Friday, 6 November 2009

Evil in the Supermarket

A few years ago when I lived in Medford, MA, I realised that I was being assailed with unwelcome noise at my local drug store. It was that loud “muzak” noise. I asked the counter clerk if it bothered her, and she replied that she was so used to it that she hardly noticed it.

Just last week I was at the neighbourhood dry cleaners. As I walked from my car to the store I noticed “the sound of silence”.

Right next door to the dry cleaners there was one of those “rent to own” furniture and appliance businesses. (Those are the businesses which rip off the poor by charging such exorbitant monthly rental amounts that the person who “rents to own” ends up by paying two to three times the cost of (say) a dining room set).

Most of the rent to own firms have outdoor sound systems which blare very loud music and company propaganda 24/7/52.

Last week, mercy me, there was no noise pollution at the store next to the dry cleaners. That rent to own business had gone out of business. I commented on the welcome change to the owner of the dry cleaning store. He responded that he and his staff had endured this for 20 years, and he’d often awakened in the middle of the night with the “sound” blaring in his mind. He had made many complaints, all to no avail.

He now rejoiced that the neighbouring store had closed.

I live in a very quiet home. I never listen to the radio, and I watch about 30 minutes worth of TV each week. I often enjoy the gentle sound of a ticking clock. So maybe I am a bit too sensitive to noise.

Nonetheless I get angry at the very loud “muzak” which is played in just about every store. I think that it is designed to make customers think less and buy more.

The other week I was being deeply irritated at the music at my favourite supermarket. I happened to encounter some corporate types, down from Jacksonville. I protested the noise to them. They promised to refer my complaint back to headquarters. Fat chance.

I was in that self same store on November 4th and got almost apoplectic as I endured “Christmas” music.

I wanted to scream “hands off my music”. I am at the point that I do not wish to trade in that store, (where, by the way, I think of myself as a “customer”, and not as a “guest”!) I will complain to corporate offices.

In the Episcopal Church Prayer book the baptismal service asks parents and godparents of younger children to make a promise on behalf of the child to be baptised. Adults who are to be baptised are asked the same question. It is “Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?”

Those evil powers are manifold, and include militarism, racism and nationalism to name but a few. I also include consumerism - that evil which tries to deceive us into thinking that we shall gain satisfaction and happiness through the things we we buy, whether or not we need them.

I believe that retail store “muzak” is intended to change us from being thoughtful customers to being mindless consumers. And that is evil.


  1. Have you heard of the Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping? I think you'd like it. You can find the website here:

  2. Michael,
    So glad someone else notices this. I am especially sensitive to this because of my brain injury, but even folks without disabilities are assaulted with noise all the time. We had a quiet little Indian Restaurant here in Pittsfield (remember House of India?) and they renovated and one day we went in and they had two flat screen TV's at either end of the place blaring Bollywood videos. They were so proud of them I didn't have the heart to complain, but we don't go there as much.