Economy

The 10 Most Offensive and Tasteless Things Sold in 2014

Further proof that capitalism has run amok.

The marketplace is rife with unreliable products and others that don’t live up to their hype. But apart from rip-offs, there are just terrible, tasteless products that should never have been made in the first place, let alone marketed and sold. They appeal to humanity’s dark side, prey on our paranoia, or make light of genuine human tragedy. Others are merely awkward. Here are 10 of the worst products we found for sale this year.

1. Bloody Kent State sweatshirt. Urban Outfitters feigned innocence after it faced public backlash in September for selling a “vintage” Kent State University sweatshirt that looked liked it was soaked and spattered with blood. The sweatshirt, which sold for $129, invoked memories of the massacre of four college students protesting the Vietnam War by Ohio National Guardsmen in May 1970. After the item was reported on by the media, Urban Outfitters removed the sweatshirt from its stores and website.

Offending the public is nothing new for Urban Outfitters. Among its most tasteless products over the past several years was a women’s cropped shirt with the word “depression” repeated on it; a women’s shirt worn by a very thin model in ad photos that said “Eat Less” in large script letters; and a T-shirt that read “Jesus, I’m drunk," depicting Jesus Christ holding a foaming mug of beer.

2. Ebola suits. During the nation’s collective Ebola freakout this autumn, several companies smelled money and began to sell protective suits on Amazon.com, pandering to public fears. Popular suits included the Lakeland Interceptor Vapor Suit and Dupont Encapsulated Level A Suit. To be fair, these hazmat suits serve a legitimate purpose, protecting workers from chemical and environmental hazards, but retailers were selling them for more than twice the price they typically retail for and buyers were scooping them up because, hey Ebola! 

3. Not See Kola. The producers of a water-clear soda evidently thought it might be a fun play on words to christen its beverage with a joke name that is pronounced “Nazi.” Worse, they took it a step further and used Teutonic imagery, including an image resembling the Parteiadler, a version of the German Imperial Eagle that was the symbol of the Nazi Party, and labeling playing off popular 1930s German fonts. The soda, which supposedly tastes like Crystal Pepsi, has been on the market for a few years, and can be found on Amazon.com.

4. Fake pregnancy tests. Several websites, including those that market through Amazon, sell fake pregnancy tests that always show a positive result. If you think this is just for pranks, think again: the package of one of these products says, “Great For: Marriage! Extortion! Laughs!” Even worse, pregnant women are selling their own positive tests to other women, often over Craigslist. A woman in Texas told CBS News she talked a woman into buying two of her tests. "She wanted to trick him into thinking she was pregnant, so he would drop everything so I gave her two tests," she said.

5. Swastika Hanukkah wrapping paper. The pattern on a roll of blue and silver Hanukkah paper looked somewhat odd to a California Walgreens customer earlier in the month. Cheryl Shapiro noticed maze-like blue lines converged into a swastika, which was repeated along the foil wrap. Shapiro said she put her foot down and demanded the store’s management remove the paper from the shelves. They complied, though it appears the wrapping paper has turned up in at least one other Walgreens store. Walgreens told an NBC affiliate in California that it is looking into the matter. Hallmark Cards, which produced the wrapping paper, has pulled the item from distribution.

6. iPhone stun gun case. A company called Yellow Jacket has turned the innocent iPhone into a self-protection device, and possibly even a weapon. The company is selling a protective case for iPhone 4 and 5 models that doubles as a 650K Volt stun gun. The creator of the case claims he came up with the idea after being robbed at gunpoint. He says since people always have their cellphones on them, it made perfect sense to combine an iPhone case and a stun gun, creating a valuable weapon to fight off an assailant. The cases, which sell for between $60-$150 can produce 950,000 volts and 1.3 milliamps, enough to stun an attacker, if you can get close enough (the stun gun doesn’t shoot wired, dart-like electrodes; it creates an electric arc between two electrodes on the device).

Stun guns are illegal in seven states, and several cities and counties outside those states have restricted them, as stun gun use can go horribly wrong and they can be misused by criminals. Amnesty International and many police officials call them a patently bad idea. They’ve reportedly been gaining in popularity among robbers who use them to disable or intimidate victims into cooperation. Residents in Washington, DC are being terrorized by stun-gun robberies, reportedly by teenagers. Earlier this month an Illinois high school student brought a stun gun to school and used it to assault several of his classmates. He was charged with aggravated assault.

7. The Catapencil. This is a seemingly innocent No. 2 Pencil until you get near the top, where it splits into a V-shape and has two erasers. Attached just beneath the erasers is a rubber band making the pencil into a functional slingshot. While the packaging says it should only be used for target practice, it does not come with any warnings or age recommendations. Consumer Watchdog, which put the Catapencil on its list of the year’s worst toys, warns that someone could easily misfire a dangerous projectile, causing bodily harm to others. And think of the havoc the Catapencil could create in the classroom or cubicle farm.

8. CheckMate Infidelity Test Kit. A must-have for creepy boyfriends and paranoid husbands, this do-it-yourself kit allows them to check their partner’s panties for traces of semen. With enough product to conduct 10 tests, it retails for about $20 from Amazon sellers, where it gets a rating of 3 ½ stars. But one reviewer, a verified purchaser of the product, was not happy. He didn’t get a positive result even after doing a side-by-side test with a control sample (likely donated by him). “Unreliable product. Aside from a waste of money, had they both tested positive, which the one sample definitely should have, the results could have ended a marriage,” he wrote. However, other buyers, who claim to be return customers, give it high ratings.

9. 'My Parents Open Carry: A Children’s Book.' This summer, a new book, My Parents Open Carry hit store shelves. Authors Brian Jeffs and Nathan Nephew say they drew their inspiration for the creepy illustrated tome when they noticed that there were no other pro-gun children’s books. “Our goal was to provide a wholesome family book that reflects the views of the majority of the American people, i.e., that self-defense is a basic natural right and that firearms provide the most efficient means for that defense.”

Their book tells the heartwarming story of a little girl named Brenna, whose parents use the presence of guns to soothe her fears. Says her father: “Brenna, there is evil in this world, and we want to protect you the best we can...When seconds count, the police are minutes away.” Those words must really comfort little Brenna when she’s worried about monsters in her closet or under her bed. Can daddy shoot them? Or will he accidentally shoot her?

10. Jimmy, My Spiritual Friend. Do you need spiritual guidance? For $120,000 you can buy a friend in the spirit world who communicates to you through a pendulum. Jimmy originally sold for $160,000 on Amazon but the price has been reduced, perhaps because of the poor reviews he’s getting, like “Jimmy is a dick!” and “Seemed like a pretty cool dude at first.” While these are certainly fake reviews of an imaginary friend, some buyers on Amazon think Jimmy would be a pretty sweet deal at maybe $150 or so, but for six figures you should really get a daily personal consultation with spiritualist John Edwards.

Cliff Weathers is a former senior editor at AlterNet and served as a deputy editor at Consumer Reports. Twitter @cliffweathers.