Hallefreakinglujah, loud TV commercials have been banned

Adam Weinstein at Mother Jones reports that the FCC’s ban on loud TV commercials went into effect last night at midnight!

Thank the freaking Lord.

The FCC has a page set up about the new rule, and where to report violators.

Q:   Will the new rules eliminate the problem of loud commercials?
A:   The rules should eliminate any systematic difference between the loudness of commercials and the loudness of the programming they accompany. The ATSC practice that Congress directed us to adopt does not set an absolute cap on loudness. Rather, it requires commercials to have the same average volume as the programming they accompany, so that the volume a consumer chooses is the one at which both the programming and the advertisements will air. We hope and expect that compliance with this practice will significantly reduce the problem of loud commercials for consumers.

This is all well and good, but what about enforcement?  The Do Not Call list’s enforcement has been questionable.  While the Do Not Call List works great for me, it hasn’t helped my friend Matt, or my parents, who are seniors, and who routinely get barraged by calls (apparently there’s a whole “thing” about telemarketing predators who go after seniors with scams, etc.)

noise loud tv commercials

Noise via Shutterstock

I know when I’ve written about loud TV commercials before there were some naysayer libertarian types (though they may have been conservative trolls) who worried about the impact on our overall freedom of limiting the volume of absurdly screeching TV commercials (first they came for the loud tv commercials…).  And I have a few responses to that.

First off, while I do buy the argument that we have to be careful of creeping infringements on our freedom, I tend to think that admonishment has more to do with, oh I don’t know, AT&T letting the government tap our phones without a warrant than the FCC taking away your right to yell in my eardrum because you think it will make me buy more Skittles.

But even more importantly, I have a theory.  I’ve not found anything online about it, but just wait a few years.  It’s about loud TV commercials and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder that can affect people who have been through an extremely stressful event (a lot of veterans get it, and I got it from living through September 11 in Washington, DC ).

PTSD is a difficult thing to explain unless you’ve lived through it yourself.  Suffice it to say, one of the possible triggers for a panic attack is loud noise.  I’m sure some of you know what I’m talking about, following September 11, when the police sirens simply would not stop, at least in DC, for a good six weeks – all day long, every few minutes, a new siren, the entire day.  For me at least, any loud noise, for at least the first few years after 9/11, would completely freak me out.  I’ve told the story before of siting in a restaurant with friends, I think it was 2003 or so, and the waiter dropped a tray of dishes somewhere behind me.  I suddenly broke into tears.  It was one of the strangest experiences of my life.  I got up and ran out of the restaurant.  Things are better now, but loud noise still sets me off more than it should.  And one of the loud noises that upsets me the most are TV commercials.

I am convinced that there’s a link between PTSD and loud TV commercials.  I’m not saying that the commercials necessarily cause PTSD, but I know for a fact that they aggravate it.  The loud noise coming on every five minutes, it can be jarring, depending on the commercial.  And for me at least, when the commercials really start to get on my nerves – they all have loud fast, excitable music, all of them – I get that familiar unsettling feeling start to well up that tells me this isn’t a “normal” reaction to the noise.

There are a lot of people in this country, especially military, who are suffering from symptoms of PTSD.  Estimates are that between 4% and 17% of US Iraq war vets have PTSD (a recent study showed 30% of vets treated by the VA have PTSD). How many vets is that?

Nearly 250,000.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has quietly released a new report on post-traumatic stress disorder, showing that since 9/11, nearly 30 percent of the 834,463 Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans treated at V.A. hospitals and clinics have been diagnosed with PTSD.

It also affects cancer patients, among others.  From Cancer.gov:

Reviews of the literature [1] note that post-traumatic stress has been studied in a variety of cancers, including melanoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, breast cancer, and mixed cancers. The incidence of the full syndrome of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (meeting the full Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition [DSM-IV], diagnostic criteria) ranges from 3% to 4% in early-stage patients recently diagnosed to 35% in patients evaluated after treatment. When incidence of PTSD-like symptoms (not meeting the full diagnostic criteria) are measured, the rates are higher, ranging from 20% in patients with early-stage cancer to 80% in those with recurrent cancer.

I’ve often wondered how many Americans have PTSD (or borderline cases) that are being aggravated by the excessive loudness of TV commercials.  And also, putting PTSD aside, to what degree the loudness of commercials is simply making people more nervous, on edge, and angrier.  I admit I don’t have absolutely proof, but I’ve wondered about this before.  We watch a LOT of TV – 4 minutes and 39 minutes on average every day.  And that equals a lot of commercials.  I just wonder to what degree, in a society where people already seem to be increasingly agitated as the years go on, the jarring noise from the idiot box, as my mom calls it, jumping out at you ever five minutes or so, over a nearly 5 hour period each day, doesn’t start to take its toll.

Let’s hope these rules work.  One concern already, the rules require “commercials to have the same average volume as the programming they accompany.”  On another page the FCC explains the dilemma:

 A commercial may have louder and quieter moments, but, overall, it should be no louder than the surrounding programming. This may mean, however, that some commercials will comply with the new rules, but still sound “too loud” to some viewers.

Well that’s disconcerting.  So the commercials can still be as loud as they’ve been, so long as they have a less loud period that “averages” the entire thing out to the same volume level as the show before it.  So if we’re watching a war move, the commercials can quite literally blow us out of seats, so long as they go silent for a period of time as well.  I can imagine commercials starting with a bang, to get your attention, then whispering.  We’ll have to see how this plays out, but if the advertisers start abusing the spirt of the rules, we may need to revisit it.

Still, it’s nice to know that Congress can do something right.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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