The channel changer was put on the market by Zenith in 1950 under the label “Lazybones” – an oddly moralizing kind of brand name. In the fifties, as home technology reshaped the house, the house became a refuge of laziness against the ideal of the grime and stress of the working life. That the cleaning of the home was itself labor was lost, as it has always been lost, under this advertising driven thematic. The union ticket worker never had it so good. The eight hour day was solid. The pay a little per month credit structure was solid. You could lounge in your lounger, you didn’t have to take the steps to the tv to change the channel. Such was the idea.
Remote control was in its infancy. It really found its legs when it changed from a sonic device to one using infrared technology, which was marketed in the eighties at the same time that cable tv started to make inroads on network tv.
Myself, I owned my last television set under the ancien regime in 1980. After that, I lost interest in TV. I skipped the 80s and the 90s. It wasn’t until around 2004 that I had another tv, by which time the entire infrastructure of tv had changed. And now I see tv shows on my computer, and we don’t have a tv proper.
I have not been interested in network tv, or tv news of any sort, since 1980. But I loved the channel changer. When I stayed with my brothers, in Atlanta, I drove them crazy when I managed to get my hands on the channel changer, because the drift from one channel to another would fill me with a strange auteurist joy. There’s a funny story by James Thurber about an avant garde poet who found inspiration in breaking light bulbs, which made him a trying party guest. Similarly, I was a trying remote controller, which introduced the mashup, the American form of montage, to the public at large. I connect this time – the time when Reagan was in the house and MTV was spreading its brand of whiteness to the suburbs – with the high tide of French theory, where the mashup principle achieved philosophical dignity. From the white mythology to the rhizome, it was in tune with the second Cold War vibe. Theory has dispersed and gone off in different channels since then, as the mashup is now being done by Neo-lib nudgers, nudging us towards Weather death. Meanwhile, remote control is now everywhere in the parking lot, it has crawled into the HVAC and the computer and is a lot less fun for me. When we go to a hotel or rent a house through Airbnb and discover a television, the channel changing is less a flow of cuts that makes a crazy zigzag through the nights narrative and more a long slog as the channels never stop, and never get more interesting. Remote editing, for some reason, has never been on the boards for the masses, but surely that is a function that we would all like, and not just this here peapod descendent of the situationists.