Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sean Tabb - Don't Touch That Button!

Near the top of every modern day remote control are a series of buttons indicating the various pieces of electronic equipment you have stacked in your walnut-brown entertainment console, like a ziggurat to the Gods of Home Media: VCR, DVD, AUD, TV, CBL. Pushing CBL/Power followed by TV/Power makes television shows appear, that much you know. You need to push the CBL button again if you wish to access the interactive program guide, and the TV button again if you want to adjust the volume. Don’t touch any of the other buttons, for the love of God. VCR, DVD and AUD are known as the “Fuck Everything Up Buttons.” And see that button in the upper right, the one mysteriously labeled STD. I wouldn’t touch that one unless you have cheap, unlimited access to antibiotics.

Actually, the remote control is silly with buttons you’ve probably never touched. If you’re anything like me, you’re afraid to touch them for fear that they’ll unlock a door to some other dimension, or at the very least royally screw up your television. To you I say this – fear is good. Let us review:

The “Master Power” Button
Don’t be flattered by the naming of the “Master Power” button. You are not the “master” of anything. It’s a canard. The “Master Power” button is the cable company’s version of the famed Milgram experiment in social psychology, a means to test your obedience to their authority. Unfortunately if you wish to watch American Idol, you’ll need to press this button. Just know who’s in charge.

The “Set-up” Button
The Set-up Button is the portal to a Matrix-like web of menu options that will confound your faith in the objective reality of existence. Pressers of the Set-up Button can only be saved by an emergency, two-hour phone date with a thickly accented, unduly deferential customer care provider who serves as a kind of home electronics shaman and apologizes a lot. You’ll live a much simpler, happier life if you don’t press the Set-up Button.

The Buttons of Redundancy
Somewhere on your remote you’re likely to find a cluster of buttons with names like “Guide,” “Info” and “Menu.” These pretty much all take you to the interactive program guide, owned and operated by the bots who hostilely overthrew the publishers of the once-popular, weekly periodical TV Guide. There may also be a button named “Settings.” This sounds a bit too similar to “Set-up,” if you ask me. I think it’s a trap. Oh, and the button marked “Exit”? I know a guy who knows a guy who pushed it and woke up with a black eye at the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel, Weehawken-side. You have been warned.

The “Answers” Button
What does this button do? Is it like some kind of Magic 8-Ball, filled with fortunes and good, sound advice?

Q: Is there a reason why I can’t DVR more than two shows at a time?
A: As I see it, yes. You’re looking a little fat there on the sofa. Go out for a walk or something.

Q: Should I watch the MTV show Skins?
A: My sources say no. You’re too old for that shit. People will think you’re a perv.

True story: because I am a crackerjack researcher, I elected to press the “Answers” button and, well, get some answers. Without explanation, the station mysteriously changed to something called Kid Shows On Demand. I am left to assume that the Question, preprogrammed by Time Warner for the convenience of busy and/or distracted parents, is something like “mindless activities to distract my impossibly needy, pain-in-the-ass children?”

The “Aspect” Button
Once upon a time my sturdy, dependable, 500 pound, solid-state Magnavox television – the same one I’d been watching for 15 years – utterly shit the bed, and I was forced to upgrade to a newfangled, flat screen, HD Samsung. High Def! I was pretty excited, particularly when, while watching Lost, I could actually see the dirt trapped in Ben Linus’s pores. Then something strange and calamitous occurred. I noticed that the tip-top of everyone’s heads were cut off, and the info ticker that runs along the bottom of most news programs had similarly disappeared. How did this happen? No matter what I tried, I couldn’t fix it. I was just about ready to box the TV up and return it as defective when I thought to call my thickly accented, unduly deferential friend at Time Warner Customer Care.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Tabb. You must have accidentally pressed the Aspect button. Press it again and everything should be fine. Very sorry.”

That was irritating.

The “Fav” Button
Don’t be fooled by this button, “Fav” isn’t even a word. Oh sure, maybe its short for “favorite,” but according to the helpful web site, it might also stand for “Fast Attack Vehicle,” “feline ataxia virus,” or “floppy aortic valve.” If any of these things show up on your doorstep, you’ll be awfully sorry you pushed the “Fav” button. Not worth the risk, I say.

The “Live” Button
Think about it. Virtually everything on television is pre-taped. Even sporting events and awards shows and Saturday Night Live are on a short broadcast delay, to filter out obscenities and wardrobe malfunctions. It’s not as if you can just flip to live programming whenever you please. So what is this “Live” button, and what does it do?

The problem is one of grammatical usage. Because this is television, we assume that “Live” is an adjective; that we will see real, live people doing real, live things in real time. Wrong! The word “Live” on your remote control is actually a verb. If you press it, your TV will self-destruct and you’ll be forcefully jettisoned into the actual, participatory world where people LIVE, where they interact and physically engage and almost no one knows who Boston Rob is, never mind how many times he’s lost Survivor.

Sounds terrifying, right? I seriously wouldn’t advise it.

There’s a pretty good chance that Sean Tabb resembles the guy your sister dated in college. He gets that a lot. There’s an almost equally good chance that he DID date your sister in college, and just doesn’t remember. He does his parenting, husbanding, living and writing from his home in Portland, Maine. Check out his website at, or follow his drivel on Twitter at


  1. Universal Remotes are the worst, too. Every time the batteries fall out of mine (read: every other day) I have to google instructions on how to re-program it. Why doing so involves using buttons such as "record", "stop" and "play", I'll never fully understand.

  2. I don't have a remote for my tv, which I thought was annoying, but after watching my friend's apartment for two weeks I feel lucky. it took me like half an hour to figure out how to just turn the damn tv on with one of four remotes.

  3. If you think you have a hard time try going to my parents house who are 80 and have the ultimate in cable selections. For them trying to find a show my kids can watch can be a 1 hour long process. 20 minutes just trying to get the TV to turn on! For some reason the cable company gave them 2 remotes to figure out which I think is some kind of sick torture!