Saturday, September 26, 2009

Confession is Good for the Soul? Whose Soul?

This week, if you are a diligent Internet news site reader (as I am), it was impossible not to hear about the “bombshell” revelation that former TV star Mackenzie Phillips suffered incest with her father, John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, starting when she was in her late teens.

I will not go into further detail than that – if you want more, you know where to find it – but this story made me think about the value of revealing horrible secrets, secrets that when exposed explode with the force of an A-bomb.

Revealing the secret was perhaps therapeutic for Mackenzie, who had been hiding it for nearly thirty years (including eight years after her father’s death). But was it good for the rest of us?

Some folks say that revelations of incest, rape, abuse, addiction, etc. are good because they help raise awareness of these issues. But do you know anyone over the age of twelve who is not already aware of these issues? The play Oedipus the King– perhaps the oldest, and certainly the most famous depiction of incest – is over 2,000 years old.

Awareness has a dubious link to prevention. Does anyone remember the TV movie A Case of Rape starring Elizabeth Montgomerystarring Elizabeth Montgomery, back in 1974? It was a daring and necessary movie – but how many rapes have occurred since then? A famous person’s story of personal trauma, too, will titillate some and traumatize others, but if only it were true that talking about problems actually solved them.

Of course, any victim has the right to tell his or her story. And the rest of us – whether it’s to avoid yanking up old scabs, or the desire to avoid unnecessary ugliness – have a right not to hear it. That doesn’t mean a lack of empathy toward the victim, but once you read or hear about another’s abuse, it never completely leaves your memory files. It’s okay to protect your mental space. Keep that in mind when (not if) the next confession goes off.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pipe it Down, Please

Ask yourself this question:

When you go to a store, a doctor’s office, a beauty salon, or even a restaurant, and you hear piped-in music, are you:

1. Glad?
2. Bored?
3. Annoyed?
4. Disgusted?

According to Pipedown, a UK-based organization that objects to piped-in music in public places, more people are 2, 3, and 4 about it than 1.

Music is one of the great joys of life – when you choose to listen to it. Music that you listen to at home, in your car, or on your headphones, is all right (as long as it’s not loud enough to disturb others). Music that you don’t choose to listen to, which is inflicted on you as you perform necessary tasks like buying groceries, going to the doctor, or fueling your car, is just frigging annoying. It’s beyond annoying if you’re in a restaurant and it interferes with talking to your table partners or digesting food. Believe it or not, even libraries (!!!) have gotten into the act, according to an article by Anne Kadet in the October 2009 issue of Smart Money magazine. Spaces of silence are getting smaller all the time.

The Sprouts natural-foods grocery store in my neighborhood constantly plays 1960s oldies on its PA system. Many of these songs have been favorites of mine for years. But I don’t like them so much played at excessive volume in a place where I shop for food. The market where you choose what you eat should have a calm, serene atmosphere, and give you enough mental space to think. (And it’s not respectful to these great musicians, whose songs deserve better than to be mere background.)

I should probably be grateful that the Sprouts store plays great 1960s pop instead of the American Idol swill that passes for music these days. Whenever I hear Kelly Clarkson’s sappycrap “Because of You”, it deflates me when I’m cheery and sours me even more when I’m sad. Some romantic songs, too, should not be played indiscriminately in public places – who knows which newly heartbroken person is walking or standing under the speakers?

The belief of business owners that background music calms people down and makes them more likely to hang around (and buy) is questionable indeed. Target stores have been music-free for fifteen years, and not one person has complained about it.

If businesses refuse to give up the habit of piped-in music, at least they should choose music like this

which is non-irritating, non-vocal, and highly unlikely to drag bad memories back to light, and keep the volume low enough to hear conversation. I miss this old-fashioned style of so-called “elevator” music. I would get some CDs of it if I knew where to find them (and I will play them in my home and my car at a respectable volume, of course).

Businesses, turn off the pop and free our heads when we visit you. The silent majority will thank you.