Idiot vs. Idiot Box

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TV Turnoff Week was always the one Adbusters campaign I thought was a perfectly fine idea: People choose to go seven days without television, and use it as a sort of conversation-starter to encourage others to do the same, get outside, read a book, talk to friends, whatever. You don't have to share the Adbusters crew's pose of pathological hatred for that hyperkinetic "vast wasteland" to think trading in a habitual infomercial viewing for Proust or the park once in a while might be healthy.

Except, naturally, they've found a way to turn what had been voluntary and innocuous into something intrusive and obnoxious: The mag is encouraging their self-styled "culture jammers" to prowl the streets with a keychain device called TV-B-Gone, a remote control universal off-switch for televisions, shutting off the tube in restaurants, bars, cafes, waiting rooms, and other public places. Sitting in the park and reading, apparently, lacked activist frission. I'm morbidly curious to see what happens when one of these proud sanitizers of the media landscape decides to enlighten the lumpenproletariat by making the local sports bar Fernsehenrein on game day.

NEXT: Joltin' John Bolton's UN Hopes Crashing?

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  1. Not to suggest the FCC or any of it’s rules be worth a damn, but it seems that might/(should??) be illegal, no?

  2. Well, the *device itself* wouldn’t be illegal under any FCC regulation unless you want to suggest that universal remotes should similarly be illegal, which I don’t think anyone would argue. The unsolicited. *use* of it in someone else’s bar might be some sort of public nuisance, but not as a result of FCC rules.

  3. First, the activists were nonconformists.

    As their ranks swelled, they conformed to their newly defined norm.

    Then the conformists became fascists.

    Isn’t that always the way it happens?

  4. Wow, when I first saw the web site I thought it had to be a joke. It’s for real? That is too screwed up for words.

    “is our first product, and is, in fact, one of the first truly useful uses of technology. We hope you will enjoy it, as well as the vast amount of energy that it opens up in your life.”

    Yep, antibiotics, internal combustion, the personal computer and TV-B-Gone the amazing device that lets you turn off a TV! ( and annoy people everywhere). Thank you for freeing up vast amounts of energy in my life with your $14 REMOTE CONTROL.

    “Q. What is the etiquette of turning off a tv in a public place?
    (….) With TV-B-GoneTM, you have the power to turn any tv off, with others’ approval.”

    Sure, wink. wink. the pretense of courtesy is pretty transparent. If you really had others? approval you wouldn?t need TV-B-Gone you would just ask “May I turn off the TV?” or “Can you please turn off the TV for me?”

    They sold out the first production run. I hope it was an awfully small because I’d like to imagine that the market for a product that is this deeply wrong is not very large.

    “A few TV-B-GoneTM universal remote controls are available now for immediate delivery at Target.com!!”

    Another reason to hate Target this week.

  5. Geez, sounds like a perfectly fun prank to me. Just because you don’t like the ideology behind it doesn’t devalue the fun of a little random chaos.

  6. In high school, someone had a wrist watch with a universal remote in it. He drove the teachers nuts by turning off the TV every time they turned it on. At the time I thought it was hilarious.

    I’m sure the school bought 10 new TV’s since the others were “broken”.

  7. “Geez, sounds like a perfectly fun prank to me. Just because you don’t like the ideology behind it doesn’t devalue the fun of a little random chaos.”

    Ha. Please try that at a Boston establishment during the 9th inning of a Sox game and tell me how that prank went over with the patrons.

  8. matt – just as long as you don’t get caught. Otherwise, the perfect prank. Could you imagine the chaos?

  9. Julian, since you’re “morbidly curious”, I would honestly — to some stranger who turned off my TV because he didn’t think I should be watching it? — honestly, kick him in the balls, and hard.

    “Man pummelled for unappreciated activism”–film at 11.

  10. Adbusters’ existence is based entirely on the condescending premise that “commercial culture” turns everyone into mindless consumer zombies — except for the enlightened folks who support Adbusters, of course. It’s all just dumbed-down Marxian “false consciousness.”

  11. Yeah, it would be a fun prank, if it weren’t part of the whole “_I_ know how _you_ should live _your_ life” thing.

    I’ve joined the “Jammer Group” for San Francisco – you can do this at the Adbuster site. I’ll see what they come up with.

  12. Yeah, it would be a fun prank, if it weren’t part of the whole “_I_ know how _you_ should live _your_ life” thing.

    Exactly. It’s like a device that you could use to extinguish cigarettes, prevent people from orgasming, remove the taste from fatty foods, etc., anonymously and from a distance.

    I hope all these TV-B-Gones become TV-B-Gone-Up-Your-A’s.

  13. Just because you don’t like the ideology behind it doesn’t devalue the fun of a little random chaos.

    Please, ideology is half the battle. There’s a big difference between cracking somebody over the skull in self defense, and cracking somebody over the skull because you don’t like the way they look.

  14. I think these fucking tools been listening to Tyler Durden a little too much. This is like the pantywaist version of Project Mayhem.

    The first rule of Project Annoying Little Pantywaist is, you don’t talk about Project Annoying Little Pantywaist.

  15. I’ve got another idea for an even more advanced piece of “Technology”. I calls it the “TV-B-Gone-B-Gone”. It’s comprised of: a piece of masking tape over the remote receiver, coupled with my boot up the ass of the twat who’s too busy fiddling with his little remote control jammer to see me coming. Patent Pending.

  16. “Man pummelled for unappreciated activism”–film at 11.

    ** Click **

  17. Evan, that idea rules! I’m in. Now, I don’t have a tv and haven’t had one for about two years. I enjoy it that way, I also like tomatoes. Why I would care where other people stand on that is beyond me. So to all those petty Party members trying to tell me how I should live:

    Eat my stool!

  18. Interesting response by pseudolibertarians. How is TV-B-Gone any worse than intrusive TVs in public places? Turning off a TV in a sportsbar is rude and stupid precisely because people have congregated to watch the television. But why do I have to be subjected to CNN when I’m sitting in Logan airport? Why shouldn’t I have the right to turn off the television that’s annoying me? As far as I’m concerned, it’s not about me believing TV is bad for you, it’s about my right not to be subjected to your entertainment. You want to watch TV in public? Get a portable or a DVD player and use headphones. Same with music – get a walkman, why should I have to listen to your crappy music? And most of the annoying public TVs in restaurants and airports aren’t being watched by anyone. And I completely support the random chaos factor.

  19. I’ve got one question: can I get one that will penetrate the ceiling of my apartment and turn off the tube of the idiot, (loud) soap-opera watching cow who lives above me? If so, I’ll take a dozen.

  20. Sounds like you are all addicted to the TV!

  21. “Geez, sounds like a perfectly fun prank to me. Just because you don’t like the ideology behind it doesn’t devalue the fun of a little random chaos.”

    Fun, random chaos that interferes with the delivery of consumer goods is not to be tolerated. Now I’m going to immitate an Eric Cartman voice so you’ll all know how hip I am.

    Sincerely,

    The People Who Fund Libertarian Groups

  22. I could really do without a TV in my house, that’s for damn sure. Back when I had an antenna-based TV, I could at least watch PBS, but now all my roommates do is watch the same cartoons (downloaded off the internet) all the fucking time. It never stops. However, I don’t begrudge people who don’t live with me the right to watch mind rotting television.

  23. FYI, these “activists” trying to turn off TVs in public might be more easy to catch than you’d think, since any digital camera (including the ones on cell phones) can see remote control signals.

  24. I read that this gizmo is quite popular.

    TV at a sports bar is one thing. TV at a restaurant, where you are trying to have a conversation with a friend and are constantly being distracted by the noise and flickering images is another. There is no reason for it. I have to wonder if restaurant owners install those TV’s in response to real customer demand, or perceived and non-existent customer demand.

    Again, I’m not talking about watching the big game, I’m talking about constant background noise. I don’t want to have to avoid an otherwise excellent restaurant because they’ve chosen to install a TV and keep it on all the time.

  25. Number 6,

    I’ll take one too, if it works on the stereo in the apartment above me that was cranking salsa-trance at 5:30 this morning. Even better, if it can turn off the thunderous dancing.

  26. This zany hijinx would have been fun when I was like 13. Now it’s just more encouragement for people to think that everywhere they set foot is public.

    Somehow it’s acceptable to say that TV is annoying, but it’s silly to say that a bunch of juvenile delinquents begging to be considered clever is equally annoying.

    Damn it! I sound like an old man!

  27. I agree, Vanya. I feel the same way about lights. Shouldn’t I be able to turn off lights that are bothering me. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not about me believing light is bad for you, it’s about my right not to be subjected to your need for brightness. You want to see in public? Get a flashlight.

  28. “I have to wonder if restaurant owners install those TV’s in response to real customer demand, or perceived and non-existent customer demand.”

    Alternate theory – they do it to discourage people from lingering and chatting, so they can get more turnover. Sort of like fast food restaurants installing deliberately uncomfortable plastic furniture. Seriously, it’s 2004, do you think McDonald’s couldn’t design a more comfortable chair if they wanted to?

  29. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s not about me believing TV is bad for you, it’s about my right not to be subjected to your entertainment.”

    Just curious. Where in the hell did this right come from? I don’t want to be subjected to views of fat people. The point is that you really need to be able to demonstrate some level of harm before you start regulating what people do in public places. Irritation is really not a good enough standard or kids would not be permitted anywhere.

    Turning off a TV in a sports bar is obnoxious because it isn’t your f-ing TV and it isn’t your f-ing bar. Ask the people running the place to turn off the TV. If you don’t like the answer you get, learn to adapt. Airports are only quasi public spaces. Gates are generally run by those who pay the bills on an ongoing basis, just like sports bars.

  30. Vanya:
    “But why do I have to be subjected to CNN when I’m sitting in Logan airport?”

    Well, because it’s not yours to turn off.

  31. There is, of course, a market-based solution-hang out in places without an idiot-box playing. Culturally, I have noticed a strange phenomenon. People seem to need the box to be played at max volume all the time. My theory is that doing so is more effective at obliterating any thoughts outside of those sparked by the electric soma generator. Whatever the cause, it demonstrates a complete lack of respect for other individuals.

    The box really is disturbingly pervasive. I was standing outside my apt. having a smoke the other night when I realized that the flickering blue of the television was visible in every single dwelling I could see. All of them.

    Of course, all will be better once I move into a building where the only apt. is mine.

  32. “Sort of like fast food restaurants installing deliberately uncomfortable plastic furniture. Seriously, it’s 2004, do you think McDonald’s couldn’t design a more comfortable chair if they wanted to?”

    The worst on that front is Hooters. Those God awful wooden stools make it very unpleasant to sit through a whole game, the scenery notwithstanding.

  33. the flickering blue of the television was visible in every single dwelling I could see

    My tv is always on in the background, whether I’m watching it or not (usually not). I like the background noise. There are very, very few programs that can tear me away from working on the computer or washing dishes or whatever it is I’m doing. I’d like to think that all those other people aren’t just staring blankly at the screen all the time, but sadly I’m probably wrong.

  34. How is TV-B-Gone any worse than intrusive TVs in public places?

    The simple answer is because it fiddles with property that is not yours, and does so simply based on your perception that others need to watch less TV.

    TVs in public places belong to someone, and if their presence annoys you, you’re free to simply not go there. The idea that you’re free to mess with a TV in a public place because it annoys you is th same principle that bans smoking in all NYC buildings.

    I’m sorry but “It annoys me” is not a compelling reason for much of anything that infringes on others rights.

  35. My tv is always on in the background, whether I’m watching it or not (usually not). I like the background noise. There are very, very few programs that can tear me away from working on the computer or washing dishes or whatever it is I’m doing. I’d like to think that all those other people aren’t just staring blankly at the screen all the time, but sadly I’m probably wrong..

    I do the same thing sometimes. I find The Daily Show is good, and often funny, background noise for when I make dinner. I really can’t imagine actually just sitting and staring at the box. However, I suspect you’re right-sitting and staring is exactly what most people do.

  36. i really do like the idea of turn off tv week. i’m not much of a tv person in the first place.

    but this soft fascist wuss shit is so very much like, um, adbustery? if the “commons” is anything you see in public, then there’s really nothing wrong with someone walking into a gallery and taking down images of gays or sexuality in generall they don’t like.

    i mean, i understand the difference is that “tv and advertising is evil thought control” and the artwork isn’t (presuming it has a proper ideological bent or is produced by the right minority group) but the whole attitude is so very, very gross.

    so…how long before “turn off internet week?”

  37. So, does Adbusters have a comment on TiVo. I know plenty of people who go without the magic box for days, even weeks for business travel to hell holes and then spend a weekend playing catch up.

  38. I must really be living in a different world than most people. I eat out maybe five or six times a week, and I can’t recall seeing a television in a restaurant, outside of the sports bar/restaurants where they are to be expected. Airports generally have areas where one can avoid CNN. I’m more bothered by the television blaring in the room next door in hotels, but most people will turn it down a bit if asked politely.

  39. To me, TV-Be-Gone (and Adbusters, for that matter) epitomize the two most obnoxious tendencies in American political and social life:

    1) The desire to feel morally and intellectually superior to one’s peers, and

    2) The desire to inflict one’s personal tastes, preferences and beliefs on everybody else, because after all, you are Right and they are Wrong.

    If you don’t like the TV blaring in a restaurant, patronize another restaurant. If you don’t like the TV in an airport, find a seat that isn’t exposed to it (I’ve found them in every airport I’ve been to) or write to the airport authorities requesting that they provide more TV-free seating areas. In short, exercise your freedom of choice – don’t deny others their ability to choose, just because you don’t approve of their choices.

  40. Here’s a technical question, since I don’t really know how these things work:

    Most TV remotes that I’ve seen have one button for both on and off. Press it once, it turns it on, press it again, it turns it off. Perhaps I’m just completely ignorant of how the technology works, but, doesn’t it follow, if there is a big bank of TV’s, with some turned on and some turned off, when you press the TV-B-Gone button, it turns the off ones on, and the on ones off?

  41. Alright, how many of you schmucks are going to buy this device as a result of that link. I know I am, in fact I think I’ll get 2! I like a little random chaos myself, especially if it effects a bunch of dumb jocks in a sports bar who think they’re part of the team. You don’t have a contract with them, nobody cares how much you spent on that jersey, and you should really try filling that brain up with other things besides sports trivia!

    TV-B-Gone chaos inducer: What? Did I just hear him throw out some stats that nobody gives a crap about? There’s only 11 players on the field buddy, and I’d tune into Sports Center if I wanted the low down!

    *CLICK*

    TV-B-Gone chaos inducer: “Bartender…can you make my rum and coke stiff”
    Bartender: “Here you go” *glass full of coke and ice with a drop of rum*

    *CLICK*


  42. especially if it effects a bunch of dumb jocks in a sports bar who think they’re part of the team. You don’t have a contract with them, nobody cares how much you spent on that jersey, and you should really try filling that brain up with other things besides sports trivia!

    And here is the proof of the elitist nature of the Adbusters and TV-B-Goners. WTF are you doing in a sports bar if you don’t like people talking about sports. Grin and fucking bear it, or go somewhere else.

    I certainly hope that restaurant/bar owners who find people with TV-B-Gones will take the appropriate action–throw ’em out on their asses.

  43. Adbusters sounds kinda cool… don’t they make an internet popup-blocker?

    We are a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age. Our aim is to topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we will live in the 21st century.

    Oh… er, never mind. Moving along…

  44. Oh lighten up… I was just providing some innocent humor. I’m all for private business owners rights to set their own smoking guidelines, etc., etc. I’m all for playing pranks too, an idea you apparently can’t even entertain. And yes, I know what’s crossing the line, so relax chief.

  45. Actually I played this prank many years ago during driver’s ed. That was a lot of fun–when I was 15.

  46. pollutes our physical and mental commons

    Does this mean I can prevent the pollution caused by street theater?

    Sounds like a job for the new and improved Ball Buster by Louisville Slugger

  47. “Please, ideology is half the battle. There’s a big difference between cracking somebody over the skull in self defense, and cracking somebody over the skull because you don’t like the way they look.”

    But nobody’s skull is getting cracked, that’s the point. It’s basically harmless, it’s just TV. If it actually caused property damage or loss of life, that would be more serious.

  48. Actually I played this prank many years ago during driver’s ed. That was a lot of fun–when I was 15.

    Ahhh, so now I get it. There’s a certain age we are supposed to lose a sense of humor and be able to perform pranks. I’m 26, still play some PS2 (online gaming), still strive to keep a sense of humor in my daily life, and will continue to do so. So I’m glad that you became anal retentive after the age of 15, but for me, I’ll pass on that.

  49. Never liked Adbusters. The Adbusters vibe is basically, like much left-wing nuttery, ripe with the stench of an evil Stuart Smalley: “Because I’m smarter than you, I have better taste than you, and darn it, I know how you should live better than you do.”

    TV Turn-Off week? Please. I go weeks, sometimes months without watching TV, and it has yet to be in response to anything other than having other things I’d rather be doing. (Doesn’t mean I don’t like TV, but it’s easier just to rent a season of the X-Files or Deadwood at Blockbuster.)

    Certainly not in response to a bunch of snotty dweebs who think they’re better and smarter than the hoi polloi – mostly based on the superiority the feel when they turn up their noses at people who shop at Wal-mart and buy coffee at Starbucks.

    But somehow these brilliant geniuses who are our self-styled “betters” are stupid enough to believe that lame satire based on advertising campaigns is going to “topple existing power structures.”

  50. Interesting response by pseudolibertarians

    Is it necessary for every hit and run topic to have a post insulting someone else’s libertarianism? I was renewing my reason subscription through Amazon the other day and the reviews on reason were either “great” or “not real libertarianism” begging the question — what is real libertarian thought? I agree with most everything that I’ve read that Friedman has written but not so much Rand. Do I need to go back to the supermarket, buy Libertarian Loops and hope I hit the one in ten shot to get my secret decoder ring? Or can we agree to stop using these bullshit labels?

  51. lincoln,

    I’ve never really figured out what all the hub-bub about “pseudo-libertarians,” etc. is about either. I tend to think of myself as a libertarian or Liberal (in the tradition of the nation’s founders).

    I’m sure I don’t pass the purity test, but this forum is the closest thing to a similar political vibe I’ve found.

    I suspect it’s kind of like the Gurdjieff quote: “If a sufficient number of people who wanted to stop war really did gather together, they would first of all begin by making war upon those who disagreed with them. And it is still more certain that they would make war on people who also want to stop wars but in another way.”

  52. Pseudo-libertarian, in my experience, is just an irritating label used by extremist libertarians to label those who are a bit more willing to listen to things that don’t seemingly jive well with libertarian thought.

  53. Ahhh, so now I get it. There’s a certain age we are supposed to lose a sense of humor and be able to perform pranks. I’m 26, still play some PS2 (online gaming), still strive to keep a sense of humor in my daily life, and will continue to do so. So I’m glad that you became anal retentive after the age of 15, but for me, I’ll pass on that.

    You have no idea.

  54. I believe the term you’re looking for Brien is “principled libertarians.”

  55. Ahhh, so now I get it. There’s a certain age we are supposed to lose a sense of humor and be able to perform pranks.

    Well, adults are basically expected to not screw with each other’s stuff as a prank.

    Of course, legions (ie, 20-30 nationwide) of leftoids wandering around turning off TVs in smug moral superiority doesn’t fit my definition of a “prank”, anyway. Pranks, as I understand them, have to be funny, not simply rude.

  56. Is it necessary for every hit and run topic to have a post insulting someone else’s libertarianism?

    Not always. During election season, it’s necessary for every post on every topic to insult someone else’s libertarianism.

    Regarding the TV-B-Gone: All I ask it that you don’t be a TV-B-Goner while I’m getting a BTVS*-Boner.

    *Buffy the Vampire Slayer

  57. “Oh lighten up… I was just providing some innocent humor.”

    You might want to work on your material a little.

  58. Seriously, it’s 2004, do you think McDonald’s couldn’t design a more comfortable chair if they wanted to?

    joe, you need to get a new calander.

    joe actually brings up a good point here and I find myself (gasp) agreeing that from the restaurant/bar owners’ point of view, the TV is often there to contribute to customer turnover. Once you’ve seen 30 minutes of Headline News you’ve seen it all, so you may as well head out. The TV at once invites you into the establishment and gives you a time frame for leaving again.

    I honestly don’t understand the mindset of people who feel the need to turn off someone else’s TV. If it’s annoying you then LEAVE. You’re right not to be annoyed doesn’t trump anyone else’s right to watch the thing.

  59. “You’re right not to be annoyed doesn’t trump anyone else’s right to watch the thing.”

    i see you are not familiar with the america. it is odd place, yes?

  60. i see you are not familiar with the america. it is odd place, yes?

    Da. In my country, you don’t turn off TV, TV turns off you!

  61. I don’t think they have a right to turn off teevees. I don’t think people have a right to put a flaming bag of poop on anyone’s stoop, either. But I can definitely see the humor.

  62. Vanya,

    I agree with you, despite the snide comments people have made. I spent 7 months last year flying every week (doing contract work), and the TVs in airports were horrible. They’re so loud that there’s nowhere to go to escape them.

    Your rights stop where my EARS begin. How about a universal mute? I can always close my eyes, but the noise is nerve-wracking and unavoidable.

    Is everybody else in America half-deaf?

  63. WHAT??

  64. “Your rights stop where my EARS begin.”

    So whenever you speak at all within audible range of another human being you are violating their rights?

  65. Sorry, I’m still missing why using a “TV-B-Gone” necessarily expresses “The desire to feel morally and intellectually superior to one’s peers.” I watch a lot of TV, but I don’t have an issue with this device. Seems like some people are pretty sensitive about others condescending to them. TV-B-Gone is primarily about shutting up an annoying TV. If I go into your house and turn off your TV because you’re watching “The Simple Life”, then the ragers against the ultrasophisticated would have a point. But if I’m sitting in a lobby of a bus station and no one else is watching – has any harm been done? If I’m waiting for the bus, I can’t LEAVE. Doesn’t my right not to be annoyed trump the right of a television to be on for no reason? I’m not destroying anyone’s physical property. And despite all the anti-leftoid ranting, I think it’s far more likely that conservatives will be using this device to turn off “indecent material” when their kids are around. Finally, while turning off a Red Sox game in the 9th inning in a Boston bar is plain evil, turning off a Yankees game in a New York bar is hilarious. Just a matter of perspective.

  66. But if I’m sitting in a lobby of a bus station and no one else is watching – has any harm been done?

    If no one is watching then why do you need a secret device to switch off the TV? Just walk up and turn it off. The only reason you need a secret device is to furitively turn it off whether anyone is watching or not. Are you considerate it enough to turn the TV back on for the next group of people who want to watch it after your bus arrives?

    And despite all the anti-leftoid ranting, I think it’s far more likely that conservatives will be using this device to turn off “indecent material” when their kids are around.

    You’re right. It’s OK to be a censor because republicans do it too, and we all know they’re always right.

  67. Vanya, I think I answered your question with my previous post… Never liked Adbusters. The Adbusters vibe is basically, like much left-wing nuttery, ripe with the stench of an evil Stuart Smalley: “Because I’m smarter than you, I have better taste than you, and darn it, I know how you should live better than you do.”

    If it makes you feel any better, there’s plenty of the same vibe coming from right-wing nuttery as well. But Adbusters is definitely leftist, anti-capitalist nuttery, so I used left-wing in my rant.

    And Minor Threat pretty well nails the whole needing a secret device to do it instead of just asking someone who works there to turn it off or turning it off yourself. You’ll only be told no (usually) if there are other people who ARE watching it.

  68. TV-B-Gone is primarily about shutting up an annoying TV.

    It is primarily about secrecy. Who are you trying to kid?

  69. “Your rights stop where my EARS begin.”

    I’m sorry, but that is fucking hilarious.

  70. So whenever you speak at all within audible range of another human being you are violating their rights?

    Can I use that one on Chomsky?

  71. headphones or earplugs can help with noise levels. no fancy ipod required.

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