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'Bob's Burgers' sniffs out essential oils and MLMs


‘Bob’s Burgers’ sniffs out essential oils and MLMs

Part 3 of our series, The Subtle Skepticism of ‘Bob’s Burgers’

Working at a burger joint, you probably have to deal with some … unpleasant odors. So maybe it’s understandable that Linda Belcher would try to cover a little of that up with some essential oils. But then, she thinks they do more than just smell good.

“My digestion is better, and I’m crazy relaxed,” Linda says about her treatments of rosemary oil.

Yes, the season 9 episode of Bob’s Burgers called Lorenzo’s Oil? No, Linda’s showcases what everyone receiving a random friend request from a high school classmate dreads — the mulit-level marketing scam (MLM).

According to the FTC, MLMs involve “selling products to family and friends and recruiting other people to do the same.” Think of the old Tupperware parties, or something that sells cosmetics out of the home. Even in a legitimate MLM, the sellers make little to no money unless they unload a ton of product, with most of the profit coming from signing up more people as “distributors.” In the more nefarious version, the pyramid scheme, recruiting others is really the only way to make money. And that’s how they continue to propagate.

So when her sister Gayle finds out that Linda is headed to an essential oil party hosted by the young and “hot” Angie (Linda’s word), she panics — because she’s been there before! Not to Angie’s, exactly, but the even more susceptible Gayle has already been taken in by essential oils. “I bought the distributors’ package at one of those parties — $600 worth — and I couldn’t sell any of it,” Gayle tells the kids. “And I used half of it on myself!”

“We have to get your mom home before they bring out the big guns — the credit card swiper,” Gayle says.

As predicted, Linda is wowed by Angie’s pitch at the essential oils party. She’s even been able to make selling oils her full-time job. “But honestly, they sell themselves,” Angie tells Linda. “And maybe you can sell them, too!”

When Gayle arrives with the kids, she’s immediately sucked back into the essential oils world, and is barely able to mumble some halted warnings to Linda (damn that wonderful peppermint oil). But when she’s finally able to communicate that Linda will never be able to sell the stuff, all the other (still enthusiastic) people at the party start to reveal their similar difficulties.

“I’m looking forward to selling my first vial,” says Reggie, a deli owner and peer of the Belchers. “And sure, a friend of mine stopped talking to me, ’cause of the oils, but I really thought he could use some diffusers to deal with his sinuses.” When others say they’ve only been able to sell to supportive family, or have even taken out loans to buy more oils themselves, Linda puts it all together.

“Angie, you’re young and you’re beautiful,” Linda says. “And that’s why you succeed at this. People are drawn to you. You could sell … ice to people in Iceland.” Amazingly, Angie admits to having done just that! But she’s as surprised as Linda. Angie never thought she was scamming people with essential oils, just like many MLM-pushers may not realize the real harm they cause.

Lorenzo’s Oil? No, Linda’s puts its focus on the marketing of essential oils, but it’s worth noting that, no, they probably don’t do much for you other than smelling nice. “Aromatherapy” claims that essential oils can be used for any number of medical reasons, and that some can even kill bacteria. None of these assertions are backed up by evidence, and don’t really pass the smell test, anyway (so to speak). Does Angie’s geranium oil REALLY help with relaxation and digestion, AND give you healthier hair and skin? What a miracle drug!

Teddy falls prey to essential oils (Bob's Burgers)

Not to mention restaurant regular Teddy’s favorite, clary sage — which Angie says is “good for ovulation,” whatever that means.

Every February, to help celebrate Darwin Day, the Science section of AIPT cranks up the critical thinking for SKEPTICISM MONTH! Skepticism is an approach to evaluating claims that emphasizes evidence and applies the tools of science. All month we’ll be highlighting skepticism in pop culture, and skepticism *OF* pop culture. 

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.

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