By In Infomercials

The Atomic Beam

Yes, it has been at least a couple of years since I have written about an infoco (an info commercial, for those of you who have forgotten). Those of you who have been here since the start know that used to be, more or less, a full-time job (see: Snuggies; The Hawaii Chair; the WaxVac; etc.).

Lately, it just seems like infomercials have lost some of their fun, lost some of their juice. Infomercials now feel like so many other things in America these days — there seems to be no appreciable difference between parody and reality. Have you seen the faux infomercial called “The Neck Basket?” It’s supposed to be a spoof of real infocos — with the subjects wearing silly baskets around their necks so they can easily reach what they need — but it’s frankly a much more reasonable product than many actual ones. Anyway, the spoof just doesn’t match the insanity and loony energy of real infomercials.

Point is, the whole infoco thing just seemed pretty well spent.

And then my pal Mechelle sent me a link to the Atomic Beam infoco. And I’m in love again. This is unquestionably the best infoco in years. It makes me so very happy.

The Atomic Beam is a flashlight that apparently is brighter than other flashlights. That seems to be the whole description. This is a good infoco product — you might remember that the key to a good infoco is that it tries to sell something that nobody really needs. A blanket with sleeves. An ear reinforcer for heavy earrings. I suppose there are people who need flashlights with more light, you know, night hunters, Watergate thieves, police trying to find fugitives, the people of Gotham City. But I also suspect that they mostly remedy this by buying flashlights with more power.

So you have the mostly worthless product. Check. What you need is a big opening.

Scene 1: Atomic bomb goes off.

Um, what?

Announcer: “The atomic bomb is one of the most powerful forces on earth.”

I’m sorry. What?

Announcer: The Atomic Beam is one of the most powerful flashlights on earth.

If the thing stopped right here — we are only seven seconds into it — we would already have one of the greatest infocos in the history of mankind. Let’s stop for just a moment to admire this so obvious comparison between one of earth’s most destructive weapons and a flashlight. These people were in room somewhere trying to come up with a name for their super-snazzy new flashlight. The Smashlight! The Shaq-O-Lantern! The Cosmic Fireball!

And finally one of the geniuses says: “The Atomic Beam.” And everyone loves it because, you know, it sounds like atomic bomb, and before those two atomic bombs in Japan killed 200,000 or so people, they definitely flashed a great deal of light. So yes! The Atomic Beam!

But when it was time for the commercial, and someone undoubtedly said: “You know, I’m not sure everyone will get the Atomic Beam connection to the atomic bomb. Sure they SOUND alike. But I think the comparison go over some people’s heads.” And the others kind of nodded, thought aboiut it for a long time. What could be done to make sure everyone understood that this flashlight was kind of like the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Then someone said: “Do you think we can get some atomic bomb testing footage?”

Someone else said: “Yes, I know a guy!”

And everyone was happy, but then the first guy pointed out, “Hey, even if we show the footage, I’m still not sure people will get the connection.” More pondering. What if we talk about how the atomic bomb is one of the most powerful forces on earth and the Atomic Beam is one of the most powerful flashlights on earth?”

“Wait,” Don Draper said. “What if we talk about how the atomic bomb is one of the most powerful forces on earth and the Atomic Beam is one of the most powerful flashlights on earth?”

And they all high-fived, downed some scotch and went to lunch.

Yes, if it ended here … but it doesn’t. No, the Atomic Beam commercial is only beginning, which is why it is destined to be a classic.

Scene 2: Meet Hunter Ellis: FMR Fighter Pilot.

OK, this is a small thing, but why don’t they spell out “Former?” I assume that’s what FMR stands for, but really “Former” is only three letters longer than FMR and if you don’t capitalize them all it really takes up about the same amount of space. I suppose FMR looks more official. I suppose it could stand for something really cool, something better than “Former.”

Hunter Ellis, you probably know from his appearances on Survivor and many other shows, really is a former fighter pilot, someone who according to his Wikipedia page had 433 carrier landings, which is awesome. There is absolutely no question that his general fighter pilot coolness gives this commercial a sort of gravitas that would be lacking if it was, say, the Slap Chop guy or the guy who goes out floating in a boat with a screen door at the bottom. This guy is a serious bad-ass. And so, if we didn’t get it from the atomic bomb display, we now know we are dealing with a serious flashlight.

“This,” he says as he shines the flashlight in our eyes, “is Atomic Beam USA.”

OK, sorry, I have not been using the flashlight’s full name before. This is not just Atomic Beam — it is Atomic Beam USA. This is not to be confused with Atomic Beam Portugal.

“The ultra-bright, tough-grade flashlight that features tactical technology that is used by Special U.S. Forces.”

(To demonstrate this they show what appears to be someone in the U.S. Special Forces using a flashlight that does not appear to be an Atomic Beam USA.”

Now, before going on, I will admit that I am very curious what “tactical technology” is in the Atomic Beam USA that is also used by “Special U.S. Forces.” The commercial does not say. I’m guessing it is: “Light.”

Scene 3: How bright is the Atomic Beam USA, Hunter?

“This flashlight,” Hunter says, pulling out what I assume is a regulation flashlight, “has a feeble 125 Lux output.” Ha! Embarrassing! Talk about a lack of lux. He demonstrates its feebleness by flashing a dim light on what appears to be a gun-range target in the shape of a human being.

“The Atomic Beam USA has up to 5,000 Lux,” Hunter adds. Now we’re talking. This time the flashlight clearly illuminates a gun range target in the shape of a human being. “That’s 40 times more!”

OK, wait, a couple of questions. What does “up to 5,000 Lux mean?” Up to? Is this an adjustable flashlight? Do some flashlights have 5,000 Lux while others don’t? Do I need to get a Lux Capacitor to measure the amount of Lux I’m getting from my Atomic Beam USA? Also, just curious, why would I need 5,000 Lux if, say, I wasn’t at a shooting range in the middle of the night?

We’ll get back to that one. First, let’s find out how strong this flashlight is!

Scene 4: Indestructible! 

Every good infoco will show you how tough/powerful/sharp a product is by putting it through an absurd test that makes no sense whatsoever. We will cut beer cans with this knife! We will wash this car 200 times! We will have an elephant step on our product!

But I must admit, the Atomic Beam USA people took this all to a whole new level.

“It’s tough enough,” Hunter tells us, “to withstand this 36-ton firetruck.”

Hey now, they show a firetruck running over the flashlight and it appears to come through just fine. That’s one tough flash … oh, wait a minute … they’re not done.

“We’re going to drop it hundreds of feet from this helicopter!” Hunter says, “it hits the tarmac and it’s still working! That’s what I call a tough flashlight!”

That is a tough flashlight. I mean running it over with a fire truck AND dropping it from a helicopter, seriously, that, oh, wait, there’s more?, one you can drop from a helicopter and … oh, wait, they’re not finished …

“Heavy downpours! Mud Puddles!” Hunter tells us and he shows the Atomic Beam USA in a giant mud puddle but, amazingly, it’s still on. In a mud puddle!. This thing is crazy, I mean, .. wait, what are you going to do? Wait, you’re FRYING the flashlight?

“Even extreme temperatures like boiling hot oil,” Hunter says as they, yes boil the Atomic Beam USA in hot oil. Seriously? You need to fry the thing? When will that come in handy? But OK, I think we get it, OK, it’s a tough flashlight …

“Being frozen solid in a block of ice,” Hunter says, “is no match …”

Come on already. A block of ice? I mean let’s just back away from the flashlight already …

“I can smash it with all my strength,” Hunter says, and he proceeds to bash the flashlight with a sledgehammer. At some point a while ago, this began to feel uncomfortable. With the sledgehammer bit it’s now feeling like that Bugs Bunny skit where he’s like, “Oh yeah, if he was in there would I turn on the stove?”

Just one final question: Have you ever in your entire life BROKEN a regulation flashlight?

Scene 5: Why do I need this indestructible, super-bright flashlight? Because you DO NOT WANT TO DIE!

“It’s strobe feature makes it a powerful self-defense tool,” Hunter tells us.

It also makes the Atomic Beam USA super fun at parties! But back to self-defense, you might wonder how a strobe feature can defend your life. Well, they show you. Let’s just say you are shopping late at night in a very dark parking lot, like this poor lady, someone wearing a dark hoodie rushes over to take your purse. This could happen to you. What would you do then? Well, all you would need to do then is pull out the Atomic Beam USA and turn on the strobe and, voila, the attacker is “disoriented.”

Now, you might ask: How exactly am I supposed to get out a flashlight and turn on the strobe light in the millisecond that it takes for this guy to snag my purse? Answer: This lady in the commercial did it. You can too!

Actually, it’s pretty clear you are just supposed to carry around the flashlight in case of dark-hoodie strangers approaching — in the next scene, a woman walking in the parking lot shines her flashlight at the guy (no strobe light necessary!), and he backs off. Well, sure he does. He’s like, “Hey, that lady’s got a flashlight.”

Scene 6: Hunter, can you rely on the Atomic Beam USA?

“As a former fighter pilot,” Hunter says, as he rides along in a boat at night, “I can depend on Atomic Beam USA.” He then shows that you can see the light at night on the boat.

“You can see it for miles on land, sea or air,” he says.

Air? I’m sorry: Air? Realizing that Hunter is a FMR fighter pilot — he has told us twice — what role does a flashlight have in the air? Is this if your landing lights malfunction? Would you use it to signal other planes and prevent mid-air collisions?

Scene 7: How good a deal is this?

Hunter: “You could spend over one hundred dollars … or the Atomic Beam USA can be yours for just $19.99.”

That’s one heck of a deal, you know, compared to the imaginary flashlight that people will spend more than $100 on. And then there’s the lifetime guarantee — where they show the flashlight being fried again (this time with actual fries) and hit with a sledgehammer.

This is all typical stuff. But then the Atomic Beam USA takes it to another level. What is the standard special offer at the end of these infocos? Right: You can get another one absolutely free, just pay the extra shipping and handling.

But for the Atomic Beam, well, listen to Hunter:

“Order now, and you can double it, get a second Atomic Beam USA. Just pay a separate fee. We’ll even ship them to you for free.”

Whoa whoa whoa, hold on there Mr. Fighter Pilot. You kind of glossed over it, but it sounds like you said you can get a second Atomic Beam USA for a “separate fee.” That seems to mean, correct me if I’m wrong, that for another $19.99 you can get another Atomic Beam USA.

I’m no math whiz, but I’m just not suire that qualifies as a “special offer.”

Scene 7: Patriotism!

Hunter makes this point clear: “The critical components inside the Atomic Beam are made right here in the USA.”

Then to prove it, in the corner, there’s a graphic that says: “LED components made in USA.” And you can trust it because the graphic is like Captain America’s shield and is red, white and blue.

That’s awesome — no wonder they call it the Atomic Beam USA and … wait a minute. It sure seems like he said the “critical component inside” are made right here in the USA? What about the non-critical components? What about the stuff outside? What about, you know, the actual FLASHLIGHT? Are you telling me that you have a fighter pilot selling a flashlight called Atomic Beam USA and it’s NOT ENTIRELY MADE IN THE USA?

This might be my favorite part of all.

Well, you know, after the atomic bomb going off.

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42 Responses to The Atomic Beam

  1. Frank says:

    Has the Poscast had a draft of favorite infomercial products yet?

  2. Anon says:

    If I ever hit the lottery, I’m going to sit around all day, every day, ordering infoco products and I promise I will start with the Atomic Beam USA.

    • invitro says:

      Anon, it’s a fine product. I was helping my pop set up his new computer this weekend, and needed a flashlight. Pop handed me one and said “whatever you do, don’t shine it into your eye. It’ll blind you.” Sure enough, it was an Atomic Beam USA. (I reminded my pop I’m already legally blind (and deaf) and that it’d take a real atomic bomb to make my eyesight any worse.)

  3. Dr. Baseball says:

    This is why, Mr. Posnanski, You Are THE BEST!
    Great post!
    I was laughing throughout.
    Simply brilliant.

  4. Aaron says:

    Given the name, I really think the claim that the flashlight is indestructible should include a demonstration that it can withstand an atomic bomb.

  5. murr2825 says:

    The best part is the abbrev. for FMR. I thnk ths cntry is gng abbrev crzy, prsnlly. Hlrus clmn, Je.

  6. invitro says:

    The most effective informercial artists ever are the last two presidents.

    Hillary Clinton bought an hour of primetime programming on the Hallmark Channel in 2008 before the Super Tuesday primary elections, and on Texas-based regional sports network FSN Southwest before that state’s primary to present a town hall-like program. Fellow presidential candidate Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign used infomercials extensively. including running a 24-hour channel on Dish Network. One week before the 2008 general election, Obama purchased a 30-minute slot at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time during primetime on seven major networks (NBC, CBS, MSNBC, Fox, BET, TV One and Univision (with Spanish subtitles)) to present a “closing argument” to his campaign. The combination of these networks reportedly drew a peak audience of over 33 million viewers of the half-hour program, making it the single most watched infomercial broadcast in the history of U.S. television.

  7. JB says:

    I believe them. Otherwise it wouldn’t be on the TV.

  8. invitro says:

    Joe’s dead wrong on the Neck Basket. It’s a real and wonderful product. I have one and wear it from sunrise to sunset. I keep my weed in it.

  9. Jim Hampton says:

    You forgot to mention the best part. At the end, the ad says “Deluxe Version available!” Just think–if the regular one is indestructible and better than anything else in the world, how much better will the deluxe one be?

  10. David says:

    I just want to know what extra features the available deluxe version has.

  11. Scott P. says:

    My favorite part is the lady who uses the strobe light to repel the attacker — after he staggers away, she calmly returns to stowing her groceries, because clearly the mugger was completely incapacitated by the Atomic Beam!!

  12. DJ Mc says:

    I’m disappointed, Joe. You missed a perfect opportunity to make a, “How many lux does it take to get to the center of…?” joke.

  13. Rob Smith says:

    I had always used Lumens to measure light, so I had to look up “Lux”. Lux is a measurement of light intensity. Interestingly, 5,000 Lux would be the equivalent of the amount of intensity somewhere between an overcast day and a sunny day. So, I guess that’s pretty good when you compare it to the dark night time when you need a flashlight. But, of course, they make 5,000 Lux sound like something that would cause you to instantly scream, grab your eyes & fall to the ground moaning…. as you witness an atomic explosion. And yet it doesn’t even rise to the level of a sunny day. Yeah, maybe just a tad over the top.

    Funny stuff Joe!

    • Sadge says:

      Apparently, “Lumens are related to lux in that one lux is one lumen per square meter.”

      • Logan says:

        Man, I am way to late to this topic. But I do lighting design as an electrical engineer. In simple terms, lumens is related to the amount of light produced by a flashlight or a lamp. Lux (or as we typically use in the US, foot-candles) are related to how much light is produced on a surface.

        Saying the flashlight produces “up to 5000 lux” probably means that is produces that much if you put a light-meter an inch away from the light. Move further away, you get fewer lux. A lamp mounted 8′ above the floor produces more illumination on the floor than the same lamp at 20′.

        Advertising lumens would make more sense for a flashlight, but they probably went with lux because it is a bigger number and most people won’t know what they are talking about anyway.

    • Presumably if the thing threw a ton of light (not likely off three AAAs), they’d brag about lumens. Since they brag about lux, what it does is throw a normal amount of light but more tightly focused.

  14. Travis says:

    That so-called “hundreds of feet” they dropped the thing out of a helicopter turns out to be about 70 feet, based on the 2.1 seconds it took to drop. Amusingly, the site I used to calculate it had already led someone else to do the exact same thing, for the same reason, according to the comments.

  15. Marty Winn says:

    I checked the website. The 2nd flashlight seperate fee is $10. $19.98 for the first, $29.98 for two. So it is kind of special.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Plus shipping and handling for each, I assume. What cracks me up about this stuff is they often charge the same shipping and handling for each item, i.e. double. When, as everyone knows, the incremental shipping cost of the additional flashlight is probably about $1, if that. So, $10 for the second flashlight, plus $7-8 for shipping (which costs them a dollar) and suddenly, it’s not such a great deal. They made up most of the discount in the fee and in the shipping and handling.

  16. invitro says:

    The reason why this (kind of) flashlight is so much brighter than others is that it uses an LED instead of an incandescent bulb. The commercial is silly, sure, but this is a legitimate advance in technology. And if you’re not using an LED flashlight now, I’ll bet that you will be soon.

    • mark says:

      Agreed. I have not seen the commercial or used the product, but I do use similar, and more costly flashlights from a manufacturer who markets to law enforcement (but sells to anyone) and not on infomercials. These types of flashlights truly are a meaningful improvement over standard lights and do have some value for safety, even if not as much as the infomercial seems to indicate.

    • Rob Smith says:

      The other advantage of LED lights is they use a lot less power, so your batteries last much longer. I have an LED lantern. I went on several camping trips before I had to replace the batteries & we leave it on several hours each night. Very good lighting too.

  17. Rower41 says:

    If you will kindly go outside after reading this and look toward the state of Virginia, you will note that I am using the Atomic Beam flashlight in strobe mode and bouncing the light off of clouds for a continuous period of two weeks, day and night. Perhaps a few of you will do the same in your state so that Joe’s Blog can simulate the 1,000 points that George the Elder once spoke of…

    Once I tire of replacing the batteries, I will drill hundreds of tiny holes in my light so that I can grow grass seed out of it. I will call it Chia-light. The world needs more grass.

  18. duffy01 says:

    Go to YouTube and listen to Steve Goodman’s song “Vegamatic”. It’s infomercials and is hilarious.

  19. […] thankfully, Joe Posnanski, whose infomercial “analysis” is second to none, is back with this hilarious story on the Atomic Beam infomercial, which truly is one of the stupidest products/infomercials I’ve ever seen. Watch […]

  20. BobDD says:

    Deluxe means that they have taken the luxes out, to make it amazingly luxless . . . which would be dark humor.

  21. shagster says:

    Someone in creative visited the Hiroshima museum and was ‘inspired’ by the permanent shadow of the vaporized folks left on the sides of the building. In the long list of product merits, how did they gloss over such a real benefit? “Light … without the blast level radiation.’ Or … wait a minute. Get out the Geiger. This thing may be as friendly as those uranium tipped armour piercing slugs.

  22. Kuz says:

    I moved from my home state of New Jersey to avoid sales tax on infoco products.

  23. Grover Jones says:

    I work at a stand-up desk. I couldn’t keep standing halfway through this review, I was laughing so hard. I was kneeling on the floor.

  24. Crout says:

    And how about that cool SOS feature? Juuuust in case you have no cell phone and someone conversant in Morse Code happens by. Which, by the way, happens to me all the time.

  25. Cory says:

    The thing that killed me is they show Hunter hit the flashlight with the sledgehammer AFTER showing the firetruck run it over and dropping it from the helicopter. The implication being, of course, that Hunter, like the last boss in a video game, is the FINAL TEST OF TOUGHNESS.

  26. Dave says:

    There’s a Deluxe Version available!!!!

  27. LT BALLS says:


  28. MikeN says:

    It’s available at BBB for $20. So with their coupon it is just $15 + tax.

  29. Glen Abramson says:

    Joe – for your next review please check out the My Shiney Hiney. I won’t spoil the surprise with any details.

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