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Quiet Please


I had no choice. Ads and crass music are forced upon me no matter where I go. Stores, airplanes — even my local post office has a large TV monitor blasting loud advertisements. In New York, some taxicabs have TV monitors on the back of the front seat. The cab owner gets compensated for broadcasting loud soundbites. What happened to supply and demand? Why can't I just pay for my fare? Some recent DVDs of popular movies have ads and previews at the beginning that CANNOT BE FAST-FORWARDED. In other words, if you don't like loud ads, you have to start the disc 15 minutes before you can start watching the feature and turn the sound down.

The other day I came home and turned on my answering machine to hear this message: "Hey Ted. This is Steve. Been trying to get you this weekend, called a few times." Steve? Who do I know named Steve? That voice sounded so casual and familiar as if I should know him. Is my memory getting that bad?

"I'll try you later," the message continued, "but didn't want you to miss this opportunity to get 1,000 minutes of free dialing with your —" Aaaaaghhh! It's a prerecorded message! This stuff is insidious!

Children are raised to believe that their sports heroes play at Verizon Wireless Arena and FedEx Stadium, and that a football championship is now called Nokia Sugar Bowl. What's next? "Nokia Judaism"? "Time-Warner Christmas"?

Will the principal at school announce over the public address system, "Now let us all rise to say the Memorex Pledge of Allegiance"?

As a boy I plowed through Popular Mechanics and relished those little well-designed ads for grow lights, homemade oscilloscopes and long-range radios, things of specific interest to me that pricked my imagination. Must I now be pursued by advertisers and organizations that don't know me? Can I trust their products?

Recently, my gas pump started to talk to me. I'm not sure what it was selling, but it was grateful for my patronage and wanted me to buy some sort of prepaid discount card.

I could eschew modern life, cover my ears when I go into the post office or avoid stores, movies and television. But why should I? I like television. Today I watched a giraffe birthing on "Animal Planet." I was moved by the fragility and preciousness of the cub, struggling to stand for the first time, being gently nudged by its mother. The buzz and pop of African insect life filled my living room. But then a commercial came on at a screaming level and I had to scramble to find the remote before it woke my neighbors.

On television, politicians yell at each other with ferocity. Why do humans want to be subjected to all this yelling? Do fans of political scream-fests ever watch a giraffe being born? I doubt it. If so, maybe for a few moments they could share their commonalties and appreciate the sanctity of life.

Why aren't people more tuned into the ambient sounds of the natural earth?

For every person hiking through the forest listening to the wind rustle through the trees, there are millions being aurally assaulted by television, commercial radio and public sound systems. The quietest TV channels like Animal Planet and Discovery have the lowest advertising revenues on basic cable. Public Television and The Arts Channel, which have no commercial advertising, are the quietest.

Advertising is an abstract. Its effectiveness is not measurable (though market researchers try). If you throw a firecracker into a room of unsuspecting people — you will get their attention. I'd rather be gently nudged. S

Ted Salins © 2003

Ted Salins is a Richmond-based writer. He teaches screenwriting and film production at Appomattox Regional Governor's School in Petersburg.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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