USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Noise Pollution

Not only does the city of Shanghai suffer from air pollution, but it is also afflicted by a lesser known form of pollution. Shanghai also suffers from noise pollution. An excess of gratuitous noise plagues the city. While walking the streets of Shanghai, one observes an abundance of car horns, ringing bicycle bells, what appears to be people angrily yelling at one another, people hocking up phlegm, and even more disgustingly, men blowing snot right out onto the sidewalk from one nostril while using a finger to hold the other closed. This cacophonous amalgamation fills every street in the city.

How much phlegm can Chinese people possibly have? And what makes this behavior socially acceptable?

One scene from Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 film Week End encapsulates China’s audible essence. Noise pollution. With traffic completely stopped, people are yelling and each car is honking its horn, as if honking will somehow move it ahead of the other cars which are also at a standstill. Although the scene in Week End takes place on a rural country road, the same facets apply to the roads in Shanghai, only multiplied.

In Guy Debord’s Negation and Consumption in the Cultural Sphere, he states that “an apologetics of the spectacle is disseminated as the thought of non-thought, as a authorized amnesia with respect to historical practice. As forms of enslaved thought, however, there is nothing to choose between the fake despair of a nondialectical critique on the one hand and the fake optimism of a plain and simple boosting of the system on the other.” Unnecessary and excessive noise is a result of a non-thought process. This non-thought noise does not accomplish anything. Honking won’t move one’s car further ahead, yet if one car honks, the rest follow.

Why do this? As Debord points out, this non-thought process has become so inherent to the culture that it has become an “authorized amnesia.” They are “enslaved thoughts” which cannot become conscious thoughts. This amnesia takes place without one’s knowledge, it is simply engrained in one’s system as a mindless action by the city. The city would not exist without this noise pollution. It makes the city what it is. However, this noise pollution also would not exist without the influence of the city. The two are co-dependent and cannot exist without the other.

Shanghai’s audible environment exists due to society’s compulsion to act with non-thought. Once one car honks it’s horn, other drivers immediately follow without thinking. It is not possible to break out of this ambiguously designated structure if society continues to adhere to its nature of following others. This creates and nurtures advocates of the cycle who are unaware of what they are proponents of. This non-thought must be broken if society wants to live without noise pollution. However, how can one stop having non-thought if one is not even aware of its existence? It is not possible to enlighten an entire population. As a result, noise pollution continues on.

Sara Tenanes

Filed under: China, noise, pollution, Shanghai

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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu

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