the button revisited
(first appeared in East Coast Ink issue #3 July 2014)
Before I launch into this I’d better give you a quick bit of background in case you’re unfamiliar with the Richard Matheson short story “Button, Button.” Published in Playboy in 1970 it went on to be the basis of a Twilight Zone episode in 1985 and then was revisited in the 2009 Cameron Diaz movie “The Box.” The story itself was really just a retelling of a passage from the 1802 François-René de Chateaubriand book entitled “Genius of Christianity.”
What I’m trying to get at is this… in these varies incantations someone is presented with a button and if they press that button someone they don’t know will die and then they will receive a huge cash payment.
You can see how if you were unfamiliar with this premise and I just went barreling along it might have caused some confusion. Now we can start.
Actually, one last thing: calling it a story might be a little inaccurate. What I’d like to do is elicit a quick giggle with a little visualization. I realize that most men, and some women, are not fans of giggling and would prefer to let loose with a full-blown laugh or just forget the whole endeavor, but in this case I hope you’ll make an exception.
Remember the fun of trying not to giggle in school? The more you tried to hold it in the harder it became? Perhaps try that approach, it might help you overcome your fear of silliness in general.
Knowing the kind of people that read my material I assume that you would immediately hammer that button down. I’m not here to evaluate the morality of the decision to push or not push the button. In your defense, I’m sure the person you pictured dying was from some shithole in Africa or some god-awful country in Eastern Europe where the people can live in any color house they choose as long as they choose cement grey. You’re horrible like that.
I’m not here to point fingers. Be assured, if given the opportunity I would wear that button out.
Now onto the giggle-inducing part.
Instead I’d like you to imagine sitting across from the box in front of a giant bay window. I want you to see yourself struggling with the decision and at the same time take notice of various people walking by. Then I want you to see yourself pushing the button down as one of the people walking by the window drop.
Actually now I picture it in my head I get a full-blown laugh. Perhaps those of you with both an active imagination and a fear of giggling and/or snickering can proceed with renewed gusto.
Now I’d like you to imagine the same exact scene except this time the button gets stuck and everybody walking by the window starts to drop. Of course, you are there fiddling with the box with a concerned look on your face. Looking around helplessly with a “Is it supposed to stick like this?” look on your face as the bodies start to stack up outside like so much cordwood.
If you haven’t laughed yet I don’t want to jump to the conclusion that you’re a humorless turd, I’ve been told that being sensitive occasionally is exactly what could cause my readership to one day surge into the double digits, instead I’d like to think that you’re just a bit squeamish and the idea of people dying just for a laugh upsets you.
Honestly though, if that’s the case I’ve lost all respect for you.
Anyway, try imagining the effect of pushing the button to be something less than death. See if that works for you.
Wait, wait, wait… you thought of something like erectile dysfunction, didn’t you? Something that wouldn’t change the behavior of the people walking past the big bay window.
Honestly, that’s why I can’t trust you to do anything on your own.
It has to be giving them a hunchback or explosive diarrhea, something that would result in hilarity behind you as you pushed the button. Like blindness. You push the button and suddenly someone comes crashing through the window.
If you imagined yourself hitting the button and seeing yourself fall over dead because we can’t truly know ourselves, so you sit there smugly thinking you’ve outsmarted Richard Matheson, François-René de Chateaubriand and myself, then I wish I had a button in front of me that when I hit it you would die. Painfully. I’d probably sprain my wrist I’d hit it so hard.
Then I’d find out it was one of the six people who actually bought my last book.
Even in a stupid story a moral is always trying to inject itself in where it’s not wanted.