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Fulfillment Through '70s Pop
Does ABBA Secretly Control Your Fate?
Copyright 1996 by Lynna Landstreet. This column originally appeared in Xtra magazine. Published by Pink Triangle Press, 491 Church Street, 2nd Floor, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4Y 2C6.
It's funny how sometimes inspiration can arrive out of the blue just when you need it most...
A little while ago, I was up to my neck in term papers, panicking about having to come up with a topic for my Xtra column (island biogeography and statistical problems in conservation biology just didn't seem like they'd cut it), when I got what was quite possibly the silliest piece of hate mail I've received in my journalistic career, and I've had some doozies.
A letter from Robin Vonselz, Canadian correspondent for the ABBA fan club, attacked me for daring to sound a wee bit incredulous that someone listed the band (whose name Vonselz insists absolutely must be spelled in all caps, being apparently an acronym for something or other) among their defining characteristics in a personal ad.
After taking me to task for incorrect capitalization (hey, why not complain because my keyboard doesn't have a backwards B, while you're at it?), the writer pronounced me a "difficult person to get along with," on the basis that I "can't accept someone else's likes or tastes in music." The closing paragraph sarcastically wished me luck "in finding a fulfilling relationship either with yourself or someone else."
Now, getting nasty mail for not liking someone's favourite band is nothing new. The letters columns in Eye, Now and any other music magazine can attest to the fact that there is an endless legion of people out there who become apoplectic if confronted with evidence that the entire world does not share their musical tastes. Personally, I've never really understood it -- I mean, if I ever woke up one day to find that the entire world did share my musical tastes, I'd probably trash my entire CD collection and start over from scratch. But it seems to be a common enough occurrence.
And granted, my initial reaction to Vonselz's letter was an immediate desire to stick my finger down my throat and have a fulfilling relationship with the toilet bowl. But closer inspection revealed that this letter wasn't just your usual whine. No, the writer purported to be able to divine not just my entire personality, but even my hopes for future happiness and/or coupledness (no, they aren't synonymous) on the basis of whether or not I can stand ABBA. Clearly, either Vonselz's psychic abilities rival JoJo's, or ABBA has powers above and beyond that of the average band.
I mean, call me naive, but I'd truly never realized that listening to insipid '70s pop pablum was the key to finding fulfillment in life or love. To think that all these people who've been pursuing political activism, spirituality or artistic expression in search of fulfillment have been wasting their time! All they really needed to do was sit through a certain number of hours of mindless sugar-coated elevator music, and presto enlightenment!
Obviously, the government should immediately commission a large scale controlled experiment with all that money they'll no longer have to waste on the mental health system, prisons, or social programs, once everyone is happily fulfilled. Many burning questions remain to be answered:
- Is it ABBA in particular, or just bland '70s pop in general? Could you get the same results with, say, the Captain and Tenille, or Sonny and Cher?
- How is the music to be administered? Do you actually have to listen to it, or could a less painful method, such as grinding up the CDs and rubbing the resulting grit into an open wound, be used instead?
- Should the tests be conducted on animals or humans? Finding willing human subjects might be tricky, but playing ABBA to innocent lab animals could get the researchers in serious trouble with the SPCA.
- Just how much ABBA do you have to put up with to get the desired effect? Is there a point of diminishing returns, where the chance for a fulfilling relationship slips by as the subjects finally lose it and fall to the floor clutching at their ears and screaming "Make it stop! Make it stop! I'll stay single the rest of my life, just make it stop!"?
- Considering the relative ease of distinguishing different styles of music, how could the researchers arrange a proper double-blind test, where neither they nor the subjects knew whether the music they were exposed to was the real thing or a placebo? After all, you can't just play someone Sonic Youth and tell them it's ABBA -- no, on second thought, maybe you can...
Anyway, suffice to say that, given the overwhelming
social import of this question, the research design process should begin
immediately. Never mind the AIDS vs breast cancer debate, this takes
precedence over everything else. And to show the sincerity of my dedication
to the progress of human knowledge in this area, I'll even volunteer
for the study -- just as long as they'll let me be in the control group
and listen to something else.
PostScript: Shortly after this column
appeared in print, I got an even more hysterical letter from the same
individual, demanding, among other things, to be paid for having provided
the inspiration for this column. Sweetie, if things worked that way,
the government could save millions by not paying politicians a salary
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