Anti-Television Activism

Mrs. Lex asked me to post this:

Remember what your favorite pub or cafe was like before they put in the TV screens? White Dot, the international campaign against television, have teamed up with the makers of TV-B-Gone, the key chain that turns off any television, to reclaim these public spaces. Now we are recruiting an army for direct action. Starting now, the White Dot website offers a form to enter the names of ruined eating and drinking establishments. Nominate the most diners and you can win a TV-B-Gone (there will be 200 lucky winners). Then, during TV-Turnoff Week (April 25 through May 1, 2005) you can join the Ruined Diner Liberation Army and zap these cafes back to life, leaving propaganda behind (some of it disguised as menus). We are reminding the owners that their customers come for breakfast or beer and some good conversation – not to be captive audience for advertisers. We also offer materials for owners who are proud to be TV-free.

A worthy cause.

UPDATE An Instalance, of all things, for a prank toy little better than a whoopie cushion? The level of teeth-gnashing this has generated is on a par with Social Security reform or motorcycle helmets or even fur clothing. Wow.


52 thoughts on “Anti-Television Activism”

  1. As much as I agree that TV’s do tend to muffle decent conversation in various pubs and diners, I think this is a little too socialist for me. What’s next? Get rid of fattening foods? Crappy beer? A device that shocks people who think that Kenny G is a musical genius?

    Sorry Lex, this slope is a wee bit too slippery. I suggest doing what normal people do. Go to a bar that doesn’t have a TV.

  2. “A device that shocks people who think that Kenny G is a musical genius?”
    I’ll be buying one of those :)

  3. A device that turns off any television? Including one that’s not yours to turn off? Doesn’t sound like a respect for property rights now does it?

  4. Mishu’s point would still be a good one if the only gripe these people had was that TVs are noisy and distracting. But no, they’re concerned about being “a captive audience for advertisers”. Aieeee! Capitalism!

    If you look at the FAQ at the TV-B-Gone site, you’ll see it’s all about being exposed to (quelle horreur!) messages you don’t like.

    Besides, I thought staunch free-marketers would take the tack that the Market Rules. If an establishment installs TVs, and that drives away customers, then they’ll take the TVs out. If the TVs stay, that must mean that more people like them than dislike them.

    The pods have gotten to you, haven’t they, Lex?

  5. My anarchic streak sometimes comes to the fore, Angie, and I hate the damned TV.

    Then you have precisely one legitimate alternative. Don’t patronize businesses with TVs. I hate restaurants that pipe in crappy music – can I turn off their audio systems with a remote? How about a hammer? I hate the smell of cabbage – can I go from table to table and forcibly remove the cabbage from the plates of those who have ordered it? If I don’t like your garden gnome, can I steal it or cover it with a box?

  6. I don’t care much for TV, but as with other people’s smoking, drinking, music playing and so forth I find the best response to people doing things I don’t enjoy is generally to leave. Let the TV watchers, smokers et al be with each other. (And I don’t mean that sneeringly. Different strokes for different folks is a good principle.)

    BTW, bundling antipathy to TV with “anti-consumerist” sentiments doesn’t help the anti-TV cause.

  7. I must violently disagree with your anti-TV sentiments. The box is our friend, and only wants to bring us information, entertainment, and happiness. I also most heartily agree with Tman, Mishu, Angie. This device comes from the same dark collectivist lizard brains that introduce anti-smoking legislation, and is another way to enforce a minorityís desire and trample private property rights. Itís not anarchy to try to force others to your will.

    Donít like the TV? Then ask the barkeep to turn it off. If no one is actually watching it, youíll get your way. Using this device in many of my favorite watering holes without asking the staff and other patrons is likely to get one physically thrown onto the street, minus a few teeth.

    The TV-B-Gone people are really aiming for that pinko ‘fair trade’, latte sippin’, pseudo intellectual snob market, with their contempt for the common man’s pastimes. Please my friend, reject their evil and join us, the TV lovers, in our fine lifestyle. It’s good for you.

    As our hero Homer Simpson put it, “TV. Friend, Mother, Secret Lover.”

  8. This sounds like a petition-based movement, so this small “d” democrat can’t oppose it. I think public places should offer alternatives for dinnertime viewing, though, like Busters does.

    I’m sympathetic to the anti-TV crusade though. Parents use them to raise their kids. Folks often turn them on to avoid necessary interfamilial discussions. And they burn bucket-loads of energy. Have you checked on the energy usage of the new “entertainment centers” at Best Buy lately. They command upwards of 1000 Watts per hour.

    I’d cancel my satelite television subscription if they didn’t have those great music channels to listen to. I find most new programming is designed to upset or mobilize viewers, so it’s hard to find programming that lulls or comforts folks.

    The result is more stress in our daily lives.


  9. I don’t think I’d use this device at a pub, but does it work on the piped in controllerless TV’s in doctor’s offices that play nothing but drug ads between health tip infomercials? That I’d zap in a nanosecond.

  10. This is outrageous. Especially with March Madness, Schiavo-TV & Jacksonpalloza going on, the more tv’s the better! You people are just…old fashioned. :-) Open up your own damn club. I want my 10 pub tvs.

  11. From:

    The Subversive Joys of TV-B-Gone, by Andrew Ferguson


    By dotting their property with television screens, the authorities aren’t offering a service. They’re engaged in a commercial transaction, selling access to a helpless, captive audience (us) to the highest bidder. If there’s a violation of the social compact here, it came when the airport authorities–managers of a public accommodation, after all–decided to fill their air with unsolicited din. A quick flick of the TV-B-Gone merely restores the more civilized status quo ante.

  12. reminds me of the cellphone zapper that’s gaining popularity. now that’s something I would use, except they cost $500 each.

  13. Hey, if some tweedy anti-TV rebel wants to walk into a bar and shut down the tube, it’ll be an educational experience for him.

    The young rebel will quickly receive hands-on instruction in the dark arts of bar fighting.

  14. Mrs. Lex, I’ll put those airport TVs right up there with the doctors’. The difference from the pub in both cases is you don’t have much of an alternative (some with the doctor) and there is no one whom you might ask to turn off the set if most aren’t watching. I think the pub is not engaged in a commercial transaction with the broadcaster/advertiser, just trying to provide a service to patrons. If they don’t like it’s been my experience the pub usually turns it off.

  15. I would make an exception for airport TVs. Talk about your pure evil.

    In doctors’ offices you can usually pull the plug, or failing that turn the vol down all the way.

  16. It seems the counter-measure to the TV-b-Gone would be simple. Put a piece of electrical tape over the tv set’s remote control sensor.

  17. Jonathan, The doctors’ set up I am referring to is a kiosk probably supplied for free by the drug manufacturer(s) in the middle of the waiting area with only the CRT visible. The audio comes out of ceiling speakers.

    It is operated by remote, I am sure, but the receptionist claims to have no control over it and tells you how informative it is. It does not play broadcast or cable channels, but a private network or a looping tape/tivo set up. It is as bad as the airports. Be glad your doc doesn’t have it.

  18. Dearest Mrs. Lex,

    Using TV-b-Gone in the publicly owned airport is far less offensive than the privately owned pub / cafť / restaurant example in the initial post.

    However, youíre just as much a captive audience to all the billboards, radio spots, and concession stands airports have scattered throughout, and at least Headline News gives you weather reports. So donít put the blame solely on our poor, downtrodden friend, the television. If your real beef is with the commercialization of public spaces then your elected officials are who you need to talk to / threaten / campaign against. Youíll get nowhere, but then thatís democracy for you.

    Unfortunately, we also live in a holistic universe, where all things are connected. Even if you did get rid of such offensive commercialism, all that evil corporate ad revenue is going to have to be replaced, so expect your taxes to go up even more than usual. Me, Iíd be just as happy if we could force all public employees to wear NASCAR-like ad emblazoned jackets, just to save a few bucks in taxes. But, then again, Iím an evil anti-government type that thought the villainous OCP Corporation from the Robocop movies had the right idea in taking the entire city of Detroit private, just so you know where Iím coming from.

    I also agree with the point made by Bill. It would take very little time before whoeverís in charge of all these TV sets blocks the IR receivers, requiring little to no expense.

  19. Tell ya what, Mrs. Lex: you can get back to me when you find a remote control for

    1) Nuclear-powered car stereos,
    2) My riff-raff new neighbors, several sets of which have just moved in to scream obscenities at each other in the parking lot about 10 hours a day (when they’re not playing their nuclear-powered car stereos),
    3) Bratty children dragged by wretched parents through inappropriate places at hours when they (the children) (and also the parents) should be in bed.

    Then I’ll think about the anti-TV crusade.

  20. Love my TV , hate commercials that have a higher volume than the program they sponsor. I take particular note of those products so as not buy them.

  21. You might “hate the damned TV”, but if I were a bar owner and you came into my place and unilaterally turned it off, believe me: you’d have a problem that you couldn’t handle.

    Fucking rotten hypocrite.

  22. I don’t watch tv at home. I also don’t eat out because I don’t understand the point of overpaying for either 1) food that is poorly prepared or 2) idioticly sumptious surroundings pandering to materialist or egotistical pretentions – or both. So that is why I am completely baffled by this post and wonder why everyone has gone loony.

  23. So, how exactly are you going to know if someone used one of these in your pub? Are you going to be like the bar owner in the SpongeBob move. Line up all of the patrons in a row and march up and down the line shouting “Were on a TV Hater’s hunt, and don’t think we don’t know how to weeeed ’em out!”.

    Then what? Hold a TV in front of each patron looking for signs of sweat? Watching to see which one breaks and uses his zapper?

    Puhleeze. Why shouldn’t we have recourse against the telscreens that seem to be placed everywhere in our daily lives?

  24. Wouldn’t faze my ca. 1980 Zenith a bit! Maybe this will herald a boom in vintage TVs. Kind of like those stories about how old-tech carbeurated cars would be the only thing running after some huge electronic pulse wipes out all the computerized ones.

  25. Ahh…yes, I can see it now. A TV-B-Gone in one hand and a cell phone jammer in the other and all will be right with the world again.


  26. “So, how exactly are you going to know if someone used one of these in your pub?”

    What’s it to you? It’s none of your business. That’s what. It’s not your problem, so you can safely stay out of it.

    “Why shouldn’t we have recourse against the telscreens that seem to be placed everywhere in our daily lives?”

    You “shouldn’t” because a TV in someone else’s pub is not your property. Now, what sort of a goddamned retard do you have to be in order to not know this? If you don’t like a TV in a pub, then just go somewhere else. This is bloody obvious, and it is completely disgusting to see a discussion like this on a blog like this.

    At the same time, I know a lot better — now — what “a blog like this” is all about.

  27. So what if someone was watching the TV? Does it matter if other people were watching and maybe even enjoying it?

    What if I wandered around town with a cappucino machine zapper and shut those steam-hissing bastards down at 50 paces? I hate cars, can I employ a carberator-zapper? What about pacemakers?

    Turning other people’s stuff off without their permission is a first-class jerky thing to do.

  28. Billy Beck,

    What do you mean, “a blog like this”? Most of the Chicagoboyz contributors who commented on this issue argued against interfering with other people’s TVs. Meanwhile you’re calling people names. Jeez.

  29. Would you just walk into a bar an start turning off TVs by hand? No. Why not? The reason is probably equal parts “that would be rude” and “I’d get my ass kicked”.

    So, what has changed with TV-B-Gone? Well, it’s still rude. I guess you won’t get beaten up, but since it’s anonymous, you can add that it is simply cowardly.

    Anonymous, cowardly rudeness is not something we need more of.

  30. “They command upwards of 1000 Watts per hour.”

    You know those keychains weigh in at 10,000 ohms so you might write a letter to Greenpeace about them, too. I’m sure they’ll understand.

  31. A vast wasteland…

    Ideological objections aside, I would not be so tweaked if the set went off in the public space.

  32. I think the TV zapping is fair and legitimate. TV’s in public are much like smoking in restaurants…highly annoying (and in the case of smoking possibly also cancer inducing). For most people, however, they are not dealbreakers. In other words, if you get 100 satisfaction points out of going to a restaurant–a TV may rob 99 of those points, but you still have 1 point of positive satisfaction left, so on balance you’ll still go to the resaurant. That doesn’t change the fact that much of the enjoyment has been robbed. Meanwhile, since the TV is not a dealbreaker–and its negative effects are thus muddled and blunted–market pressures are never brought to bear on the restaurant to get rid of the thing. Even in cases where it is a dealbreaker, the restaurant owner will attribute low business to the food, not the TV, and market pressures will again not be brought to bear.

    Public TV is also like public smoking in another sense–it is an assault on others masquerading as personal liberty. If I hit you over the head with a ballpeen hammer do you have the right to object? If I were to protest that I have every right to hit you with a ballpeen hammer as it is a free country and I can do as I please, you would consider me insane. Wait, you protest, as blood curdles down over your eyes. Why, then, is it OK to blow noxious poison in my face or to drive me mad with endless commercials for hairspray, laxitives, accident attornies and soylent green? Methinks I might prefer the ballpeen hammer as long as you don’t hit too hard. “Ah, welcome to my restaurant, the host will seat you as soon as I hit you with this hammer…As an alternative you may listen to 100 commercials for Ben Affleck’s new movie or smoke a pack of these new menthold cigarettes.”

  33. Lee, please, the answer to your question is obvious. You have a legal and moral right to your bodily integrity, covering the issue of battery and (arguably) second-hand smoke. You do not have the right to be free from any minor irritation and inconvenience. Don’t you see how silly that is? Where does it possibly end? To quote Demolition Man, “I’ve seen [your] future. You know what it is? It’s a 47-year-old virgin, sitting around in his beige pajamas, drinking a banana-broccoli shake, singing, ‘I’m an Oscar Meyer wiener.'”

  34. Lee – So leave the restaurant. Nobody is forcing you to watch TV or breathe someone else’s smoke. Leave. We won’t miss you.

  35. Rummel: when you feel the impulse to fool around with peoples’ names, beware.

    What I have in mind about “a blog like this” is the bloody pretense of that masthead of imagery and everything it implies, at a place that actually puts up a post endorsing the arbitrary and unilateral disposition of other peoples’ property.

    This is bloody obvious.

  36. The people who say “just ask the bartender to turn it off” and “go somewhere else” are completely missing the point.

    I hate TVs, I don’t own one, and (being unaccustomed to the crap that is on there) get almost physically sick after 15 minutes of exposure. “Minor irritation”? Not minor for me, at least.

    Whenever I go to an establishment that has a running TV, I almost always ask them to turn it off, and if they refuse I often leave. What happens, usually, is that the server (or whoever) looks around and asks people if any of them are watching it. If *even one* says yes, the TV stays on. Sometimes, they would say “I’m not allowed to” or “I have to ask the manager”… and usually, the cover-your-ass answer is “No” since that simply preserves the status-quo. So there is a very strong bias in favor of it being on. *If* they did a hand-count of patrons (yes/no/don’t care) that would be a different matter… but you know how that count would usually go, right?

    Regarding going somewhere else – yes, absolutely, I avoid places with a running TV whenever possible. It is not always possible though, since I also like to hang out with friends who sometimes/often go to places with running TVs (Fudruckers). In such a situation, me and my friends would often be a majority in the area we’re in, and we mostly don’t want the TV on since we prefer to talk, but getting it turned off is not easy (see above).

    After some consideration, I think I am going to buy the TV-B-Gone and use it judiciously. Obviously I would not use it in a sports bar in the middle of a game (well, I wouldn’t be there, to begin with). But in a situation where there is nobody obvious I can ask to turn it off, or I am the only person being exposed to the TV, or I and my (non-TV-watching) friends are a large majority in an establishment, I will use it. If anyone cares enough to turn it back on, I will not override them, but would probably just leave.

    Regarding the “disposing of other people’s property” argument? Well, if they don’t want patrons to control it, they should put some tape over the remote sensor. If they don’t, I see that as an implicit permission to control whether it is an and what channel it shows.

  37. ObsidianOrder,

    Your self-justification is jaw-dropping.

    Implicit permission? Is your failure to lock your car implicit permission to open the door and take your stereo? The fact remains that it is someone else’s property. If it would be impolite to walk up and turn it off by hand, it is still impolite to do it with a remote.

    You know what annoys me? People who get holier-than-thou about not watching TV. If “only one person” is watching it, well, they got there first. I think it is more polite to allow them to continue than to run around having votes about it. Anyway, it is the owner’s decision, not yours. I think the same courtesy should be extended to you if you were in a room with the TV off. I’d ask if you mind if I turn it on. If you said no, I’d put up with the inconvenience.

    Part of civil society is the ability to put up with the occasional minor annoyance. Your protests notwithstanding, that what an inconvenient TV is.

  38. If anyone is interested, I have recently purchased a hotel/tavern that was established in 1860. My partner and I have been renovating the building for months now and have spent many hours debating the TV/no TV issue. After much discussion we have decided NOT to have a television. We also will probably be the only bar around without neon signage. And no deep fryer or griddle (butter browned pierogies, meatloaf and stews). We ARE going to have a small library and a jukebox that will not have music you will hear on mainstream radio or on radio at all. I believe that the TV or smoking or food issues remain with the proprietor. I am fortunate to be in a position to make a stand and offer an experience based on my beliefs. I have no doubt that we will do well. I do believe, however, that it is up to individual businesses to decide what they will or will not offer their patrons.

  39. How do you get the device that turns off any television? Including one that’s not yours to turn off? Doesn’t sound like a respect for property rights now does it?

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