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The year in swag 2014: Destroying Earth one dumb item at a time, part 1

Almost every day, The A.V. Club is absolutely inundated with promotional swag. And while we’re certainly not complaining about free DVDs, umbrellas, and boxy, oversized T-shirts promoting things we couldn’t care less about, we’d be remiss if we didn’t report extensively on all the perplexing, trashable, and/or amazing things we’ve received in the mail over the past year. The rules for 2014’s Year In Swag aren’t too dissimilar from the ones we laid down for 2013, in that we’re weighing in on both an item’s relevance and relative market value, should someone—not us, obviously—ever choose to part with, let’s say, a crunchy and awkward-fitting T-shirt for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. Read away, and be jealous of our promotional bounty.

Item: A life vest that is also an album

Promoting: Hunks, an album of “smooth yacht rock and rap” from Seattle-based duo Slow Dance.
Relevance: The product of two guys with “a love of boat parties but a disdain for universally ugly life jackets,” the Hunks vest seems like a natural progression for anyone who regards those statements as an overarching philosophy. It also stands to reason that a group that sees “smooth yacht rock and rap” as a winning musical combination would pair its album with a life vest by embedding it with speakers wired to a pre-loaded iPod Shuffle. Everything about this makes the same amount of relative sense.
Item quality on a scale from 1 (instantly trashable) to 5 (worth keeping unironically): 3. The iPod Shuffle can be removed and loaded with non-yacht-rap songs, so that itself is worth holding onto. The speaker-embedded vest, however, doesn’t seem especially seaworthy. Not to mention it’s covered in eye-searing fabric designs reminiscent of ironic bed sheets; ours sports leering, half-naked cowboys we’d be embarrassed to spot at any of our own boat parties.
eBay market value: None of the Hunks vests have been put up for auction yet (and it seems unlikely they will be). However, iPod shuffles go for around $30. [Sean O’Neal]

Item: A gray bandana

Promoting: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.
Relevance: A little. If memory serves, Jennifer Lawrence wears fighting clothes or fancy clothes in these movies, not some kind of gray head-wrap. But this one is actually pitched as an “official District 13 design print,” and it features a map of the mysterious area. (It has nothing to do, unfortunately, with the Luc Besson-produced parkour movie District 13.)
Item quality on a scale from 1 (instantly trashable) to 5 (worth keeping unironically): 3. If you’re into bandanas, it’s definitely a bandana. Square. Got a picture on it. Made of cloth. Would probably fit around your head.
eBay market value: None have appeared yet, but we could see these getting to the $10 mark, especially if the accompanying postcard is included. [Josh Modell]

Item: Black umbrella

Promoting: Gotham.
Relevance: Fox’s Batman-less Batman show is set in the famed fictional metropolis, where, as everyone knows, it’s always about to rain. Also, one of Gotham’s main characters is a young Oswald Cobblepot—the Penguin, famed for his trick umbrellas. This umbrella’s trick is that it takes a while to open!
Item quality on a scale from 1 (instantly trashable) to 5 (worth keeping unironically): 2. It’s ungainly, it’s made out of flimsy black plastic, and it says “Gotham” on it big white letters. It is, at best, a one-time-use, last-resort emergency umbrella—the kind that will flip inside out at the first gust of wind, or will cut your finger when you try to open it. Also, it comes in a cardboard box that is meant to resemble a wardrobe, but instead resembles a child’s coffin. It emanates bad vibes.
eBay market value: As of this writing, a user is trying to sell one for $165. For one-tenth that, you can buy an umbrella that folds up, works, and doesn’t make you think of death every time you look at it. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

Item: Ukulele with one Garfunkel And Oates guitar pick

Promoting: Garfunkel And Oates.
Relevance: IFC’s sitcom stars the eponymous comedy-singer-songwriter act, one of whom—Kate Micucci, the “Oates” of the duo—plays ukulele. It’s very relevant—so relevant, in fact, that it negates the need to actually see the show or hear the duo’s music. Why would you listen to some fancy-pants L.A. comedian’s caterwauling now that you’ve got a uke of your own? Writing joke songs can’t be that hard.
Item quality on a scale from 1 (instantly trashable) to 5 (worth keeping unironically): 3. It’s a real, working musical instrument. Unfortunately, it’s not a very good instrument—it’s a Mahalo U-30, the cheapest of the budget ukuleles. But though it doesn’t stay in tune for too long, it’s great for annoying your office desk-mate, especially if said desk-mate happens to be A.V. Club film editor A.A. Dowd. Also, the guitar pick is pretty useful, provided you already own a guitar.
eBay market value: A brand spankin’ new light blue U-30 will run you between $31.66 and $34.95 (free shipping!) on eBay. However, none of the U-30s on eBay come with cheap, papery Garfunkel And Oates stickers to cover up the Mahalo logo on the headstock. That has to be worth at least another $1. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

Item: Mendl’s box

Promoting: The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Relevance: Mendl’s Patisserie—purveyors of fine, colorful desserts—figures as both a plot point and a location in Wes Anderson’s ambitious, eccentric 1930s-set comedy. The pastry maker’s distinctive pink boxes, each wrapped with a baby blue ribbon, are one of the movie’s central visual motifs and metaphors; they represent the fussed-over elegance of its fantasy Old World, which is on the verge of being obliterated in the movie by a certain jackbooted new order. When it comes to summoning up the fanciful universe of the film, you couldn’t ask for anything better.
Item quality on a scale from 1 (instantly trashable) to 5 (worth keeping unironically): 1. In terms of actual craftsmanship, however, you could ask for something better. The Mendl’s boxes of the film are delicate, precisely made things, which collapse into flat crosses when their ribbons are removed. This, on the other hand, is just a pink carboard box with the Mendl’s logo printed on it—a sad, persistent reminder that we live in a world of flimsy, mass-produced goods. (It’s worth noting that this box contained delicious French macarons at one time, but those were eaten long before this box made its way to the swag shelf.)
eBay market value: We couldn’t find any Mendl’s boxes on eBay, though someone is trying to sell white T-shirts with a Google image-searched Mendl’s logo printed on them for $17. How gauche. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

Item: Survival kit

Promoting: Utopia.
Relevance: Fox’s little-loved “social experiment” (read: reality show) involves getting a group of volunteers (read: professional reality show contestants) to start and maintain a society from scratch. And since the show itself is struggling to survive against an indifferent viewership, it seems appropriate to send the press survival kits, to remind them of the harsh struggles Utopia must endure, with nary a good review to lend it a helping hand.
Item quality on a scale from 1 (instantly trashable) to 5 (worth keeping unironically): 5. Water purifier tablets, a credit-card-sized multi-tool, a whistle, a compass, a mini-flashlight, a flint and striker, a hook with some fishing line, some zucchini and carrot seeds—you could start a society from scratch just using the stuff included in this neat tin. The only problem, though, is that everything in your society would have “Utopia and “Fox” written on it.
eBay market value: While none of the larger survival kits are currently on eBay, the smaller Utopia-branded disaster planning kits—which come in a belt-ready pouch—are going for $5. Snatch them, because there’s useful stuff inside! [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

Item: Hotel slippers

Promoting: Travel Channel’s Hotel Impossible and Resort Rescue.
Relevance: Hewing to the popular “It’s like Kitchen Nightmares, but for _______” formula, Hotel Impossible and Resort Rescue both fill in that blank with “hotels.” So these slippers are a perfect match, as they’re the flimsy terry cloth kind that you rarely find outside hotels, airplanes, and spas.
Item quality on a scale from 1 (instantly trashable) to 5 (worth keeping unironically): 2. If you’re measuring these slippers against the full gamut of slipper-dom, then they’re garbage. But some allowance must be made for the fact that these are hotel slippers, a special class of footwear whose main purpose is to shield your wet feet from the germ- and semen-saturated floor of the room you’re renting. And as hotel slippers go, this pair is decent. A small tag indicates that they were produced by Towel Specialties, whose website boasts that the company was “VOTED THE INDUSTRY’S #1 BEST TOWEL & ROBE SUPPLIER FOR 8 CONSECUTIVE YEARS.” It’s hard to argue with accolades like that, especially when they are shouted at you.
eBay market value: Nobody has auctioned off a pair of these Travel Channel slippers, but comparable hotel slippers go for about five bucks. [John Teti]

Item: A shark hood

Promoting: The Sharknado franchise in general and Sharknado 2: The Second One specifically.
Relevance: Yes.
Item quality on a scale from 1 (instantly trashable) to 5 (worth keeping unironically): 3. While it’s hard to tell if the hood is supposed to make you look like a shark or make you look like you’re being eaten by a shark, that only enhances this costume hood’s versatility. You could wear it for two Halloweens in a row, going as the predator one year and the prey the next. That’s good value. Plus, while the felt used for the hood is definitely cheap, it’s at least sturdy, holding up well under The A.V. Club’s strenuous felt-hood stress tests (read: we tried to rip it).
eBay market value: The mask has sold a couple times on eBay for $15, the same price for which you can buy a new one from Amazon. [John Teti]

Item: Cartoon Network cafeteria trays

Promoting: Four Cartoon Network shows, including Adventure Time, The Amazing World Of Gumball, Ben 10, and Regular Show.
Relevance: While the cafeteria theme doesn’t have a clear connection to the shows in question, these trays do conjure memories of grade-school hot lunches, which dovetails nicely with the youthful ebullience of Cartoon Network’s lineup.
Item quality on a scale from 1 (instantly trashable) to 5 (worth keeping unironically): 5. Not only are the trays made of hardened, public-school-grade plastic, but the graphic design on each is beautiful. There would be no shame in using one of these to serve a Christmas ham. And fashionable schoolkids can forgo standard-issue cafeteria dinnerware by bringing their own custom tray to school, if they want to get beat up.
eBay market value: None of these have been listed on eBay, but the auction site did suggest that we might like a “Vintage Cheinco Metal Cartoon Bartender Beverage / Beer Tray,” whose cheerful design harkens back to the era when beer was 5 cents and saloons did not serve minors. [John Teti]

Items: A great many T-shirts

Promoting: Philosophy INC (“a Roanoke-based arts and education organization”), the Anchorman 2 DVD, Fox’s Rake, WGN America’s Manhattan, Fox’s Surviving Jack, Syfy’s Helix, Birdman, and The Who.
Relevance: These are shirts, and the characters in all of the promoted TV shows/movies wear shirts, too. Presumably, the members of the Roanoke-based arts and education organization don’t go topless, either, but who knows? Roanoke, man.
Item quality on a scale from 1 (instantly trashable) to 5 (worth keeping unironically): Ranging from 1 to 5. At the low end of the scale is the Anchorman T-shirt, which was packed into a ball for mailing and thus is more wrinkles than shirt at this point. The Anchorman shirt is also hurt by its 10-year-old catchphrase—“I’m kind of a big deal”—which not even irony can save. A slogan also hurts the wearability of the Helix shirt, which asks, “Where the hell is my monkey?” At the high end of the dignity spectrum is the Birdman T-shirt, whose tasteful graphic design and soft cotton make this the least objectionable apparel in the pile. Special note should also be made of the Surviving Jack shirt, which features Hypercolor-style technology: When you get it warm, the shirt changes color, an effect that lasts almost as long as Surviving Jack did.
eBay market value: Just buy this pack of “SLIGHT IRREGULAR” Hanes T-shirts for $16 and use a Sharpie to write the names of your favorite TV shows on the front. [John Teti]

Item: BoJack Horseman Gift Set (2014/15 calendar, talking bobblehead, mini Mane ’N Tail shampoo and conditioner)

Promoting: BoJack Horseman.
Relevance: BoJack Horseman is the first animated series released exclusively through Netflix, staring Will Arnett as BoJack, a former television star and a current horse that still resides comfortably in Hollywood, but can’t seem to get a gig. The comedy isn’t the most consistent, but with voice acting from Amy Sedaris, Alison Brie, Paul F. Tompkins, and Aaron Paul, there’s a chance it will catch its stride.
Item quality on a scale from 1 (instantly trashable) to 5 (worth keeping unironically): The calendar and the shampoo and conditioner set are practical, earning them a 5. Bobbleheads are annoying to begin with and take up space you might not have, plus this one talks, so it gets a 2, because at least you’ll listen to all the catchphrases once before trashing it.
eBay market value: The bobblehead is listed once for $99.99 sans calendar and beauty products. Although no one has bid yet, seven people were, at press time, anxiously waiting to wrangle it. [Becca James]

Item: Family portrait complete with magnet frame

Promoting: Cristela.
Relevance: Very little. Cristela, a new family sitcom on ABC, is a Friday-night show with Friday-night ratings.
Item quality on a scale from 1 (instantly trashable) to 5 (worth keeping unironically): 1. There is absolutely no use for this, unless you are really strapped for magnets at home and need to put something on your fridge or file cabinet.
eBay market value: It’s not on eBay but single, autographed shots of Cristela Alonzo go for as much as $50. Considering this magnet frame holds upwards of seven faces, let’s say it’s capable of fetching a cool $350. [Becca James]

Item: Magnet set

Promoting: Clarence.
Relevance: Overall, its sexual shenanigans are overshadowing its comedy. In July, Skyler Page, creator of the Cartoon Network show, was fired after another employee claimed he sexually assaulted her, and just recently, the show censored a gay kiss.
Item quality on a scale from 1 (instantly trashable) to 5 (worth keeping unironically): This is a solid 4. These magnets are small enough to use on your fridge and if you’re not using the the tire magnet and the duct-tape magnet to show off how funny you are, the “I have my own complex reasons for things” and “Welcome to party paradise” are sure to out you as a real ironic comedian.
eBay market value: The magnets aren’t listed on eBay, but because they are at least twice as good as the Cristela magnet, let’s say $700. [Becca James]

Item: Plantable matchsticks

Promoting: Kina Grannis’ Elements.
Relevance: Kina Grannis is just a singer-songwriter who wants the world (read: music critics) to know that, “With a little love, good things can grow.”
Item quality on a scale from 1 (instantly trashable) to 5 (worth keeping unironically): 3. If you don’t have a green thumb, there’s no reason to pretend.
eBay market value: This item isn’t listed, but you can have ours for 99 cents. [Becca James]

Item: Boomer Lives stress cat

Promoting: Maron’s second season.
Relevance: Marc Maron is a proud cat lover whose beloved Boomer went missing, spurring Maron to interject “BOOMER LIVES!” in many of his podcasts.
Item quality on a scale from 1 (instantly trashable) to 5 (worth keeping unironically): 5. People love cats and this one relieves stress just a like a real one should. Plus, it’s highly unlikely to kill your sleeping baby.
eBay market value: No one is selling this cat, but a shirt with Boomer on it is going for $25. [Becca James]

Item: A shitty plastic magnifying glass

Promoting: Broadchurch.
Relevance: None, really, since the detectives on Broadchurch use modern forensics techniques rather than cheap Holmesian symbolism. It does have the TV show’s name printed on the handle.
Item quality on a scale from 1 (instantly trashable) to 5 (worth keeping unironically): 1. This wins the award for “worst swag for best show.”
eBay market value: Too cheap even for eBay. [Laura M. Browning]