Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

A Pet Peeve

Marion Bolick Perutelli

One of my pet peeves is the loud music and sound effects that drown out actors’ dialogue in movies and on television, coupled with the annoying tendency of today’s actors to mumble, particularly the last word of their dialogue, which is often the key to the whole plot. I realize commercials which advertise hearing aids usually begin with the question, “Do people seem to mumble a lot lately?” Yet when I recently complained to friends that mumbled dialogue is impossible to hear in the wake of loud music, I found that most of them agreed with me. Based on that evidence, I cancelled my appointment with a hearing aid specialist.

Today’s movie makers seem obsessed with background noise in the guise of deafening music, intrusive whistles, low-flying airplanes, or the souped-up sound of street traffic at the same time actors are mumbling their lines. I will never forget a couple of years ago when I had to sit through the movie Godzilla with my granddaughter. After the first couple of minutes, I found myself stuffing pieces of Kleenex in my ears to mute the blaring music and sound effects, which never let up throughout the entire movie, not even when the characters spoke. I noticed my granddaughter covering her ears during the more “dramatic” moments of the film, when music, crashing noises, and what sounded like the beating of pots and pans became deafening.

One of my favorite television series is JAG. I suppose I am partial to it because my husband was a navy man in both World War II and the Korean “mess,” when he was called back to active duty as a member of the naval reserve. We always referred to the latter war as that Korean “mess” because it messed up our lives for a second time. But then, that is another story.

I liked JAG from the beginning episode. I appreciate seeing how far the navy has progressed since the early 1950s. I like the characters--especially the admiral, who is tough but a teddy bear at heart, as was my husband. I like the theme music, too. It makes me want to cheer for the good old USA. Yet in episode after episode, the music overrides the dialogue, which to me is shameful, for the part I am allowed to hear is well written. The actors not only speak clearly, but each episode is laced with humor and human frailties. In other words, it is believable.

Apparently, the producers of JAG feel that music is a better drama-builder than dialogue, for the more dramatic the situation, the louder the music plays to drown out what the actors say. If I were a writer for that show, I would be thoroughly ticked off by the way music sometimes drowns out whole conversations.

Once upon a time, actors and actresses were trained to enunciate their words clearly. I have heard it said that today’s movie makers want their actors’ speech to be more “natural sounding.” As a consequence, actors either talk so fast they run their words together, or they mumble.

I admit I am addicted to movies and favorite programs on television, so I will go on watching them, despite the loud music and sound effects. But I would enjoy them so much more if I could actually hear what the actors are saying!


Marion Bolick Perutelli is a native Tennessean, born and reared in Memphis. She has had numerous short stories and essays published in anthologies. Her essays have appeared in several newspapers. Perutelli studied English at the University of Tennessee--Memphis, and creative writing with Southern authors Lee Smith, Jesse Hill Ford, Richard Speight, and Connie Jordan Green at universities in Middle and East Tennessee. Read more of Marion Bolick Perutelli's work.

© Marion Bolick Perutelli

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012