The TV Showdown: Who Controls the Remote?

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The TV Showdown: Who Controls the Remote?
There's a TV in our relationship. How to navigate the set successfully.

I was up half the night again, and it's all my husband’s fault. His invitation sounded so innocent at first. "Will you watch Nip/Tuck with me?" he asked disingenuously.

Brandishing the remote control, he might as well have been the devil, beckoning me with a seductive flick of his pitchfork. This time, however, I knew enough to resist his blandishments.

 

Having caught a glimpse of the previous week's coming attractions, in which a hack plastic surgeon and his evil assistant plan to kill off their handsome rival, Christian, I said firmly, "No way."

Even without murder plots, I find Nip/Tuck—an excruciatingly graphic Fox cable TV series about plastic surgeons that features weekly scenes of people's faces being sliced up—awfully hard to take.

When my husband persuades me to watch with him, I spend a significant portion of the hour with my hands clapped over my eyes, listening to the ominously percussive music that accompanies the revolting surgery scenes while waiting for him to tell me it's safe to look at the screen again. Okay, so I'm a wuss; this much has never been in dispute.

But then I kept wondering what happened to Christian, and by the time my husband came to bed I couldn't resist asking. Biiiiig mistake.

"The bad guy thinks the reason he's not successful is that he's not good-looking, so he's got Christian strapped down on the operating table, and he's going to cut off his face and perform a face transplant," my husband said calmly. Then he turned out the light and went to sleep.

Cut off his face and perform a what? I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, my head teeming with horrible images. Finally I drifted off to sleep, but at two a.m. I sat bolt upright, my heart pounding from a nightmare about Hannibal Lecter wearing the prison guard's face while leering hideously at the ambulance driver he was about to butcher.

As the minutes ticked by, I obsessed on the logistics of hacking off someone's face and applying it to your own. By 4:30 I was ready to kill my beloved, who had been snoring peacefully for hours.

They say that most couples fight about money and sex. Not us. We fight about television, and the opportunities are endless.

We fight about the fact that I don't like watching TV with my husband, an activity he sees as sociable and I find emotionally alienating. We fight about the value of TV, which he regards as a vehicle for worthy cultural offerings and I view as a waste of time.

When I do succumb, we fight about the fact that I invariably regret it; even when kids aren't dying on ER or gangster molls aren't getting whacked on The Sopranos, the tamest of story lines can get me so riled up I don't sleep for hours. Guess who feels guilty and gets mad at me?

And of course, being man and woman, we fight about the remote. My husband hates the fact that he has to watch TV in the living room instead of lying in bed channel-surfing, which he feels is any man's God-given prerogative, sort of like having a penis. But every time he flicks from one channel to the next, I get absorbed in what's going on and then he blithely hops to something else. Story interruptus makes me miserable.

"You don't even let me skip the commercials!" my husband says accusingly. "How can you get emotionally involved in commercials?" Having lived for a couple of decades with a woman who is famous for weeping over telecommunications ads, he should know what a dumb question this is.

As for me, I simply don't understand how men can be so disengaged that they don't care whether the jumper jumped, or the child escaped from the kidnappers, or the detective apprehended the serial killer before he managed to murder her.

Such conflicts are virtually ubiquitous, it seems. Since more than 98 percent of American homes have television, negotiating its use is a nearly universal challenge in this country.

Back in the dark ages when a household was lucky to have one television set, families used to argue about what to watch. Now that people have multiple TVs as well as VCRs and TiVo, couples don't need to make either/or choices. But they still have to work out who gets to watch what and how, and where.

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