Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 et al. and Overstimulation: Aural Division

In Elizabethan London, one would go to hear a play.
In America, we go to see even a concert.
The different word choices are significant.

            After having participated in an on-line discussion of Blade Runner 2049, I may have to expand to five my current “standard four O’s” for the tent-pole movie: to over-financed, over-produced, over-long, and overblown, we might have to add, “overly loud.” 

            To that I’m going to throw in just having learned that back in Oxford, OH, Kona restaurant is closing after some 20 years of operation. That’s not a bad run for a restaurant and no big deal for those not directly involved. Relevant for me here is that some Miami University (Oxford, OH) faculty liked to eat there, and we got to watch when the restaurant remodeled. I knew the manager, and I commented to him that just about every change they made to the restaurant worked to make it noisier. The manager said that was intentional and noted that among other reasons for that strategy was “We want to get rid of people like you.” I.e., they wanted to get rid of older diners who wanted to eat a meal and then sit around and talk. They wanted to attract youngish drinkers, who would drink, shout a few lines at one another — this was in the BT era (Before Texting) — order some snacks, drink more, and then leave, freeing the table for more drinkers.

            About the time of the Kona remodeling, I had a brief series of conversations with the manager of the aerobics area — it had some fashionable name I've forgotten — at Miami U’s Recreational Sports Center. I asked him to turn down the volume of the Muzak since even wearing ear stopples and “shooting muffs” I still could hear it pounding away. He said (1) they had an audiologist check it out, and it wasn’t too loud, (2) it was “my” music (classic rock), and (3) I was the only one to complain. I told him (more or less) that “my” music was music I could turn off and that they should try klezmer, progressive jazz, or light classical at that volume and see if there were any complaints. 

            And one bit more to throw into the mix as I sidle up to my point: For a while I’ve been intrigued with why “splatter” movies would be so popular with audiences largely the age of the victims in splatter movies. I could see why American youngsters might pay to see and hear the grotesque deaths of people of the older generations screwing them over, but what’s the kick in watching messy deaths for their peers? One answer I’ve received is that young people suffer (if not much) from sensory overload and need increasing doses of stimuli to respond. A touch of terror can get through, and feeling anything can be a positive.


For sure the fashion nowadays is for sensory overload even on such old-fart-infested contexts as the busy, busy, busy screens on CNN. Jokes about hearing loss among teens aside — it’s a real problem but not that bad — it may be that the loud volume on movies is designed precisely to appeal to The Prime Demographic of 18-24 year-olds (skewing male) and that annoying unfashionable old people would be an advantage. 

            There are people in the movie biz who see problems in sticking with this fashion. First, essential to fashion is change, and film projects started now and going for loud may come out when the fashion moves toward something quieter (although that seems unlikely). Second, the Prime Demographic — blessings upon their free time and disposable income! — have sources of entertainment besides movies and may prove disloyal. Old people have even more free time and more money and can prove a profitable (and artistically challenging) niche market in a number of venues. The problem for now is getting old folks out of the house and into the remaining movie theaters. 

            A strategy to attract the young and somewhat repel the old — as a direct goal or side effect — has its problems commercially. Esthetically, legitimate occasions for volume at the border of pain are rare. So the next recycling of some Ridley Scott or Stan Lee product, remember that the original audiences for dreaming andoids, Wonder Women, and X-Men are getting on in years — and turn down the volume.


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