BOSTON -- One of the great pleasures in life is watching a lowly, disparaged and oppressed group of Americans come into their own. I am speaking of those maligned people known as couch potatoes. Or if you prefer, sofa spuds.
For the past decade, Jane Fonda, Richard Simmons and the entire medical establishment have led the rest of us down the aerobic path of life. We have spent our weekends and paychecks on leotards and lessons. We have bought bicycles to nowhere and suits to sweat in. Neither rain nor snow nor sleet has stopped us from speed-walking.
But all this time, there existed among us a large number of low-profile Americans who showed true grit, strength of character and staying power. They sat out the jogging craze. They sat out the aerobic craze. High-impact and low-impact. They sat out racquetball. Indeed, they sat and sat.
While all around them people were on the move, they remained rooted in front of the tube, exercising only their eyeballs. For this consistency, for their ability to not march to the beat of a distant drummer, they were vilified.
Couch potato was not a term of endearment. Indeed, many of us looked down upon these people, and not just because they were sitting. But all of that is in the past. The couch-potato movement (if that isn't a contradiction in terms) is showing its new-found pride. The sofa spuds are flexing their muscles. Such as they are.
The year 1987 has become the year of the couch potatoes. They have at last risen up -- without getting up, of course. They have begun to boast of the advantages, the life style, of the easy chair.
After all, not one couch potato has ever come down with tennis elbow. Not one has ever had a shin splint. Maybe one or two got stiff fingers from pressing the TV remote, but they haven't suffered a single major injury. Except, of course, to their pride.
New York magazine, the herald of trends, was the first of the mainstream to put forth a cover story on couch potatoing as a new in-group activity this fall. We have now seen the growth of Potato Power. The Christmas marketplace boasts couch-potato dolls, a couch-potato quilt, couch-potato T-shirts.
I even received a trademarked Couch Potato Game: ''the outrageous game that's played while you are watching TV.'' And I am told of a newsletter for those who network entitled ''The Tuber's Voice.''
In January, a couch-potato convention will be held in Chicago. It features, or so I read, a soap-opera seminar, a TV buffet dinner and a TV star lookalike.
Is it possible that we may live to see an Olympic event in marathon television-watching? Or is this too American an event to go international? A founding father, Robert Armstrong, explains the potato philosophy this way: ''We feel that watching TV is an indigenous American form of meditation.'' He calls it Transcendental Vegetation.
All this notoriety is wonderful news for those who spent years feeling down on themselves, not to mention their sofas. At last, they are getting their due.
But quite frankly, I have begun to worry. Will success spoil the spuds? Will all this attention -- indeed, all this activity -- encourage the great American couch potatoes to leave their posts and go out into the marketplace?
There is danger in the merchandising and exploitation of inaction. Will they ruin everything by developing some get-up-and-go? Can a true member of the species play a board game and attend a convention without losing contact with his roots?
To find out the future of the couch potato, stay tuned to this station. And don't move a muscle.