Is a term coined in the 1970s by the infamous Alan Sugar as a marketing strategy for Amstrad tower hi-fis.

Basically, for those of you who are too young to know better, Amstrad were a very prominent consumer electronics company throughout the 1970s and 1980s in Britain, predominantly, but also in other places. Founded by Alan Michael Sugar, with a name that was a contraction of "Alan Michael Sugar Trading," they started out making low cost hi fi systems and televisions which were, shall we say, serviceable, but weren't going to wow the audiophile crowd (not that you'd want to, there's only so many times you can REALLY LISTEN to Dark Side of the Moon and delude yourself into thinking that solid gold cables have any effect). However, they had two important distinctions:

  1. They were inexpensive.
  2. They looked posher than they were.

Alan Sugar referred to this as the Mug's Eyeful. Here's an example. In the 1970s, the hi-fi system of choice was a bunch of separate components, ideally in a rack, or stacked on top of each other. You'd have your amp, your receiver, your tape deck, your reel to reel tape recorder if you had that, and your turntable on top. They'd all be a similar colour, usually silver or woodgrain sided, and the same width. Then you'd have nice big speakers at each side. With a system such as this, you could get the highest possible fidelity out of your nice vinyl records and open-reel tapes. Unfortunately, such a system was expensive both in monetary and spatial terms. All in one systems were looked down on and often looked and sounded cheap (though there is arguably an element of audiophile snobbery here.) And as for battery powered portable turntables with built in speakers? They looked ridiculously cheap. Enter Amstrad. They would sell you an all in one system. It was cheap and wasn't as good by any stretch of the imagination of your nice posh stacker system. But it didn't look cheap. It had indentations in the front panel between each segment to make it look like a component hi-fi, even though it was just one discrete item. In fact, it looked like a stacker system. And you could show all your friends about this awesome Amstrad hi-fi that was inexpensive and sounded, well, acceptable, but they would likely think that it was really posh. It was an eyeful that was sold to mugs. A mug's eyeful.

Of course, you probably think people are wise to that sort of thing nowadays, right? Wrong.

On the contrary, the mug's eyeful is everywhere. In fact, I would venture that 90 percent of modern products are mug's eyefuls. Most of Amazon's wares are shit Chinese knockoffs of real products, cost-downed, and then put in an instagram-friendly shell and sold for excessive prices. Those Crosley Cruiser suitcase style record players are a prime example of a mug's eyeful. The actual record player mechanism is a Chinese knockoff of a compact record player mechanism from 1986 or so. Now the original mechanism wasn't all that bad. It's no supremo Technics jobbie but it's acceptable in the circumstances. But this is a Chinese knockoff of it, which has in turn been cost-downed to buggery. That black thing on the far end of the tonearm? A fake plastic shell, not a counterweight or even a spring. The tonearm itself? Not metal, but more plastic painted silver. The stylus? A Chinese knockoff of a Chuo Denshi stylus. The amp, speakers, and so forth? Cheapo Chinese knockoffs. Techmoan did a video explaining how he got the mechanism for one of these record players off of Ali Express for under a tenner, including delivery. But what does a Crosley Cruiser cost? £100. That's right. There's no way that the actual guts of the machine cost more than twenty quid, and you could probably find a briefcase to podge it all into for not all that much. No wonder it sounds awful.

Headphones, especially hose Beats headphones? Mug's eyefuls. You can get a pair of AKG or Grado cans that trash those for less than half their price. Bluetooth speakers? Also mug's eyefuls. Computer hardware? Almost entirely mug's eyefuls, especially those marketed as "gaming" gear. You think that the voltage regulation on your motherboard is utterly potent that it needs those huge angular heatsinks dangling off of it? Does it fuck. Server grade gear doesn't have that, it just has heatsinks that are made of aluminium or copper and just do the job rather than looking HARDCORE.

Let's also throw "any PC hardware with RGB colour changing LEDs on it" onto the mug's eyeful heap. Those LEDs cost a few pence at most for some human worker ant in Shenzhen or Guangdong to podge onto the board, but allow the seller to add an extra thirty quid to the price. Sadly, it's become impossible to find some hardware that isn't full of RGB. Also cases with tempered glass sides, so you can see your stupid fucking RGB hardware blinking away like a gay pride parade having an epileptic seizure. Tempered glass is an awful material for a computer case to be made of. It is a thermal insulator, which is the last thing you need when your CPU spits out 95 watts of heat and your graphics card another 350 watts. But, haha RGB go brrrrr. Right? Ugh. It probably costs the same as having a proper aluminium side panel and is worse in every way, but it costs you, the end user, more.

Cars are another example of the Mug's Eyeful. You think that you're getting something special because you're spending loads of money on an Audi or suchlike? Nope. Audis are badge engineered, especially the smaller ones. The Audi A4, VW Passat, and Skoda Superb are the same car. In fact they're all made on the same lines, just with different body panels put on and the Audis have the option for bigger engines. Ditto the A3, Golf, Octavia, and Seat Leon. Yeah, you might get leather seats and heated steering wheels (though not yet subscription only like BMW have instituted) but they're all the same. This is called badge engineering and was the downfall of British Leyland and the near downfall of GM in the 1980s as well in North America. Because why spend extra for a Cadillac DeVille when you can get a Chevy Caprice that has the same chassis, engine, and transmission, but a less fancy interior? And yes, they were all made on the same plants as well. And then the late, unlamented British Leyland would sell you an Austin Allegro, but for extra money you could get the Vanden Plas which had a chrome grill and a square steering wheel (no, seriously) but the same crap mechanicals. But people did. Once again, mug's eyeful. Badge engineering was part of the downfall of BL in the 1980s and part of the near downfall of GM in the 2000s (until they tapped into the mid 2000s trend for blinged up pickup trucks, which is something I will never understand. And yes, the Cadillac Escalade being a Chevy Suburban with posh body panels is, you guessed it, a mug's eyeful).

Unfortunately, it feels like nowadays the mug's eyeful is the only choice in many product areas if you don't want to spend vast sums. During lockdown sits such as Amazon, AliExpress, Wish, and more recently Temu combined to drive traditional retailers completely out of business because they were all forcibly closed while Bezos's shiteporium wasn't. The result was that people bought things solely on price, and those websites are more than happy to sell you Chinesium that of necessity looks posher than it is. As such, most of the "good enough" produce didn't sell because hordes of consoomers bought solely on price and there was nobody to tell them that they were being sold a bill of goods. The result of this is that now, in the space year 2023, your choices for many products are shite that looks good or very expensive things. There is little middle ground.

As for the man behind the mug's eyeful himself, he can now be found on the BBC on Wednesday evenings of a winter shouting at egotists.

(IRON NODER 2023 #4)

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