups: 1) Other Polygamists and 2) people who tune in to laugh and ridicule them. So one then presumes the marketing niche for their products is: Other Polygamists. That is truly a niche market, and one they know better than I, but, how many weird and overpriced pieces of jewelry are you going to sell to other Polygamists? How many sister wives are there out there, and how many of them have hundreds (yes, hundreds) of dollars to spend on overpriced (and I mean way overpriced) jewelry? Either they're misguided or someone is hoodwinking them, and if that's the case I do feel somewhat "bad" for them. There's one born every minute, but if they are naive enough to believe they're popular for positive reasons, they're naive enough to believe they can profit from their popularity.

My professional take is that they would have been better served with an Etsy site. But rock on, gals, if you can get people to part with their credit card numbers, go for it. Enterprise your little Polygamist hearts out.

But. They're profiting from their religious beliefs, not a random theme with no spiritual connotation. These are not crocheted scarves or felted dolls. These are items representing their Polygamist life. At any point in designing (and I use that term loosely) and manufacturing these items did they ever ask themselves, "WWJD?" I don't want to speak for Him, but I'm pretty sure He would not symbolize friendship with hands that look like the Boston Strangler's hands in a '70s made-for-television movie. Nor would He symbolize the bond that Polygamist wives share with a stack ring that when worn together looks like two snakes having coitus, or, when worn singly, well, let's just say it, looks like an uncircumcised penis. I don't know much about Polygamy, but with several wives to service it stands to reason the penis is a core talisman for them.

Back on the old blog I saw some funny Mormon themed tchotchkes - there seems to be a lot of injection molding and bad screen printing in Mormon merchandising - and some very (very) expensive items, as well. The Mormons rival the Vatican Catholics in the priciest souvenirs category. Perhaps the Sister Wives were taking a merchandising cue from their Mormon brethren. I wonder how much, if any, of their profit goes to their church? Unlike many religious retail sites, there is very little information on their site about where the proceeds go. Maybe that was covered on their show. Since there's no 501(c) status on their site (that I can find) I presume it is not charity.

I notice that TLC, the network that produces and airs the show seems to have nothing to do with the Sister Wives site. I find it a little odd that the Sister Wives didn't partner with TLC to merchandise and sell items related to them and their show. TLC heavily merchandises their shows, and they could have brought some design and manufacturing expertise as well as some marketing savvy (and marketing streams) to the Sister Wives. Either the Sister Wives didn't want to share profits or control of their products with TLC, or TLC didn't want anything to do with their merchandising ideas. Because if a network can make any kind of profit from licensing, they'll do it. Especially basic cable networks. I would love to read some of the legal docs surrounding My Sister Wife's Closet and TLC.

Maybe that's why the chose such a grammatically awkward (albeit grammatically correct) name for their site. I'm guessing TLC owns the trademark and copyright on Sister Wives. Hence "My Sister Wife's Closet." Why closet? A misguided cute-ism about sharing? Probably. Open invitation for ridicule? Absolutely. I wonder if they are even familiar with the term closeted and what it means. Or maybe the puns are intended and they're laughing all the way to their bank accounts, or joint bank account, do Polygamist husband and wives have joint bank accounts?
The night after I saw the site I had a dream. I can't say I was visited by a spirit - because I'm pretty sure I wasn't - but I was moved by the spirit of that website and woke up thinking, "Yes. It is time. Today I will resurrect Houses of the Holy Crap."

If it's merchandised crap and it has a holy theme, it's literally holy crap and it's fair game.

It's also summer and that means travel and that means gift shops. If you see a craptastic religious or spiritually themed item merchandised and for sale, snap a photo and email it to me at housesofholycrap@gmail.com. If your photo isn't geotagged let me know where you saw the item. Or, if, while online you stumble upon an appropriate item, send me the url.

Also let me know if the item's profits are for charity. For instance, nativity themed cupcakes to raise money for a new church roof fall into the charity category, and therefore we will be charitable in our comments. Yes. We will. And anyone who engages in religious persecution, judgment or intolerance will be banned from the site

I've seen a lot of holy crap in the absence of Houses of the Holy Crap, so to get the ball rolling I'll add a few of the standouts I've seen over the next few weeks. 

Remember, at all times, I am not judging, mocking or persecuting the religions or spiritual beliefs these items represent. Nor am I judging or mocking the people who Believe and follow these religions/spiritual paths. Respect and tolerance of the belief, always, with a smirking eyebrow raised at the tacky tchotchkes made to snag a profit off religion.

I am judging and mocking the die cast, injection molded, metal stamped, screen printed, laminated and otherwise cheaply manufactured items sold to represent religions.

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