Pressing Pause for a Moment of Silence

By Anne Lutz Zacharias
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 

Last week, men around the world found their unifying cause. World peace?  No. Nuclear proliferation?  Not that either.  They set aside their differences to pay homage to Eugene Polley, inventor of the wireless TV remote, who died at age 96.

1955 ad for the Zenith Flashmatic remote control. (Click the image for a larger version.)

Not since the announcement that they all hail from Mars have men had such a rallying cry.  Even the Pabst Blue Ribbon / Miller Lite chasm was bridged as men everywhere raised their cans to remember special moments with their remotes.

A brief historic perspective: It started innocently in 1955. The remote control offered a way to ignore commercials. But in a few short years, men elevated channel surfing to an alpha-male battle: HE WHO CONTROLS THE REMOTE… CONTROLS THE UNIVERSE.

With the explosion of cable channels in the late 1970s, the pace of TV remote clicks increased exponentially.  Women, who had successfully followed storylines over three channels, hit channel surfing’s glass ceiling.   Growing weary of trying to discern a plot in all 72 shows their men were watching simultaneously, women responded with the female answer to channel surfing – the evening book club. This not only allowed them to focus on one story at a time, it also got them out of the house, freeing men to further boost their channel surfing rate without the burden of a woman’s need for understanding.

“Space Command TV” — a Zenith ad from 1957.

And while many women believe channel surfing is an effective way to watch sports, men have made channel surfing a sport in itself. Think about it.  Olympians practice eight hours per day to increase their speed and skill, eat a special diet, and get plenty of rest. Channel surfers spend eight hours a day racing through 700 channels, eat a special diet that can be consumed one-handed on the couch, and get plenty of rest in the same La-Z-Boy where they hone their surfing skills.

In addition to changing modern culture, Polley is being heralded as a Titan of Industry.  Ted Turner, widely recognized as the father of cable television, acknowledged it was Polley who was really responsible for the success of that industry.

“After all,” admitted Turner, “who would watch C-Span 3 and the World Fishing Network if you had to get up to change the channel every time they got boring?”

Polley, a humble man, understood the importance of his invention.  In a 2002 interview he said, “The flush toilet may have been the most civilized invention ever devised, but the remote control is the next most important. It’s almost as important as sex.”

Men around the world are toasting to that.

Retro Remote

Zenith advertised that with Polley’s Flash-matic remote control, “You can even shut off annoying commercials while the picture remains on the screen.” But that didn’t stop them from releasing a nearly-six-minute commercial for a remote-controled TV set.

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Anne Lutz Zacharias writes about travel, food, wine and interesting people.  With this article for Globejotting, she dips her toes into humor writing.  Anne spent 30 years in sales and management before joining the ranks of starving writers.  She lives in Pittsburgh where her husband keeps firm control of their TV remote.

Anne originally wrote this column for Dave Fox’s humor writing class. You can visit her website at and follow her on Twitter at @AnneLZach.

Published on Thursday, May 31, 2012

One Response to “Pressing Pause for a Moment of Silence”

  1. Hope
    June 2, 2012 at 10:54 PM

    Great story! I’m sending this link to my husband.

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