Too mind-numbing for me

I went to the gym after work today, and the mind-numbing crap being played through the loudspeakers was too bad to suppress with actual music through my headphones, so, on an impulse that had been pending for a while, I went to reception and cancelled my subscription from the end of the month. (I now have my own commercial-quality cross-trainer (secondhand), and have an opportunity to acquire a multigym cheaply (only home quality, though, and also previously used), so I won’t have to miss out on many exercises.)

I gather that pop music is designed to catch attention (search for articles on the “loudness war”) and the aim seems to be to use the beat of the music to interrupt thought processes and thus to numb the pain of people with lousy life circumstances (for whom thinking about things increases awareness of their situation), and that these people will often, through use of such “music”, have much worse hearing than myself. I had hoped that what makes sense in a sink estate wouldn’t make sense on Cambridge Science Park, but perhaps that was an unrealistic hope in the context of modern culture. On the other hand, many of the gym users use personal music players and headphones there, so perhaps what the gym staff put on (I suspect it’s a radio station) isn’t in fact to the taste of the users.

I tried pointing out that if there was no background music, those who wanted music could bring in personal players with music of their own choice. The receptionist claimed that “you have to have music in a gym”, although conceded this wasn’t actually a law or a regulation. She said that weight-lifters might want it and might not be able to use personal music players in case they got in the way! Given that this is Cambridge Science Park, where people are employed to solve tricky technical problems, I would think that the users should be able to put headphones on and tuck the wires into their shirts without difficulty. That way, those who actually want pop music can still have it, without forcing it on others. (Non-pop background music, not being designed to catch the attention, would be easier to override personally, but the simplest thing would be to have no background music.)

The aim of pop music seems to be to numb the mind at the time it’s heard, but I can’t help wondering whether it reduces thinking ability in the long term too. Ironically, in the dystopian short story “Harrison Bergeron”, people more intelligent than average have thought-interrupting sounds forced on them, to reduce their advantage; whereas what seems to have happened is that such sounds are chosen, to reduce the pain of life, by those less capable or less fortunate.

Of course, it’s not only in the gym that pop music is forced on me; shops are a common culprit too. That’s one of the reasons why I’m shopping on-line more and more.

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