Why does TV have all that loud music in shows, movies and even a lot of commercials? It frequently drowns out the dialogue. -- Phyllis Daniel, of Red Bud, et al.
It won't do much to soothe your jangled nerves, but you might take comfort in knowing that you're not alone in wanting to hurl a Nerf brick at your set sometimes.
Ask any TV reviewer, and you'll find that one of the leading complaints from readers is frequent background music that seems to rival a 747 taking off. One man even started a website for the problem -- stopbackgroundmusicontvprograms.com.
"Apparently the people editing the music must be deaf as they can't determine the high volume of this music," he says as he called for a boycott of offending shows. "Doesn't anyone ever screen the finished product? It appears not."
As a viewer, I sympathize with your rattled eardrums. But having at least a little streak of creativity in me, I can understand from where those TV producers are coming.
Before TV came along, music played a vital role in movies and radio for decades. Remember Bill Cosby talking about the show "Lights Out" in his Chickenheart routine, in which he makes fun of the loud, creepy organ music?
Music is used to create mood, fill space and even link a scene to other cultural contexts. Sometimes you want the music to be in the foreground for these reasons. TV has joined this long tradition -- although it may have gotten out of hand for several reasons I can think of:
For starters, instead of generic music written specifically for the show, directors now often take songs from the pop chart that fit a particular scene. A hackneyed example: If a couple were splitting, they might play a snippet of "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do." So if you're going to pay Neil Sedaka big bucks for the use of his song to make a point, you want viewers to notice it, so you turn up the volume.
Second, they may think most viewers grew up attending dozens of rock concerts, where the megawatt amps left you feel as if you were on the launch pad of a Saturn V blasting off. You may even be a little deaf after too many evenings with AC/DC so you need it a little louder.
Either way, they figure you want to feel the music, so the decibel level goes up. If it's in a commercial, they may think you'll pay more attention -- or at least notice what product is upsetting your domestic harmony.
In conjunction with that, don't forget the improved sound systems on modern TVs. While my parents' 21-inch RCA black-and-white probably had the equivalent audio of my old 6-transistor pocket radio, many now hook TVs to large amps with a dozen speakers and subwoofers. These help magnify the effect. Plus, those who do the soundtracks figure you want to experience what you paid all that money for, so, again, the volume goes up.
I'm not trying to justify this trend that seems to have started maybe 15 or 20 years ago, just explain it. Like you, sometimes I'd like to enjoy a nice, quiet conversation between Wally and the Beav without them being drowned out by the latest American Idol.
Interestingly, critics say that complaints of garbled dialogue seem to come largely from older viewers. There's a good reason for this, audiologists say. As we age, we start losing our ability to hear higher frequencies -- which helps give clarity to speech -- first. As a result, we'll continue to hear that annoying music plainly, but we may not be able to make out what is being said (especially if we've gone to too many rock concerts).
If you have this problem, they suggest you minimize other household noise and even try switching your TV's stereo sound to mono if you can. Otherwise, you may have to try headphones or turning on your set's captioning control.
I hope I've come through loud and clear. Fortunately, newspapers have not found a way to incorporate music. Yet.
What small typographical error led to what was known as the Wicked Bible in 1631?
Answer to Saturday's trivia: In 1925, George Bernard Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature "for his work, which is marked by both idealism and humanity ... " Then, in 1939, he became the only man to earn a Nobel and an Academy Award by winning the best-screenplay Oscar for the 1938 film "Pygmalion." Shaw, however did not attend the ceremony and was less than impressed by Tinseltown's notice of him. "It's an insult for them to offer me any honor, as if they had never heard of me before -- and it's very likely they never have," he reportedly said. "They might as well send some honor to George for being king of England."
When he died in 1950, his home was turned into a museum. By that time, his Oscar statue had become so tarnished that the curator used it as a doorstop. It has since been restored and we continue to love Shaw's work -- including "My Fair Lady," which is based on his 1912 play "Pygmalion."
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or email@example.com