Musical transit bandits assault shared spaces everywhere

Jennifer Berry

They hop on subway cars and buses when you least expect it. They seem unassuming until they get a little closer and your eardrums are viciously accosted. They wield weapons of auditory assault so rude, so imposing, you do nothing but sit dumbfounded, vacillating between total shock and sheer outrage.

Dirty looks and exasperated side-eyed glances are shot and fired. You share knowing glances with fellow commuters, as if to say, ‘The nerve, right?’ You hope these loud, musically inclined miscreants will notice your utter disdain, wake up as if from a deeply rude trance, and plug their Beats by Dre in.

But the realization never comes. They stare ahead, defiant, and you’re stuck for another 17 stops in audio purgatory. These music-blasting bandits are going sans headphones, force-feeding their musical preferences onto unsuspecting transit riders­­­. And they must be stopped.

At first, I thought it was my real age rearing its mature head. Was my chronological 32 years betraying my youthful joie de vivre? I like Justin Bieber! I know how to use (most of) the latest vernacular! Why did this particular behaviour grate so violently on each of my last nerves? Was this seemingly new trend merely a sign of the times? Am I just behind?

Ultimately, the age argument doesn’t hold up because the assailants in these musical drive-by’s aren’t just young rabble-rousers, but men and women of all different ages and stripes. Just last week, a middle aged man plunked down on the subway and proceeded to blast non-descript beats from a poor quality device as pillowy headphones dangled from his knapsack, the useless appendages begging to be deployed.

And it’s not simply that my taste in music varies wildly from many of these public transit audio bandits, it’s the utter disregard for other people’s space that gets me. Could this behaviour be anymore outrageously rude? What possesses people to force dozens of strangers to endure their particular musical tastes?

The act of blaring music in public is not brand new but its motivations have changed. In the late 1970s, tunes were pouring out of portable stereos called boomboxes. This was largely a cultural behaviour associated with urban communities, which eventually gave birth to the term “ghetto blaster.” While boomboxes were ultimately banned from public places in most cities, they’re arguably an inextricable part of the history of hip-hop culture.

The current headphone-free trend is less a rebellious cultural message than it is a disregard for personal space, an utter lack of manners. Some argue it is a by-product of advances in technology that has blurred the distinction between public and private.
Smartphones and social media have made it possible to broadcast our every move to whoever cares. They allow for us to connect to people, places, and experiences without ever leaving our homes, while noise-cancelling headphones can create pods of solitude in the most bustling crowds.
And the crossover between public and private has seemingly caused some people to lose their sense of what’s appropriate and how to be considerate of other people’s needs.
Are we noise-policing naysayers with old fashioned ideas about manners? No. Regardless of age, having at minimum polite consideration for others – and their eardrums – in shared spaces is timeless.

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