Who out there remembers the sound truck at election time?
Before Facebook and television became bludgeons of choice in American politics, we had the sound truck. In its day, which ended about 50 years ago, the sound truck– any vehicle with a loudspeaker – could be counted on at election time to roll through the streets squawking that we must vote for this candidate or that candidate.
As election day approached and then arrived, the commercials increased in frequency and decibels. The peace of autumn on a clear day, the quiet of classrooms, the solitude of parks, the sleep of babies, the purr of a city at work – all were innocent prey for the shrill bullhorn.
The sound truck had become an aggravation. It excited a normal human resentment against the whole principle of free speech. The rolling bullhorn, which was not free speech but amplified speech, was declared a nuisance in most places and banned. The common noise ordinance set a difference between plain speaking and loud speaking.
Even without the bullhorn, the theme of amplification lives strong as ever. Through technology, the sound truck is reincarnated as the Facebook posting, the robo call and the television campaign advertisement, bringing us to the same familiar disturbance and the same shattered peace. It excites in us a contempt that we had once reserved for ads about erectile dysfunction.
There are many people eager to throttle an opinion they don’t admire, and if it happens to come on a volume of sound or a cycle of repetition as insufferable as the message itself, the number of people who will want to stifle both the sound and the idea are bound to increase.
The technology may change but the season for political ads is still with us, with its loud speech, its long reach and limitless signal, ever amplifying the difference between ideas and noise.