Hello 'Final Word,' so long rubber chicken

April 03, 1992|By Tony Bizjak | Tony Bizjak,McClatchy News Service

SACRAMENTO -- A psychologist -- who will remain anonymous for obvious reasons -- plies the streets of this city with "The Revenger" box boldly planted on his --board, the better to blow up or gun down irksome motorists who dare get in his way.

He is not alone out there. In these tough economic times, people are "toying," as it were, with nastiness and aggression.

They are sidling up to their bosses or a co-worker and, with the tap of a finger on a microchip-driven key chain called "The Final Word," letting lose a flow of verbal vitriol that just can't be printed on these pages.

A dogged recession coupled with increasingly affordable computer components has given new life to the struggling novelty and gag business in Sacramento and around the country.

"It is symbolic aggression," says Richard Boylan, a Sacramento clinical psychologist who specializes in work-stress therapy and is a friend of the aforementioned motoring psychologist. "It's distractive. It allows you to release feelings."

For the most part, Mr. Boylan says, it is harmless.

The flagging novelty and gag industry is pleased.

One of the biggest sellers in the last two years has been the unabashed little black box, "The Final Word." It spouts four offensive phrases in both English and Spanish.

Some 3.5 million boxes have been sold at prices from $4 to $20 since they went on the market a year and a half ago.

They have certainly helped the novelty industry, which has been in bad shape in recent years. The rubber chickens are still hanging by their elongated necks on the racks -- lank, lifeless and weirdly funny. The 75-cent whoopee cushions and the bottles of disappearing ink still perch on the shelves as they have for decades. But the new big sellers are noise-making items run on computer chips.

Especially the insulting items such as the vanity mirror that screams "Eeeaagh!" when you look at it.

"Noise-making things -- that is what the industry is focused on now," says Karin Snelson of the national novelty distributor Archie McPhee and Co. of Seattle.

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