By Christopher Ketcham
The TV-B-Gone, which fits in the palm of the hand, is a universal remote whose sole purpose and power is to shut down televisions. During last year’s Super Bowl Sunday, it resulted in at least one thrown bottle, two near fist-fights, twenty-seven (by my count) disappeared Hail Marys, touchdowns and tackles, one half-time show half-seen (or seen, rather, in a kind of slow motion shutter effect – I with TV-B-Gone closing the screen, the bartender mashing finger into the on-button like a man poking out eyes), and one near-hammering-into-pulp of a writer waving a TV-B-Gone. I deployed across Brooklyn that fateful Super Bowl 2006 with a single unit for a test run, assaulting mostly sports bars and taverns and also one restaurant (where no one in the crowd, not even the staff, noticed the quieting of the television – for me, a key indicator). I have since been terrorizing televisions almost daily. I go nowhere without the TV-B-Gone. I have killed televisions in Charles de Gaulle Airport, in Heathrow, on the streets of Paris, in the restaurants of small Utah towns, in a Virgin Megastore on Manhattan island, and in countless Brooklyn bars.
Mitch Altman, the 50-year-old inventor of the TV-B-Gone, tells me that when he feels depressed he arms himself and heads into the streets. “It’s almost a compulsion for me. When I see a TV going in a public place, I go out of my way to turn it off,” he says. “Imagine a room where there’s an uptight person wearing really bright clothing and jumping up and down and yelling. It’s hard to be relaxed when that person is present. When a TV goes off, I notice people’s shoulders and arms relax – the body language changes completely. When I’m feeling blue, I turn off a television or two and life just seems a whole lot better.”
Altman is a California technophile, a computer whiz, a self-described “geek.” He pioneered virtual reality technologies in the 1980s and early versions of voice-recognition software. He built disk drives that were always smaller and faster, and eventually co-founded a company called 3Ware, which perfects disk drive “controllers.” He was also a television addict. “I used to collect TVs off the street,” he says. “I had 50 TVs in my mom’s basement. She was very patient with me. I watched TV every waking moment of my life. But even as a little kid, I remember watching TV and telling myself, ‘I don’t like this, why am I watching this?’ I was five years old when I asked that question. But I kept watching. The one show that I really hated was Gilligan’s Island. But it delivered just enough to keep me coming back for more. That is the process of addiction.”
Then, in 1980, Altman was watching TV as always, and the question came up that had been dogging him since he was five years old, and suddenly TV was over for him. “I was watching Gilligan’s Island – nothing against Bob Denver, but I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I went cold turkey. And I’ve never had a TV since.”
It wasn’t just Gilligan’s Island. It was the physical and psychological awfulness of the experience of watching television. It was the fact that Altman one day sat down in a restaurant with old friends he hadn’t seen in years, “but there was a television playing nearby and we found ourselves watching the TV – unable not to watch the television – instead of talking to each other, being with each other.”
TV is unique in the EEG activity it summons in the human brain, and unique as well in that it drastically reduces the metabolic rate of the human organism. When you sleep, you use more energy than when you watch TV. When you stare at a painting or read a book or knit or fart in bed, you use more energy. EEG activity during television-watching is marked by alpha waves, those dreamy, spacey waves that also exist between sleeping and waking – a passive state in which sustained intense critical thought is pretty much impossible. Alpha waves are also associated with coma.
The technology that Altman devised to counteract this horror was simple. The TV-B-Gone consists of a computer chip programmed with a database of all the power codes of televisions in existence that Altman could track down from the public domain. The diode eye uses infrared light, which makes it felicitous to zap through clothing or across window panes or from a distance. “The chip speaks 214 power codes that work on thousands of different television sets,” Altman says. “The power code for a Panasonic is the same as for a RCA. The TV industry made it so easy on me! I’d love to have a Cell-Phone-B-Gone, a Bush-B-Gone. But those things aren’t so easy to get rid of.” I suggested a unit that expands and clarifies the purpose, a unit that permanently disables the offending television. “There’s no remote control code for ‘blow up the tv,’” Altman tells me. “You can always buy a brick. Certainly a bomb is a technology that’s been around for a while.” One possible avenue is the use of a concentrated electromagnetic pulse that would burn out the circuits. “But how,” Altman asks, “do you make it directional enough that it wouldn’t harm the button-pusher? That’s the question.” Researchers should get to work.
Since Oct. 19, 2004, when Altman launched his product, more than 112,000 units have been sold in every state and territory of the US, and worldwide in over 80 countries. In 2005, Altman traveled on a TV-B-Gone tour across Europe, appearing on BBC TV sixteen times in two days – ironic enough. “My main reason for going to Europe,” he says, “was for field-testing on European TVs.” In January, a host on New York’s WBAI talk radio, which was giving away TV-B-Gones for its winter fundraiser, noted that enthusiasts are now suggesting ingenious modifications. For example, one might mount the tv-killing diode eye in a hat, with the clicker device linked by cable in one’s pocket. Or you might build an amplification unit with multiple flood-eyes that literally, as Altman put it, “turn off televisions any direction you look.”
Super Bowl 2006 was effectively my own field test. Why go after the Super Bowl? The Super Bowl by its attraction of those scores of millions of human eyes brings to bear what is arguably the most expensive and sophisticated marketing and propaganda apparatus in history, and therefore it represents television’s awfulness par excellence. Also, there is the issue of the essential but unspoken pathologic weirdness of men who never exercise gathering to peer at other grown men who run around on a screen in a plastic box chasing a piece of leather and smack each other on the ass when they catch the leather (at which sight the men watching the ants on the screen in the plastic box clap and jump up and down and touch each other as well).
When employing the TV-B-Gone among lunatics such as this, immense care must be taken. Here are suggested rules for terrorizing the upcoming event on February 4. First off, when the TV goes out, the TV-B-Goner should scream the loudest in protest to deflect suspicion. This makes strategic comrades of strangers who otherwise will want to smash your TV-B-Gone to bits. Second, order your drink before you strike; otherwise, the bartender will be too busy fending off the apes protesting the darkness at noon on the screen. Third, be drunk, even if you’re not; everyone else is. Fourth, frequently throw up your hands in cheers; you can also, to look normal, produce a steady black-pantherish fist to celebrate “your team” (pick one); this allows innumerable angles to grab the eye of the target TV. Fifth, and most importantly, do not stand up in the midst of the horror of the evening to announce, after too many drinks, that you and the TV-B-Gone are the source of the trouble and that the TV-B-Gone is just wonderful and you can buy it anytime at www.tvbgone.com.
Note: this article was originally published at CounterPunch.org.
TV-B-GONE ADDENDUM: READERS WARN THAT USE OF TV-B-GONE IS “TOTALITARIAN CENSORSHIP” AND DANGEROUS TO THE DEMOCRACY
In the wake of my little screed at CounterPunch lauding the pleasures of monkeywrenching the screens of Stupid Bowl fanatics, inventor Mitch Altman reported that orders for the nasty little device poured in at tvbgone.com. Others weren’t so enthused. One concerned reader, Chris R. from Scheissville, Penn., wrote to CounterPunch that the use of the TV-B-Gone was equivalent to book burning. He may have a point. Here’s what Chris R. wrote:
Only an asshole walks into a place where people have gathered to watch a TV and turns it off because you don’t like the content….I hope that someday a mob catches you in the act and gives you a good hiding.
Shame on Counterpunch for promoting censorship.
To which I responded as any thinking person would:
My experience has been that only assholes gather to specifically watch TV…..
And from there we were off and running. Following below is our brief degenerative exchange:
CHRIS R. FROM SCHEISSVILLE, PA:
That is a completely infantile statement [ie that only assholes gather to watch TV]. TV is the device which allows us to see and hear events in distant places, that’s all. It’s one of the most amazing inventions of the 20th century. If you don’t like watching something it’s your responsibility to remove yourself from the situation, not to censor. Do you at least accept the fact that you are a censor? There’s no defense for that.
Liberalism doesn’t begin when you allow people to do what you want, it begins when you allow people do enjoy what you wouldn’t. You are a totalitarian and an elitist prick.
Listen…I don’t give a christ about the content. I only care about destroying the medium. TV may have been a fine invention at the outset but it’s been put to awful use as a mass sedative and brainwashing device and for the marketing of all kinds of useless crapola that no one needs….Moreover, 99 percent of the time when I kill TVs in airport lounges, in bars, in restaurants etc etc NO ONE NOTICES! As for being “an elitist prick”…..I am most definitely elitist, and perhaps a prick as well… who knows…..now….enough name-calling. Since we’ve gotten off to such a good start, I was wondering if I could add you to my electronic mailing list….
CHRIS R. FROM SCHEISSVILLE, PA:
I’m copying Counterpunch on these so that someone there can see what an idiot they’ve published.
First you’ve directly contradicted yourself by saying that you don’t care about the content of the medium… and then complaining that the problem with TV are its commercial messages. Which is it?
What, do you think that TV started altruistically and later became corrupted? Just the opposite has occurred, TV started completely commercially and citizen effort has opened some spaces for other messages. In fact in the early days each program had it’s own individual sponsor and there were only commercial stations. In what conceivable way did it start off well at the outset?
You’d better also turn off other people’s radio as that’s mostly commercial. In fact you’d better shut down Counterpunch; they ran Google-driven ads to stay up. And they have book advertising. You’d better burn down bookstores as well, and newspaper and magazine stands – all ad-driven. Better turn off the internet too. I see you’re using Mindspring; don’t they advertise? Better cancel your email account.
Only a complete idiot attacks a medium for its own sake. Only an asshole manipulates other people’s property without permission. Only a coward does it all secretly. Only an elitist ass claims to have magical powers to see through a brainwashing method that ensnares the feeble-minded majority. You have no argument in your favor.
If you claim 99% of the people you turn TVs off in front of don’t notice; then why bother doing it? On the one hand you claim they’re brainwashed by TV, but then they don’t notice its off. It sounds like you’re the one so sensitive to the medium that it disturbs you. Get a story and stick with it.
I have no interest in getting on your list. I use Yahoo and reading your messages would expose me to more advertising. If I read your content I’ll end up brainwashed, right?
Get back to me when you develop an entire thought,
Dude — why all the name-calling? From what I read here I am a “complete idiot,” “asshole,” “coward”, and “elitist ass.” All of which I admit to except the “complete” part….But seriously, why so passionate about this issue? It seems that, first of all, you’re really into advertising. Which is fine….but I like to live where there is no advertising….say, in a tent in Death Valley…..which I did once for a month….and there was no advertising anywhere….incredible (a nightmare for you, I know)….no TVs, radios, Internet, magazines, newspapers, and, best of all, no homo sapiens yapping constantly….anyway, chill out, will ya? There is reason for hope: the TV-B-Gone is now being expanded into the TV-B-Totally-Gone, which will employ, as suggested in my piece, a carefully calibrated, digitally-directed 9 mm bullet to permanently disable the offending target…..I have myself employed a 12 gauge, a .303, a .357 magnum and a .30-30 version of this TV-B-Totally-Gone….and it works!!
See ya soon at CounterPunch,
CHRIS R. FROM SCHEISSVILLE, PA:
“Dude” – there’s all of the name-calling because your elitist attitude is exactly what turns a good many people off to the Left in general. I’m passionate about this because I’m a civil libertarian, and because I recognize that humans are social animals and you have no right to disrupt that. You’re deciding what’s best for others because you think that you’re better than others.
It bothers me that you think you’re being clever when in fact you’re being passive-aggressive and difficult. It bothers me that Counterpunch would mix your drivel in with serious articles written from a perspective of respect for individual rights and democratic norms. People like you perpetuate the stereotype that every person left of center is a fun-killing Luddite totalitarian.
And you are very much a coward for using a device to turn off TVs secretly instead of having a conversation with the people who are authorized to turn it on or off. It’s not your property; you have no right at all to manipulate it. None. If you don’t want to be exposed to it, remove yourself from the situation. At a practical level you’re just fucking with people in the service industry, which is what rich pampered bullies engage in.
For your information I don’t even own a television. That’s my choice. Sometimes I enjoy watching particular programming with other people. That’s my choice. But I don’t shove that choice down others’ throats. That’s extremely illiberal. What’s difficult about that?
Even the makers of TV B Gone don’t advocate what you do:
“Q. Won’t I get hurt if I use my TV-B-Gone® remote control in someplace crowded?
When other people gather for the purpose of watching TV together – say, in a sports bar – we see no reason to interrupt their pleasure.”
Indeed. No reason unless you’re an elitist cowardly prick. You’re not funny and not clever. You have hatred for working class America, which you find beneath you. If you hate our species that much then do us all a favor, turn your .357 on yourself (“Jerk-B-Gone”) and leave the rest of us who enjoy socializing and the ability to use technology to hear and see other people at a distance alone.
Dood — Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner. I was working on something else for the print version of CounterPunch. Anyway, I wanted to tell you about some of my recent forays with the TV-B-Gone. For example, I was in a restaurant/bar north of New York City recently and there were some fellows who were watching television and thereby, per your definition, were Working Class. Anyway, these Working Class guys were watching the death of Anna Nicole Smith repeated over and over on the screen….a real death-march, but without any of the relieving elements, such as shots of Smith with her tits out, which would have made the slog of “news coverage” worthwhile….so I shut that shit down big-time and these salt-o’-the-earth types let out a high-pitched squeal and turned it back on. I turned the TV off again and the working class guys cried out and turned it back on…so I shut it down again…now these Working Class Gods, as we should properly refer to them, put on a show worth recalling. They began a weird sort of dance. They stood up from their stools and began circling each other like drugged pitbulls in a betting ring. They tore at each other’s hair and started clawing at each other’s skin and running around like drunk baboons smashing plates of wings ‘n’ blue cheese over their heads and masticating checkered table cloths and generally making the buffet and dinner service unbearable….In the end, the good news is that the restaurant developed a type of Zyclon-B that can only be used against White Anglo-Scots Working Class People but which Elitist Coward Asshole Types like myself are immune to…. and, thus applied as an aerosal, we were able to wipe out these smelly fuckers who are dragging the morals and culture of the Great Nation into the pits and who should, ideally, be dying in Iraq fighting for “freedom” right fucking now….or, hopefully, sooner. All commerce and activity at the restaurant came to a screeching halt….no food was served, the lights went out, nobody spoke, the heat shut down, the cold rushed in….the only entertainment was Me, my voice disembodied, large as worlds, babbling on and on as the Working Class Drudges collapsed one atop the other in heaving fits, vomiting and shitting on each other in their death spasms….thereafter, the only thing to do was to chop up these Fat Fucking Working Class Swine and serve their corpses to a group of sequined mincing ballet dancers known as Leftists, who came barrelling in and immediately ordered the television turned back on and tuned to the Amy Goodman Show, which was showing over and over on Link TV……the Leftists gorged on the Imbecile Working Class Scumbucket livers and hearts and brains…..all in all a good day for the TV-B-Gone!
CHRIS R. FROM SCHEISSVILLE, PA.:
Was that supposed to be funny? It wasn’t.
Clearly Mr. Ketcham has no interest in addressing any issue related to the fact that he is a censor who enjoys screwing with people in the service industry. I expect this from Fox News’ caged pets, not CounterPunch.