When I hear massive, booming car stereos, I am filled with stress and anxiety. I find myself so jarred by the sound that I have broken down and cried while in public. It takes all my willpower not to completely lose it.
Most people are very afraid to confront any of these people to ask them to turn the booming stereos off. I’ve come to realize that extremely aggressive, really nasty, anti-social people drive these cars.
According to the county commissioners, booming stereos are the No. 1 complaint from citizens in Las Vegas, but nothing much seems to be done. There are other cities and towns that really crack down on drivers of booming car stereos and it seems to work. But here, it is another story.
I have a good life in many other ways, but booming car stereos have ruined my quality of life. I can’t block them out anymore, and now I literally get physically and emotionally ill from the sound. And it’s made worse by the hideous mentality of the people who drive (cars with these stereos). People so rude that it’s beyond the pale.
— J.W., Las Vegas
Fear of loud noises is instinctual, J.W. I remember watching the Thunderbirds at an air show once. In a routine I’ve since heard is a signature bit for them, three of the jet pilots distracted my attention in the foreground. No one noticed the remaining jet coming low from behind us. The ungodly roar of the F-16 rolled over me before my brain could make sense of the sound.
It made my youngest son cry, and left his father feeling lucky to have maintained bladder control. My body was sick with adrenaline. I was not amused, nor was I entertained.
But, in this case, the issue is not loud noises. As regards the modern emergence of booming car stereos, volume is not the foremost culprit. What is assaulting you, J.W., is low-frequency sound waves.
You feel these boom-bass idiots before you actually hear them. I’ll be sitting at a red light and the very bone marrow in my sternum starts to vibrate. As the boom swells into my car, it’s my lungs and chest cavity that are first aware. The fillings in my teeth feel it. My dashboard shivers. The skin on my face is lifted into the vacuum of the sonic assault.
And all that would happen if I were stone cold deaf.
Your anxiety has a neurobiological basis. Low-frequency sound waves cause a phenomenon called cavitation in the human body. Cavitation changes heart-rate patterns. It affects the gases in human tissue. It compels the central nervous system, creating vibrotactile sensitivity change, muscle contraction and changes in cardiovascular function. These are extra-aural bioeffects, that is, consequences unrelated to hearing.
But, ask any ear, nose and throat doctor, long-term, low-frequency exposure is a major culprit in hearing loss, too.
The folks who enjoy low-frequency stimulation are likely enjoying the rush. It puts adrenaline and endorphins into their system. What these social doofwads also are enjoying, of course, is what I call "The Clamoring I-Am." Meaning, when folks are absent a firm grip on a healthy ego-identity, they sometimes reach for the Clamoring I-Am. They forge identity and belonging by shocking and assaulting accepted social standards of decorum.
I’m saying there’s not, for me, a hill of beans difference between these shameless noise polluters and your garden variety exhibitionist in the raincoat at the park: "See me? Do you see me? Do you notice me? I exist, right? I offend you, therefore I Am."
You’re right to identify this as anti-social, aggressive and hostile.
But, back to your anxiety:
J.W., low-frequency assaults create discomfort, anxiety, and, in some people, unmanageable anxiety. Emotional and affective lability. The most encouraging thing I have to say is that there’s nothing wrong with you.
We can hope that someday soon Las Vegas will grow up, follow the lead of other major population centers and bring consistent legal pressure to bear. In the meantime, however, you might explore anxiety management interventions — hypnosis, breathing techniques, biofeedback — similar to the interventions phobic fliers use when they are obliged to travel by air.
And you might take some sadistic solace in knowing that, by the time these drivers turn 30, the most often used words in their likely already limited vocabulary will be "huh?" and "wwwhat?"
Originally published in View News on July 7, 2009.