We watch... so you don't have to.

Lightsaber of the Couch-Bound

Arguments can be made, foolishly and incorrectly, that the computer is the greatest invention of the 20th century. Arguments can be made, erroneously and maliciously, that advances in medicine have been the biggest boon to mankind in the past hundred years. Arguments can even be made, inaccurately and thesaurus-less, that space travel represents the most significant accomplishment of humanity in our age. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Fools, fools.

The single, shining accomplishment of this century, or any other, is the TV remote control.

I have vivid, horrible memories from my childhood of being wrapped in a blanket and nestled into the sofa, the ancient wood-cabineted TV flickering something dull or stupid at me from across the room, the spin-knob channel-changer mocking me at a distance. We used to watch one channel for an entire night back then. Can you imagine that? The only show I remember with any clarity is Emergency!, but I can't believe that we'd bother to stand up and walk the six feet to find something different either before or after it came on. Heck, maybe we didn't watch anything, and just turned the damned set off. Can you imagine that?

Before the clicker, the TV guide had a purpose, beyond vapid celebrity interviews hawking god-awful movies-of-the-week. Before the clicker, shows had time to build some sort of dramatic structure without need a denouement every six to eight minutes. Before the clicker, editing was a process that enhanced the story intellectually instead of visually. Can you imagine that?

It must have been awful.

Not that the clicker can't be improved upon, of course. There are very few perfect things in this life -- Slurpees, for instance, or Ben Boychuk's glare -- and even something as significant, nay, as profound, as the remote can be fine-tuned:

A former roommate of mine has a clicker that changes channels with a small roller, the top quarter protruding from the plastic, replacing the up and down buttons. It's set so your thumb rests on it easily, and it's made out of a thick, soft rubber, for easy traction. It's amazing. With the roller, you can quickly zoom by channels by you're not interested in -- shopping, shopping, Lifetime, shopping -- or slowly cruise through channels you are -- ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN^2, and ESPNLXIV. There's none of the exhausting effort involved in actually lifting a finger up and down, either, just the nigh-invisible shifting of your thumb. In fact, I think the clicker comes with a mirror that can be held under your nose so people won't accidentally bury you while you use it.

What I've always wanted was a clicker shaped like a gun. The pure visceral satisfaction of pointing a huge Magnum at the TV, Elvis-like, and pulling the trigger is something buried deep within the male soul. The gun would be plastic -- you don't want it to be too heavy, 'course -- but a computer chip and a tiny speaker could easily produce a thundering boom every time you squeezed off a channel-up. If the gun could be programmed to a limited number of cable stations, it would complete the Testosterone Triumvirate of TV, firearms and pornography.

And, of course, the ultimate -- and as the vapidity of TV increases exponentially, the necessary -- enhancement to the clicker is still just a dream, not even technologically possible yet. While the World-Wide Web and cable-modems promise "interactive TV," what I, as a consumer, am really interested in is the addition of a single, tiny button to the standard remote, just one small button. It would be labeled with a teeny, yellow lightening bolt and would send 50,000 volts of electricity into whomever happen to be on the TV when it was pressed. For example, "Good evening, Los Angeles. I'm Paul Moyers and -- Aaaagggh!"

That's what I want.


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