In Which I Am Haunted By Music Of Days Past


I think it’s only fair to ask why I’m spending time, in 2018, going about my business while thinking of the background music from the Hanna-Barbera Pac-Man cartoon that was a thing that existed. And don’t tell me that it’s my own stupid fault for watching the Hanna-Barbera Pac-Man cartoon that was a thing that existed. What choice did I have at that age, not watching a cartoon? Exactly. In any case there’s no reason for me to be puttering around the house humming it to myself in my melody-less, Morse Code-esque fashion. Not at this date.

And it’s not like I let just any song I was exposed to back then occupy my thoughts for hours on end. Why, it’s been weeks since I had that AT&T commercial for their hardware that repurposed the old “Second-Hand Rose” song as “Second-Class Phones/ they’re making/ second-class phones/ they’re breaking” occupy my every waking thought for three days straight.

Is Yoghurt Deliberately Slowing Down Internet TV?


Advertising has always been driven by a pathological hatred of the consumer, on the grounds that if people really, really hate the commercial they’re going to remember that hatred, and therefore buy the product sponsoring it because the name is kind of familiar-ish from somewhere. The theory is incredibly sound, based on longrunning experience like the time the advertisers themselves bought their homes from a guy they knew nothing about except that one time he leapt out of a dark alley and bludgeoned them with a small caribou. They were so impressed they spent decades searching out their assailant and talking him into taking up a career in real estate just so they could buy homes from him. This is how powerful a sales and skeletal impression the caribou made.

Being annoying used to be a scattershot business, advertisers just guessing at what would irritate the viewer, but now that computers make it easy for them to harass web site users into describing their demographic niches exactly (“no, we can’t POSSIBLY set up an account recording what birds you saw in the yard unless we know whether you’re male or female, your age to within five years, and whether you’ve ever been bludgeoned by a caribou with a postgraduate degree”) they can get much more exactingly infuriating. For me, this involves making me sit through yoghurt ads when I’m just trying to watch The Price Is Right online.

Watching a TV show you want online is its own kind of wondrous magic. Just think of a show you meant to watch and then figure out if it’s shown on Netflix, or Hulu, or that other site (there’s another site, right? I keep thinking there’s another site), or if it’s on the web site of the channel that made it, or if it’s on the web site for the channel that didn’t make it and had nothing to do with it but acquired the rights in a merger twenty years ago and stop asking them about it, and then go to the Shows section of that site, and then to the Watch Episodes page, and then find that the page is maybe two links to actual episodes for every eighty links to thirty-second clips from the episode, and curse whoever made that Javascript thing for modern web page design where nothing is a link, and none of the text appears for the first two minutes because they’re using some Extra Slim Sans Everything typeface that’s medium grey on a light grey background, and everything is on sliding rectangular sheets that scroll infinitely down, up, right, and left, and sometimes just wobble forward and back; and scrolling the page one way causes the stuff on the page to move the other so you can never see the stuff that’s cut off because it’s too far to the right or the left for your screen, and clicking on anything causes bubbles filled with boxes to pop up anywhere on the page except where you clicked. To find the episode you mean to see you have to hire a sturdy navigator, trusty boatsman, a load of trade goods and some oxen to lead you to the episode you wanted to see.

But finally you get to your episode, losing only several members of your party to dysentery, sea monsters, and a utopian colony founded in the Carribes, and you can watch your show just after you watch the most annoying commercial that has ever been made. And then watch it again because even though folks have been watching TV shows on web sites for like a decade now, the advertisers figure every web broadcast has only a single advertiser ever, and if you have any questions about that we’re going to give you the same commercial five times in every commercial break, not counting the interactive Flash ad that promises to customize your viewing experience by crashing, freezing up the whole video so you have to start over at the start.

I don’t know why the advertisers figure yoghurt ads are the way to irritate me. I had no strong feelings about yoghurt one way or another. I generally approve of the existence of yoghurt, as something that casually trolls people who spell it the other way and as something to eat in those contexts where society would frown on your eating pudding. But there it is; if I just want to see this contestant, that the connoisseurs of this stuff say is the most cracklingly incompetent The Price Is Right contestant ever to play Bonkers, I have to have yoghurt pitched at me fifteen times. It’s better than a caribou, but it’s a lot more common.

Statistics Saturday: Mean Time Between Paul McCartney


Here is a quick reference guide to how long you can expect to go between references to something written by or featuring Sir Paul McCartney:

Location Time
The 60s ratio station 18 minutes
The 70s radio station 17 minutes
The 80s radio station 34 minutes, but it’s going to be “Spies Like Us” distressingly often
NewsRadio 88 46 hours
Any given episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 54 minutes
The 50s radio station There are no 50s radio stations anymore
Foreign currency exchange markets 12 minutes (!)
Dave Davies’s house Once per year, as in late March he figures to write an April Fool’s e-mail to Ray Davies saying Paul invited him on tour because nobody else can sing “Death Of A Clown” right, only he has to delete the unsent e-mail because once again this year he hasn’t got Ray Davies’s e-mail
As Wake-Up Music On The International Space Station 4 days
Commercials Supporting The Existence Of Banks Surprisingly short
Those tiny toy music boxes at the museum gift shop Continuous until the cashiers go mad

Sticking In The Head


At any given moment about two-fifths of all people have their brains under attack by some catchy tune, which gets called an “earworm” because somebody thought that was a catchy term and didn’t think we had enough trouble. Another two-fifths of all people are slapping their hands over their ears and yelling frantically to “shut up shut up shut UP” because some poor child of the 80s was remembering how the thing about a Bon-Bon is it’s almost always gone-gone.

But there’s a deeper question, which is, why should there be earworms at all? What advantage can there possibly be to having your brain occasionally taken over by a melody you like in about the same way you despise it? When did earworms get to be a thing? It seems like they have to have been invented sometime after music was invented, since it’d be kind of funny to have a song caught in your head if you haven’t got songs. It’d also seem like they’d have to come from after heads were invented, for similar reasons.

Maybe they didn’t, though. Maybe people were getting what they thought was music caught in their heads when it turned out it was just the wailing of people bemoaning their horrible, pre-music-based existence. But that seems like it would explain why earworms are popular in this music-enabled era, though, since we surely don’t want to have our existential dread hammering itself into our heads outside of its appropriate designated times, such as birthdays or the anniversaries of when we graduated college or Sunday nights. It’s surely better to be one of the roughly one out of four hundred people who are at any moment kind of remembering commercials from the late 70s are trying to work out whether it was “Nair for short shorts” or “Nair for short skirts” without giving up and just going to YouTube to see it because they can’t face the moment of admitting they were looking for Nair commercials from the 70s on YouTube.

I’m gratified to learn there’s serious study of earworms since it’s got to be a difficult subject to study. I have it hard enough because I can barely finish telling people that I have an advanced degree in mathematics without their telling me that it was their worst subject in school, and they could never understand what it was about, and occasionally their algebra teacher would transform into a 150-foot-tall giant and rampage through the city, requiring the national guard to deploy an security corridor of directrix and latus rectums to subdue. (They’re things used for making parabolas in case you live in an area where parabolas don’t grow naturally.) My spouse, the philosopher, has a similar problem with people describing how their philosophy courses inevitably resulted in their being captured by headless Zombie Jeremy Benthams and locked in a dank warehouse forced to press Joy Buttons all day and night. It’s pretty annoying to get.

So I figure someone studying earworms is probably bombarded day and night by people who think they’re being sociable or even interested but who really just want to know who to hold responsible for “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago”. (It was Doctor West’s Medicine Show And Junk Band.) I’m wrong, of course, because investigation has revealed that I’m the only person born after 1970 who’s even heard of this exemplar of psychedelic jug-band music, and probably Doctor West doesn’t even hear the song haunting his dreams anymore, though he’s probably wondering why if that Purple People-Eater Song can get sucked up into the vortex of Monster Based Songs I Guess Are On Theme For Halloween why his didn’t. Maybe it’s too much eggplant. And anyway the song fails as an earworm because I’ve dug the song up and played it for people and all they have lingering after the experience is a diminished opinion of me.

Here’s something else I wonder: an earworm is based on the idea of something getting stuck in the head and not getting back out again. But thanks to the Internet we can’t pay attention to anything long enough to have it stuck in our heads anymore. Does this mean the earworm is going to vanish as people can’t remember the entire phrase “itsy-bitsy teeny-weenie something or other” before staring at their phones for a status update? Or are we going to have to preserve the earworm by turning it over to technology and leaving our MP3 players to pick some catchy but infuriating snippet of song and play it to itself? I don’t know, but I’m sure the answer will be obvious after I’ve forgotten the question.