In a variety of jobs, a person has to be watching out for something important, poised and waiting for a certain emergency situation. For example, a big sattelite dish could be constantly listening for any signal, any sign of life from the stars. Or it could be some sort of asteroid early-warning system, or it could even be an inbound-missile warning system on a space station. And in movies and tv, at the other end of all that surveillance equipment is a tiny shack/room absolutely stacked with computer equipment, one integral computer screen, and the Surveillance Station Slacker
. He's usually one guy (very rarely female) sat watching the readouts for weeks with absolutely nothing happening, in a state of utter boredom. Invariably this guy will be goofing off all day knowing that the screen will never bleep, eating pizza and watching a portable tv or something, and due to this is often portrayed as overweight.
If the computer screen DOES bleep all of a sudden, the alien signal IS picked up or whatever, the Slob will quite often panic and not know what to do
, maybe even having to refer to an old set of instructions for this eventuality. He might even ignore the signal, putting it down to a faulty system, and just turn back to the tv.
The Slacker sometimes comes with a workmate/companion, someone to tell him to stop lazing about so much, who is often portrayed as a grumpy elderly man.
Often overlaps with The Guards Must Be Crazy
- In the Image Comics series Chew, the Gardner-Kvashennaya International Telescope in Siberia has a $34 million-a-year budget to basically monitor a single mysterious planet light-years away. But since the telescope only needs $3 million-a-year to actually run, the scientists use the rest of the money to spend on whatever they want, and these things get extensively bigger, weirder, and more hedonistic as the scientists get bored with regular pleasures. Up until the protagonists arrive following an investigation, of course. Then all hell breaks loose.
- Independence Day. The man on duty at the S.E.T.I. Institute is playing Office Golf. A red light starts blinking and he goes over and flips a switch, which causes a series of tones to come out a speaker. He excitedly calls his boss on the phone and asks him to listen to the tones, and when the boss hears them he sits up in bed, bumping his head, then hurries to the lab. The signals turn out to be from an alien ship approaching the Earth.
- Contact, Jodie Foster doesn't really count, she's more like a protagonist version of this, but her 2 fellow scientists at SETI fit this trope perfectly.
- WarGames. Two U.S. Air Force officers are in a missile silo control room carrying out their standard routine - they're fairly bored and not expecting any problems. Suddenly there's an alert message from NORAD telling them to prepare to launch their missiles.
- Sneakers. A security guard who appears to be in his teens is sitting around in a bank late at night watching TV. All of a sudden the fire alarm goes off and he panics, scrambling around trying to find the instruction book and find out who to call.
- Monsters vs. Aliens begins with two technicians at an isolated base in Antartica monitoring for extraterrestial activity. When they detect some, one of them freaks out because he took the job specifically because he wasn't expecting to ever do anything.
- The Day After Tomorrow has that shack full of British guys who watch a soccer game rather than pay attention to their equipment.
- Subverted in Toy Story 3: the toy watching the cameras never sleeps. Ever.
- "Behind the Glory of the Heroes", a Star Fleet Battles short story in Nexus magazine #6. A female Starfleet officer monitoring a sensor console in a battle station is so bored that she starts daydreaming. She comes out of it when a star winks on her console, indicating that there's a ship approaching. She calls in the Officer of the Deck and together they determine that there are four Romulan ships approaching using their cloaking devices, preparing to attack.
- "Homer," a one-shot character on The X-Files, who was a Simpsons shout-out, down to working a boring job in Sector 7G of a nuclear power plant.
- This was essentially Martin's job, as a graveyard-shift security guard in an office building in Frasier.
- The VeggieTales episode "Larry-Boy and the Fib from Outer Space!" has Jimmy and Jerry Gourd as two technicians whose entire job is to monitor the sky, and to turn on the Larry-Signal if they see anything from space approaching the city. In their one scene, Jerry sees the eponymous Fib on his monitor and freezes in panic--while Jimmy, completely oblivious, complains about how boring this job is, and how nothing ever happens.
- Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders has a trio of scientists who man a satellite station watching for evidence of extraterrestrial life. While not slobs, they're cynical about any hope of success and joke about the massive collection of static they've collected. Fortunately, they've found other ways to occupy the time.
- Final Fantasy VII shows us the security camera guy at Shinra Building only for a few seconds, but we get the message he's bored out of his mind and does absolutely nothing. AVALANCHE sneaks effortlessly past his cameras.