by Robert Freedman

Reviewed by Ted Rueter

November 30, 2009

Noise Wars: Compulsory Media and Our Loss of Autonomy is an outstanding book. It is exhaustively researched, very well-written, informative, interesting, and entertaining. It is extremely useful for the fight against “compulsory media” and other forms of noise pollution.

Robert Freedman examines the explosive growth of “compulsory media,” which is now everywhere: buses, airports, gas station pumps, taxis, elevators, sports stadiums, schools, downtowns, restaurants, subways, restrooms, doctor’s offices, gyms, stores, and malls.

Freedman points out that there is now “street-furniture TV,” in which “media companies install TV screens in ‘street furniture’ like bus stops, kiosks, benches, and the other structures that make up the familiar landscape. ‘People can actually watch movie trailers at bus stops,’ says Jean-Luc-Decaux of J.C. Decaux North America, a French marketing group with US operations based in Chicago” (p.27).

I dislike compulsory media intensely. This past summer, I left a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game during the first inning because of the constant pounding from the public speaker system and the organ–even between pitches! (They also blasted rock and roll in the men’s room.) I recently walked out of a chiropractor’s office because of the annoying ‘background music’–even in a treatment room. When I asked the chiropractor to at least turn it down in the treatment room, he refused. I try to go to the supermarket on Sunday mornings, because that’s when stores tend to play quieter, classical music. One of the reasons I hate flying is because of the constant, irritating announcements (“Attention passengers. Do not accept packages from strangers. Do not accept packages from strangers”), as well as the ubiquitous presence of television monitors broadcasting CNN.

As Rob Freedman points out, increasingly, there is no place to hide. In terms of shopping, the only refuge is Target, which eliminated “background music” more than 15 years ago. I go out of my way to shop at Target.

I highly recommend Noise Wars: Compulsory Media and Our Loss of Autonomy to anyone interested in social trends, media studies, social psychology, or social activism. It is a terrific read.

Ted Rueter
Founder, Noise Free America