David Russell

Shh! I'm trying to shop in peace and quiet
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Coquitlam Now, September 29, 2004 pg. 12

Researchers and public health types are paying a growing amount of attention to pollution caused not by automobiles, factories and oil tankers, but by noise. Our ears, the theory goes, are so inundated with superfluous sound our hearing -- and our sanity -- may well be in peril.

I'm inclined to agree.

Nowhere has this extraneous clamour become more pronounced than in local shopping malls and grocery stores, even here in our comparatively culturally-subdued Tri-Cities.

At the risk of sounding like the grumpy old man I must be quickly becoming, is musical bombardment really a necessary component of the shopping transaction? Are there really such music buffs parting with their hard-earned shekels that would take their business elsewhere if their favourite boutique didn't have Jennifer Lopez as part of its ambience?

If the local trendy teeny-bopper outfitters were the only culprits it would be simple enough to avoid those operations. But the torrent of tunes isn't limited to those outfits specializing in teen outfits. It's permeated transactions of nearly every kind.

Grocery shopping is a necessity that really cannot be escaped. That said, enticing shoppers with musical interludes between poultry and produce sections is an unneeded distraction. Surely no consumers need to be serenaded by lonely, screaming divas lamenting latest loves lost.

Which brings to mind the choice of music. The supermarket soundscape inevitably is cluttered by soft pop, music whose principal function would seem to be to provide something to listen to while sticking one's head in the oven. Apart from inducing dental cavities with saccharine lyrics, my newborn daughter is prone to fits of prolonged, tortured crying at the sound of Celine Dion, a taste I didn't teach her but at which I certainly swell with pride.

One local supermarket almost had me as an immediately loyal customer when on my first visit I was carried through the aisles on a wave of music-less silence. Alas, the sound system must have been only temporarily out of commission, as I returned the following week to be aurally greeted by Cher.

Then there is the merge of music assaulting the senses when sauntering through the mall. Like their grocery vending counterparts, mall management has abandoned straight out elevator music in favour of the aforementioned sanguine schlock.

Coupled with this is the cacophony arising at nearly every door to every store, whose proprietors assail potential purchasers with the type of neo-disco, thumping electronic beat -- generally sans melody of any kind -- usually associated with all night raves. I rarely last more than a few fleeting moments in any one establishment before fleeing into the acoustic arms of the soft-pop hell that is the thoroughfare. Does Gap Kids really need to pound parents with pulsating beats while they look for tiny shoes for their toddlers?

A solid argument could be made for loud music emanating from the music store, but even there the choice is nearly always booming bass at chest- thumping volumes. By the time I track down the category I want the pounding in my head has caused me to forget what music I was there to purchase in the first place.

Retailers take note: Not all spenders need the constant din of musical accompaniment. Some of us just want to shop in peace.

David Russell is a freelance writer and contributing editor at Suite101.com.