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OP-ED | You Can’t Make This Up: Politicians Want To Regulate Decibel Levels

by | Mar 14, 2014 5:30am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Opinion


What is it about politicians and the movies? We know Hollywood is like catnip to liberals who can’t resist Tinseltown’s leftward tilt. For obvious reasons, conservatives swoon over the few like-minded stars they have on their team.

And the allure was too much for Connecticut’s own Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, who was willing to trade any credibility he had left to become president of the Motion Picture Association of America, even though he repeatedly insisted he wouldn’t work as a lobbyist after being hounded out of the Senate in 2010.

But when they bring movies into the legislative arena, politicians transition from being merely annoying to diverting attention away from subjects that really matter.

Such is the case with state Rep. Carlo Leone and some like-minded colleagues who, at the request of a constituent from Stamford, introduced a bill last week to ban excessively loud content in movie theaters.

wikipedia Never mind the fact that Connecticut has the worst new job creation record of all 50 states for the last 25 years and an unemployment rate that remains stubbornly higher than the nation’s as a whole. No, we must protect the tender ears of those who are earning enough money to stroll voluntarily into a cinema and pay $10 for Jujyfruits.

William Young, the Stamford chemist whose complaint prompted Leone to act, told the General Assembly’s Public Safety Committee last week the sound of some movie trailers is so loud it leaves his ears ringing.

“Who wants to sit there in pain?” Young asked rhetorically. “These companies shouldn’t subject people to harmful sounds.”

Earth to Dr. Young: if your favorite movie theater puts you in pain, why don’t you leave? Or complain to management? Or put in your iPhone earbuds to lower the decibel level? Or stay at home and watch Netflix or on-demand cable movies? Why waste the valuable time of the ruling class trying to get support for legislation whose need is nonexistent?

Ironically, one of Dodd’s minions at the MPAA appeared at the hearing and made perhaps the worst case that could be made against a bad idea.

“There are serious First Amendment implications raised with this legislation because if it were to be put into law, the state would be saying how a motion picture or how speech could be presented,” said Van Stevenson, senior vice president of government affairs for the MPAA.

There are plenty of reasons to be against Leone’s law (see above), but free speech has got to be the weakest. I have a right to free speech but if I shout my opposition to Leone’s law on the town green at 2 a.m. and wake up my fellow citizens, then the police will curtail my right in the name of common sense and consideration of the rights of others to enjoy a good night’s sleep.

But Stevenson’s other argument, that the law would be discriminatory because it applies only to movie theaters and not to other venues such as rock concerts or sporting events, makes more sense. To Stevenson’s list I would add auto racing and fireworks displays.

My house is a couple of miles away from Lime Rock Park and I have friends who live right next to the track. During the noisiest, unmuffled races of the year, they either wear ear protection or leave town. And if they really can’t stand it at all, they find another place to live. But with rare exceptions, they do not try to legislate the decibel level since they knew what they were getting into when they moved there.

To be fair to Leone and his colleagues, they aren’t the first to propose boneheaded legislation targeted at movie theaters. Connecticut news junkies and trivia buffs might also recall state Rep. Andrew Fleischmann of West Hartford proposed a bill in 2005 to force theaters to advertise the actual starting times of their films instead of making moviegoers suffer the indignity of sitting through several minutes of ads and trailers. Mercifully, the bill died in committee.

And so, too, should Rep. Leone’s bill. The peevish pique of one chemist shouldn’t be the basis for altering the viewing habits of thousands of his fellow moviegoers. This is truly nothing more than a solution in search of a problem. To paraphrase Marie Antoinette, let them wear EarPods.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

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(9) Archived Comments

posted by: Greg | March 14, 2014  8:56am

What about concerts? The noise is exponentially louder than any movie theatre on top of the music being obnoxiously distorted. No proposal to limit volume there?

posted by: NoNonsense2014 | March 14, 2014  9:53am

So, rather than explain to the constituent why legislation would be foolish or frivolous or unworkable, he submits a bill? The problem here is that legislators have a malady called “spinal insufficiency”.

posted by: Lawrence | March 14, 2014  8:39pm

Yes, it’s a real problem.

The question is what to do about it.

From Texas:


posted by: JamesBronsdon | March 15, 2014  5:15pm

There ain’t no aspect of our lives they don’t want to control. It’s their fundamental operating principle

posted by: Lawrence | March 15, 2014  8:49pm

Well, Terry, to begin with, NASCAR recognizes that its own races can damage a fan’s hearing, and they suggest race-goers wear hearing protection at the track.

This is from NASCAR’s official web site:


I think the point—which you don’t address—is that there ARE movie loudness standards which are NOT being adhered to and/or the technology has changed to the point of making the old standard unenforceable, and so it is time to re-think that standard and re-think enforcement action.

Your column was just a mish-mash of insults and childish rants, not very informative or illuminating, and certainly not “red meat” for any “mushy moderates.” I’m not even sure it rose to the level of devil’s advocacy.  But, hey—you got a column out of it! Mission accomplished.

posted by: NoNonsense2014 | March 16, 2014  10:53am

Thanks, Terry. I like “reality impaired”, too. OK, I can see how the decibel levels at movies and rock concerts could be reduced (just turn down the volume), but how would one turn down the volume on fireworks and auto racing? If that’s not feasible, perhaps this legislator should submit a bill requiring attendees at any/all such events to be provided with free noise-reducing ear protection. Perhaps the State could even subsidize this public-health issue. Oops, hope I didn’t give him any ideas.

posted by: Lawrence | March 16, 2014  10:32pm

First, an error on my part: that is NOT NASCAR’s official site. I can’t find NASCAR’s official stance on track noise, other than reading fan boards that note earplugs are sold by a variety of vendors, and that noise-cancelling headphones are very popular with fans. But nothing to indicate self-policing by NASCAR.

I agree with you that warning signs couldn’t hurt. I still believe that if a professional organization like MPAA set standards they should abide by them, and if technology has changed to make those standards difficult to adhere to, they should be revisited.

I don’t know if NASCAR, rock concerts, fireworks ever had any standards—probably not. When I view fireworks with my sound-sensitive son, we sit a mile away on a hill and watch the colors, or he wears 25db hearing protectors—and still complains.

I enjoy most of your columns, just not this one. And don’t pay any attention to the peanut gallery like me—I’m one of those ‘keyboard cowboys’ I once complained about. Writing for a living is hard work.

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | March 17, 2014  8:04am


So much noise here…...


posted by: JamesBronsdon | March 17, 2014  3:17pm

Many and perhaps most of the annoyances or risks we face on a daily basis, even those that might lead to some harm (loud noises, large sodas, bakers who won’t bake us a cake) should be dealt with not by legislation but by personal choices and societal judgments. We lose respect for the state when it seeks to regulate every aspect of our lives. Its intrusion in unimportant matters results in resentment for all matters, even those where the state appropriately engages.

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