The 'mute' button... god's gift
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     Come on. I can’t be the only one. I’ll bet there are thousands of you — nay, millions — whose jaws clench and teeth grind under the screeching assault of roaring television commercials.
     With youth just a fond memory, my ears are not what they used to be. I’m a bit hard of hearing, but not enough to require any of those devices designed to stuff in your ears. I just click the remote volume control up a notch or two.
     Works like a charm. Until the commercials start.
     Good Lord! The explosion of sound is enough to lift me off my chair. (Usually, it takes a refrigerator raid to do that.)
     The blaring music. The howling announcers. Horns blowing. People screaming. Planes taking off. Aaarrrgggghhh!
     The loud commercials even wake up our cozy schnauzer, Scruffy, who snoozes blissfully through the actual programming. His head jerks up off the couch and his little body stiffens, like a pit bull had invaded his space.
     So, if you think the commercials really are way louder than whatever show you’re watching, it’s not your imagination. It’s true. Commercial America is assaulting us.
     Stephanie, the beautiful TV Babe who graciously tolerates my co-existence with her every day, knows the inside story. She’s undoubtedly Wisconsin’s best known television personality, host of Discover Wisconsin television and radio. In fact, I’m sure, lots of you out there with satellite access can find the show bouncing off things in space.
     Anyway, Steph tells me it’s not my ears. It is common practice in the broadcast world to crank up the volume for commercials and scream for attention. We can probably blame viewers who jump up at every commercial break to run for the bathroom or the fridge, so the noisy advertisers try to follow them.
     By the way, it’s not just on TV. Lots of radio commercials assault the senses, too.
     My guess is most folks hate it. As their ears fill with noise, their minds fill with rage.
     It has made the “mute” button my favorite part of the remote.
     Well. Those of you who thought Washington’s plate was too full — a crashed economy, two wars, healthcare reform, Nobel stuff — to take on more are mistaken. Our political benefactors apparently have time to fix loud commercials and give our ears a break.
     Congress is considering something called the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act — dubbed the CALM Act. Really. Now ain’t that clever.
     The bill is intended to establish rules: “1. Advertisements accompanying such video programming shall not be excessively noisy or strident; 2. Such advertisements shall not be presented at modulation levels substantially higher than the program material that such advertisements accompany; 3. The average maximum loudness of such advertisements shall not be substantially higher than the average maximum loudness of the program material that such advertisements accompany.”
And you thought Congress didn’t care.
     Now, I assume, lawyers can stay busy for years splitting hairs over words like “excessively,” “strident,” “substantially,” and “average.” These are vague terms. Lawyers love vague terms.
     As a First Amendment absolutist, I’m also not particularly comfortable with the idea of Congress trying to tell a paying advertiser to shush. Whenever Congress wades into the communication business, constitutionalists should be very, very wary.
     Not that I disagree with the intent. As I grow older and more settled into my curmudgeon-hood, loud commercials are just one more irritation which stirs a near-overwhelming urge deep within me to choke the life out of some offending figure.
     Good thing I have the TV Babe and Scruffy to mellow me out.
     Along with the “mute” button.