jingle . . .
The sound registers at 83 decibels. But Christmas gets even louder inside Tysons Corner Center’s decked halls, which makes it hard to think clearly, which makes it hard to shop sensibly, which is exactly the point.
Studies show that noisy retail environments help trigger impulse purchases, and this year, retailers have the volume cranked accordingly. To measure the ceremonial dissonance, you’ll need a decibel counter and a little context. A hair dryer huffs at 80 decibels. A lawn mower roars around 90. And in that gap, you have the Gap, where strident in-store music contributes to the bustling sales floor’s 81 decibels.
It’s disorienting, it’s annoying, it’s manipulative and it’s kinda magical. At the mall, hundreds of melodies spill from hundreds of stores, softening into one great, big, sloppy, endless everysong. Bing, Mariah, Run D.M.C. — love you guys. But the great American Christmas carol is noise.
It rings through the corridors of Tysons, where Brad Pitt, coiffed and goateed like Jesus, stares you down from a dozen glowing billboards advertising Chanel No. 5. You can hear him in your mind’s ear, reciting the Dada-Hallmark poetry made famous in a television ad you’ve endured a kerbillion times since Thanksgiving.
It’s not a journey. Every journey ends but we go on . . .
Yes, Bradley of Nazareth. We go on. To the MAC Cosmetics counter in the middle of Bloomie’s, where two sound systems are doing battle at 76 decibels. The department store has holiday carols softly flurrying from ceiling speakers, but the cosmetics counter has its own stereo, which means Lady Gaga is sassing eight maids a-milking because she was born this way.
“It’s louder when it’s busier,“ says MAC makeup artist Sarah Weinhardt of her counter’s stereo. “Or when we like a song.”
Weinhardt has the power to turn it up. So does Hami Kandi, a stubbly 19-year-old who spends his days at Sunglass Hut helping other teens pick out the right pair of Wayfarers. On Black Friday, Kandi invited his buddy Fardin — a.k.a. DJ Velocity — to bring in a set of speakers and spin dance records.
“The mall management came, like, two or three times,” Kandi says. “But as soon as they left, we turned it back up again.”
A representative at Tysons says retailers are asked to make sure their music is audible only inside the store, but no shopping mall in America could ever hope to enforce that rule. Cacophony is too good for business.
“In that state of disorientation and accelerated heartbeat, that overstimulatedness, there’s often an urge to just break out and act,” says George Prochnik, author of “In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise.” “It triggers our whole network of impulsive responses.”