By In Stuff

Blanket or Not?

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There have not been many times in my life that I wished to be a judge. Oh sure, I suppose Judge Wapner at one point or another must have inspired me to think how I would rule on the “Did his dog pee-pee in her yard” case. I might have briefly thought about being a judge after watching Herman Munster so wisely preside over “My Cousin Vinny.” Judge Reinhold seemed like a person to be after his hot career start — Stripes, Fast Times, Beverly Hills Cop, Ruthless People, etc.*

*There have been FIVE Beethoven movies. I thought this should be said. Five. Judge Reinhold was only in 3 and 4 though, which, I am proud to say, were called “Beethoven’s 3rd” and ‘Beethoven’s 4th.” I love that they decided to call them that in the honor and spirit of actual Beethoven symphonies but am both puzzled and irked that they didn’t call the last movie “Beethoven’s 5th.” It was called Beethoven’s Big Break, instead. My guess is they probably couldn’t get the rights to the name.

So, no, never particularly cared about being a judge. But a couple of weeks ago, I saw something that made me wish I had given up on this crazy sportswriting thing, gone to law school, become an accomplished lawyer, run for county judge, then worked my way up to the place of the Honorable Mark A. Barnett, appointed to the United States Court of International Trade by Barack Obama.

This is so I could have presided over ALLSTAR Marketing GROUP, LLC, Plaintiff v. UNITED STATES, Defendant.

That — as you undoubtedly know because it’s now very famous not unlike Brown v.  Board of Education — was the case where once and for all the question of our time was decided:

Is the Snuggie® clothing apparel or is it a blanket?

Now before I tell you the Judge’s ruling, let’s talk for a moment about the Snuggie®. Seven years ago, I saw the Snuggies® commercial for the very first time. I don’t exaggerate when I say that it changed my life. I am, of course obsessed by those little infomercials — infocos I like to call them — and have spent way too much of my limited brainpower thinking about vacuums for ear wax, chairs that let you work out and work at the same time, insensitively named flashlights that are almost frighteningly indestructible, and the dog that talks in Farmer’s Only commercials.

But, if I’m being real, none of them quite moved me the way the Snuggies® commercial did. The perfect infoco product must achieve three things.

1. It must make a clear promise to fix a problem.

2. The problem must not exist.

3. The product must then fail to actually fix the problem that does not exist.

The Snuggie® was perfection. It promised to fix the problem of your arms getting caught up in blankets. The commercial began memorably with a woman trying desperately to answer the phone while snuggling inside a blanket: It’s impossible!

The problem, of course, is completely and totally non-existent. Nobody on earth or in any of the infinite number of dimensions of earth has ever thought: “This blanket, ugh, can’t someone make it so that you can stay warm AND answer a phone?”

And then, the Snuggie® — it didn’t actually fix the completely made-up problem at all. I should know. I bought Snuggies®. Yeah: Plural. I even wore one to a book signing once. And I have to tell you: You don’t get a lot of mobility inside a Snuggie®. I had to take off the Snuggie® to actually sign books.

So I love the Snuggie®, love it with all my heart, but I kind of thought the Snuggie® was gone from my life forever. New absurd info-commercials came on. The Snuggie® fell into memory, like the song “Call Me Maybe.”

And then: A Miracle. The Snuggie® people took the United State of America to court. Their mission: To prove that the Snuggie® is not a piece of clothing. The Snuggie® is a blanket.

Well, what is it? Well, before that, um, we need to give some context.

Yeah, I know.

The whole apparel vs. blanket thing is actually kind of serious stuff. The Snuggie® is made in China or at least it was before President Trump was elected; I fully expect him to end this nightmare. Anyway, the import tax on the Snuggie® depends very much on its designation. Apparel is taxed at 14.9%. Blankets, though, are taxed at just 8.5%. So we’re talking about a lot of money here. As silly and hilarious and sad as it might be, it actually matters what the Snuggie® is. And so the case went to court.

And what a case. I have been spending much of my free time just reading the ruling. It has made me so happy.

The United States, unsurprisingly, made one argument that the Snuggie® has to be apparel because they have, and I shall begin quoting, “wide-armed sleeves and flow loosely around the body.” In this way, the United States said, the Snuggie was similar to “clerical or ecclesiastical garments” and “professional or scholastic gowns and robes.”

The Snuggie® people countered by saying, HA HA HA HA HA HA! You’re joking, right? Professional robes? Ecclesiastical Garments? No, no, no, my friend, clerical and ecclesiastical garments have closures. There are no closures on the Snuggie®. It’s WIDE OPEN, baby.

And as for the gowns and robes argument, well, to make that argument the judge needed to be convinced that people would wear the Snuggie® backward (which is actually frontward, like a robe).

“The court,” Judge Barnett wrote, “is not persuaded by the Defendant’s argument.”*

*Do you think Judge Barnett put all sorts of snarky stuff into his ruling because, yeah, when else could you really do that? Oh and by the way, have you noticed h0w I have the trademark symbol after every Snuggie®? I put it into my TextExpander app. I am so happy to have it there. Snuggie® Snuggie® Snuggie®!

OK fine: But what about Halloween? As the defense obviously pointed out, people clearly wore out Snuggies® on Halloween. There’s no doubt that someone in a Snuggie® came to your door at some point. Doesn’t that make them clothing? This was a touchy issue that involved a couple of court cases — Pompeo v. United States and Rubie’s Costume Co. v. United States — and led to one definition that said clothing, even costume clothing, must provide decency and comfort.

“The plaintiff concedes the Snuggie® offers comfort;” the judge wrote, “however, Plaintiff contends the Snuggie® is not worn for decency.”

I have spent hours — sad to say HOURS — thinking about this exchange. I imagine it went like so:

DEFENDANT: “Your honor, the Snuggie® clearly offers both comfort and decency.”

PLAINTIFF: “Your honor, the plaintiff we will stipulate that the Snuggie® is very comfortable. However we must insist that the Snuggie® is not a decent thing to wear outside. If anyone knows that you don’t wear a Snuggie® outside, it is us.”

DEFENDANT: Objection!

JUDGE: Overruled.

DEFENDANT: We strenuously object, and ask to confer with you in chambers about the obvious decency of the Snuggie® in outdoor conditions.

JUDGE: The objection has been overruled.

DEFENDANT: Move to reconsider.

JUDGE: The Snuggie® people are experts on the subject of the Snuggie® and the court will hear their opinion!

Anyway, that Halloween thing didn’t go very far.

The defense also tried to attack the Snuggie® from the “one size fits all” angle — hey, if “one size fits all,” that means that it has to actually “fit” which means it has to be a piece of clothing. Only pieces of clothing fit, right? The judge didn’t buy that one either. He made the ruling that, “Come on, you’re kidding right? They made it one size fits all because they didn’t want to make any other sizes. Come on, quit trying to con me.”

He wrote it in a more scholarly way. He also said, and here I really am quoting: “there is nothing ‘fitted’ about the Snuggie®.”

The biggest question about the Snuggie’s® identity, and the final one, comes down to those sleeves. That’s the whole story, right? The Snuggie® pitched itself as a “blanket with sleeves.” It was, as the judge tells us, inspired by something called the Slanket® and, even better, something called the “Freedom Blanket.” Just knowing that there is something out there called the “Freedom Blanket” has made my life, I would say, at least 1.2% better.

The only real question is: By putting sleeves on a blanket do you make it a piece of clothing?

Finally, we are the crux of the matter. I am fairly certain this was determined thousands of years ago, in ancient Greece, by Plato himself in his renowned “lipstick on a pig” parable. As the judge ruled, “The Court finds that the sleeves are incidental to the Snuggie’s® use as a blanket; the sleeves are not so substantial as to transform the Snuggie® into something other than a blanket.”

Yes. I cannot begin to describe my delight that someone — an important and very smart person — thought up and wrote down those words: ‘The sleeves are not so substantial as to transform the Snuggie® into something other than a blanket.” I am for putting those words on a monument somewhere.

The ruling was clear and it was decisive: The Snuggie® is a blanket. Well, of course it is. Then again, it is not entirely clear yet what sort of precedent this will set. It could mean that the Ginzu Knife will be classified as a weapon. I hope so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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45 Responses to Blanket or Not?

  1. Jamie says:

    Snuggie® has stopped seeming like a word, and has just become sounds.

  2. Subrata Sircar says:

    I actually own and use a Slanket on a regular basis, as it’s quite comfortable and keeps my arms warm while reading. (Oh, its true purpose is to be a conversation starter I bought on a whim, but still :<)

  3. Benjamin Wildner says:

    Well now we know what will be carved into the side of the Poscast honoring ediface regarding one last meaningless thing to end this meaningless thing.

  4. KHAZAD says:

    The problem was already solved once, by Land’s End. They used to make something called a “Snuggle Sack” made of warm high quality fleece with banded arms and legs and a heavy duty zipper. I bought one for both my Mom and my Wife like 15 years ago or more.

    I found out a few years ago when the snuggie came out that it was no longer available, and I wonder if sales went down because it was so well made that anyone who wanted one bought it and never needed another one. My Wife and Mother both still use theirs every winter, and they are still in good shape. They are also definitely clothing, though you wouldn’t want to wear it any further than the end of your driveway. (Or maybe some people would, judging by what I sometimes see at the store.)

    I wonder why they didn’t bring it back when all the cheap hybrids hit. I know other people that get cold in the winter, and they make great gifts.

  5. invitro says:

    I’d like to know the reason behind taxing clothing and blankets at different rates. (Behind the obvious one, that lawyers are money-grubbing scumbags who have no shame in enacting the most stupefying edicts, if it will cause people difficulty and thus earn the lawyers a few thousand bucks.)

    • Brent says:

      Lawyers sometimes are politicians, but Lawyers do not = politicians.

      One the politicians that most certainly is going to ask Congress to pass more and more restrictive trade taxes in the next year is our beloved President, and last I checked he isn’t a lawyer.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      Yes, all we lawyers are rich money-grubbers unlike corporate CEOs, who work only altruistically to benefit society and would never lie or dissemble.

      • invitro says:

        Don’t worry Marc, I’m not a big fan of corporate CEOs, either. But at least they don’t work hard to try to make the lives of everyday folks difficult.

        • DB says:

          Yep, Adams, Lincoln, FDR. All ******* trying to make the lives of everyday folks difficult. There are a lot of bad lawyers just like there a lot of bad doctors, bad CEOs and bad politicians. Everyday I try to think of ways to make the lives of everyday folks difficult but I guess I am not imaginative enough.

          • invitro says:

            I’m not a fan of doctors, either, and certainly not politicians. Whoo, I’m not a fan of a lot of professions! So here’s who I am a fan of: scientists, teachers, artists, writers, entrepreneurs, programmers, mathematicians, laborers, well there are many more… 90% of people, probably. 🙂

          • invitro says:

            Oh, Lincoln was an evil man… he didn’t just try to make the lives of half the American people difficult, he declared war on them! And FDR was evil for different reasons… his ignorance of Stalin’s evil created the Cold War, and allowed communism to bloom and cost hundreds of millions of lives and billions of ruined lives. Grim, but we gotta call a spade a spade. 🙁

          • Rob Smith says:

            The issue seems to be that you put people into categories instead of looking at the actual people. Good people will be good lawyers, good politicians and good CEOs. And, the reverse is also true. I can think of plenty of examples of each. Money and position doesn’t make people good or bad. However, I will agree that bad people become worse for the world when they have money and position. A bad ditch digger has much less influence on the world than a bad CEO or a bad politician.

          • DB says:

            My wife is PhD (biophysical chemistry) who is now a lawyer. Am I supposed to hate her half the time or all the time as the lawyer part trumps. A decision tree analysis would help me in my relationship with her.

          • invitro says:

            “My wife is PhD (biophysical chemistry) who is now a lawyer.” — As the New Zealand pop group OMC sang: How Bizarre.

          • invitro says:

            “Good people will be good lawyers, good politicians and good CEOs.” — My tongue has been partly in cheek. Obviously it’s silly to claim that all members of a profession are good or bad. I’m just saying that the sum total of all members of the legal profession is on the evil side, at least more than the total of scientists, writers, and the other professions I mentioned. But I think good people are probably less likely to become lawyers, politicians, or CEOs, and instead choose a different profession, one that’s not so focused on money and power.

          • Bob says:

            I guess the lesson here is that you shouldn’t make “blanket” staements. Lol.

    • Richard says:

      Perhaps it’s because a blanket is , at its most basic, just a rectangular piece of fabric. An item of apparel requires a bit more work done to the fabric to make it wearable. The tax difference appears to be not much more than a “value added tax”.

      • Pat says:

        Good guess, but it’s a mistake to think that tariff rates are ever arrived at because of identifiable reasons. Sometimes there is a distinction between X and Y because one of the myriad authorities decided they want more of the one, less of the other… but far more often, it’s just a hodge-podge without rhyme or reason. It’s not like the customs officials decided that they want imported blankets to be cheaper than imported clothes; instead, it’s likelier that in the year 1954 someone decided to tax imported fabric, and they came up with a number, and then in ’73 someone else who wasn’t even out of grade school in ’54 decided imported textiles needed a tariff, and they came up with a number… and then someone ran on a free trade plank and lowered a lot of the tariffs (but not all of them) and then someone ran on a Buy America plan and raised a lot of the tariffs (but not all of them, or the same ones that were lowered), then someone in the office tried to harmonize X, Y, and Z but forgot to harmonize W, U, and V… the entire field is a jumble of ad-hoc decisions, not a comprehensive product of deliberate policy.

    • Nickolai says:

      I’m not sure here, but I think that the total apparel industry is many times the size of the blanket industry. So the higher tax rate could be a bit punitive – since there is a much higher value of imported apparel product, this industry has been an obvious example of off-shoring as the increase in cheap manufacturing overseas has meant corresponding declines in US-based jobs.

      • invitro says:

        It would be nice if lawmakers could try to make everyday people’s lives easier for a change, rather than harder. But they love regulations, as they make their ilk richer and job-secure.

  6. Mark Daniel says:

    This is extremely interesting to me. Not the Snuggie case specifically, but the fact that the Snuggie case is interesting, humorous and ridiculous.
    It has relevance to something I’ve sometimes wondered about: why judges never seem to retire. We know that Supreme Court justices will stay on the job until like 86 or 92 years old or something, and sometimes until they die. My father used to work in the court system, and he knew some judges. Whenever one of them would retire, which wasn’t often, they were all some really advanced age like 88. When I was a kid, I just thought judges were old people. As I got older, I began to wonder why judges worked forever while everyone else seemed to retire at 65 if not sooner.

    My thought was that judges didn’t retire because being a judge paid well but wasn’t that much work. You had law clerks and underlings doing all the work for you. All you had to do was sit and listen to the case, then later on relate your thoughts to people who took notes and who would write the opinion for you.

    But this Snuggie story adds a new level of complexity. Maybe judges are entertained by the cases. Maybe they are entertained by the lawyers. It’s like the ultimate form of reality TV, and it’s interactive. Retiring from the bench for them might be like a regular person getting rid of their TV.

    • Oilcan23 says:

      I would guess it’s because they like their job.

    • David says:

      A big part of it is that it takes so dang long to BECOME a judge. It’s not like you become a judge at age 30. Most are WELL into middle age before the opportunity arises. And if your life’s dream is to be a judge and you’re not one until most people have already started collecting social security, it makes sense that you might actually want to enjoy your life’s ambition for a little (or long) while.

    • invitro says:

      “My thought was that judges didn’t retire because being a judge paid well but wasn’t that much work.” — This is probably mostly the case. I think also that judges love most of all pushing people around, and a judge has less power to do that after he or she is retired. 🙁

      • Rob Smith says:

        I think you have met different judges than I have. The newspapers tend to write about the bad ones who abuse their authority and, in some cases, accept bribes. However, most are motivated by the desire to get it right and provide justice. That’s kind of boring, though, so they don’t get much ink.

  7. Michael Hessling says:

    Reading your work, Joe, has made my life, I would say, at least 2.4% better.

  8. SB M says:

    This article is at (or near) peak Joe. Well done.

  9. Marc Schneider says:

    I was sure this was going to be about the woman in the picture and how Joe wanted to be a judge at some beauty pageant or that she was naked underneath the Snuggie or something similarly salacious. I guess that says something about me.

    • invitro says:

      That picture makes me think of the old Heaven’s Gate religious cult. The ones that committed mass suicide in 1997, with a five-dollar bill and three quarters in their pockets.

  10. Karyn says:

    I’ve read that Snuggies were invented for people in wheelchairs, or otherwise having limited mobility. It’s much easier to put on a Snuggie than a jacket in that instance. Some of the other things marketed on late night TV (infocos) have the same roots; invented to help people whose hands shake, or who have very little strength in their hands, etc., but the only way to produce them is to sell it to lots of people, so they make these silly commercials we all laugh at, and maybe buy as a gag–but really are a godsend to a few people with disabilities.

    • EnzoHernandez11 says:

      Then they are clothing, dammit! Back to the court house!!!

    • David says:

      You are right, in that the Snuggie and some other products are needed for those with physical limitations.

      Don’t nobody need a WaxVac, though.

    • Robert says:

      my wife uses a wheelchair. Snuggies (and products like it) are a God send.
      They keep her warm and she can manage them herself. Cheers to the guy who invented them! May he never need one.

  11. Richard Aronson says:

    In 1983, at the Los Angeles Renaissance Faire, I played Friar Lawrence in a misguided attempt to bring drama to the drunken; comedies worked, drama, not so much. I wore a monk’s robe which could easily be seen as the neanderthal to Snuggie’s blanket sapiens. It was heavy wool, hot as hell in the LA sun, and while I wore underwear underneath it, that was more for consideration to anyone else who might have to wear it than for decency. So the judge’s ruling was a lot closer than you’d think.

    • invitro says:

      “a misguided attempt to bring drama to the drunken” — As a former often-drunken person, I can testify that the state of drunkenness often leads to more than enough drama.

  12. Vidor says:

    I thought it was generally understood that Snuggies are just robes worn backward.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Well that would imply that most people wore them walking around. While some apparently do that, the only walking around I’ve seen with a Snuggie on was to grab another cup of coffee on Saturday morning. Wearing it out in public is something akin to those that insist on wearing their pajamas out in public. A few morons wearing their PJs in public, doesn’t make PJs proper evening wear. Just like a few dopes wearing snuggies to Walmart doesn’t make snuggies into jeans and a t-shirt.

  13. moviegoer74 says:

    Nice A Few Good Men reference, Joe.

  14. Kevin Fitzgerald says:

    I will have to review the ruling. Off the bat, it seems common sense to merely argue that blankets are two dimensional. Adding sleeves means additional labor operations to manufacture and attach them, with a resulting three-dimensional item. Assuming you could close the back with a sash around the body, it would would offer decency as well. My other thought is that the tax reduction amounts to $64000 for every $1 million imported. How much can they possibly be importing to make this worth litigating? Add to that more legal fees as there is sure to be an appeal forthcoming. In any case, I can only imagine Joe’s excitement on discovering this decision. Great story.

  15. :-) says:

    Trying to understand the comfort and decency requirement to qualify as clothing. Would a necktie qualify as clothing? It does not seem to satisfy either of these requirements. Would it be considered jewelry?

    • Rob Smith says:

      I think a tie is technically an accessory. I’m sure the taxing authorities have figured that one out by now.

  16. Crazy Diamond says:

    Ah Joe’s favorite nonsense line from cinema: “I strenuously object!”

  17. Pat says:

    “I am, of course obsessed by those little infomercials — infocos I like to call them …”

    Not to be critical, I feel like there was a missed opportunity here. “Informational commercials—or ‘co-mationals’…”

  18. Brett Alan says:

    If The Good Fight doesn’t turn this story into an episode next season, they’re so missing out. The Good Fight is the spinoff of The Good Wife, which did lots of this kind of thing–for example, they did an episode based on Jonathan Coulton suing Glee for using his arrangement of “Baby Got Back”.

    The government lawyer could find video of a kid–maybe the child of one of the company’s officials–wearing the thing as a Halloween costume, and all appears lost. But at the last minute, one of the lawyers notices another kid on the video is dressed as a ghost, and wearing a regular, non-sleeved blanket. Boom.

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