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Turn it down!

Tracey Columns

Growing up  with a hearing-impaired mother, I was motivated to earn an undergraduate degree in Education of the Deaf and Hearing Impaired. So it’s perfectly natural that I would be tuned into the signs of aging ears. It seems to be the price we are paying for all of those as a rock n’ roll concerts as youngins’. (I have Bob Dylan’s lyrics memorized to this day but who knew that when he went electric – the stuff of critical debate a lifetime ago – that his music would that finally catch up with us in this way. There is no justice! But, as more of a folk/ Crosby, Stills, Nash kid, I am forever grateful that I was never drawn to the knock-you-off-your-feet electric bands.)

For many boomers, the shift in hearing is subtle, very subtle, a lost syllable here, a fuzzy word there. I notice how some heads instinctively turn just a bit to catch sound floating through the air through their dominant, stronger ear. At times, questions and sentences, need to be repeated. It’s happening to all of us, a sign of the times that we hate to see coming.

So I find it particularly ironic that movie theaters seem to be turning up the volume to levels that feel as though we are running the risk of damaging the residual hearing we are desperately trying to preserve. What’s going on?

Case in point: during a recent night at the movies (the theater shall remain nameless) my husband and I settled in to watch a movie we had both been looking forward to. We had carefully positioned ourselves away from the popcorn smackers and the wiggly, happy teens. (Oh my, I’m sounding practically prehistoric here!)  We laughed as we watched the clips requesting that audience members turn off their phones and another asking people to be considerate. I was happy to be right where I was.

And then … the curse of the volume began. It was first cranked up when the proud innovators of the movie’s sound system announced their presence with elegant, clever graphics and blaring music. Anticipating this, I literally plugged my ears. But when this fine movie began, I was nearly blown from my plush stadium seating by the pulsating sound track. Throughout the entire movie, the “background” (?) music would blare into the theater. I came to dread the action scenes, waiting impatiently for the dialog to return. What a disappointment.

The next day, I found myself revisiting my evening at the movies.  I’d certainly experienced the same “music” phenomenon from the television, specifically the commercials. There I am, enjoying my favorite show when they cut to commercial and I dive for the mute button on my remote. Who needs an annoying jingle for sour cream banging through the house?

Determined to understand what the media types are trying to accomplish with this particular maneuver, I began my research by consulting our in-house expert, my son the media producer. His response:

“I really have no understanding of why they have the sound up so loud in movies – I think that marketing and entertainment in general are conditioning us to want a lot of stimulus, so the TV is loud, movies are loud, malls are loud. Technology is getting really good in theaters too – so they turn it up so you can hear how intricate the “mix” is. If it’s not louder than your surroundings, you aren’t “in” the film.”

While perhaps, not the definitive explanation, his ideas made sense to me. (I know, as his mom I’m probably easily placated!)  But it was his last, profound insight (!) that gave me the idea to write about this sound situation we encounter in a variety of local theaters. He finished with, “It also sounds like your theater just had the volume turned up too high!”

Hearing is a precious sense, one we all need to preserve for as long as we possibly can. So, it is with all due respect that I ask our local theaters to please turn down the volume a notch – so the younger generations don’t lose their hearing at an even faster rate than their boomer parents, and so we of later years can hold on to whatever hearing we may have left.

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