I grew an interest over loudspeakers during the pandemic. Before the fourth wave, I found it such a clever information channel of Vietnamese local government. The citizen can stay alert wherever we are. We are informed. The loudspeaker system was first used in the 1960s during the Vietnam war. It then was considered a source of urban annoyance (Vo, 2017). The pandemic marked the resurgence of an almost forgotten system. In line with the government's slogan "Chống dịch như chống giặc" (fight the pandemic like fight against your enemy), the loudspeakers entered public soundscape again, blaring its news morning and afternoon (Nguyen, 2020). Given the success of our country during the first three waves, I started to wonder whether loudspeaker can deliver other social policies? Education related? As a form of nudge?
My interest in loudspeakers soon went sour. As the country hit Delta variation, Hanoi decided to lockdown for 30 days. Right afterwards, my neighbourhood was locked down for another 23 days, increasing F0 cases in our surroundings. As an introvert, I was perfectly fine staying at home. My love for loudspeakers, however, turned into utter annoyance. The loudspeakers blare at the maximum volume with dense frequency: when I woke up, as I gave a lecture online, right after my naps, etc. I started to understand how forced listening could threaten American soldiers during the war.
"How are you, G.I. Joe? It seems to me that most of you are poorly informed about the going of the war, to say nothing about a correct explanation of your presence over here. Nothing is more confused than to be ordered into a war to die or to be maimed for life without the faintest idea of what's going on," - Hanoi Hannah
Loudspeakers have been used vastly in political parties, large religious groups, and advertising agencies. Jacques Attali defined noise as a "language of resistance used against hegemonic powers to bring about social change". In the USA, loudspeakers have been used for election campaigns since the 30s. Given the limited rural listenership in local radios, Huey Long utilized sound trucks in his 1930 campaign against Joseph E. Ransdell for a Louisiana seat in the U.S. Senate (Sewald, 2011). In modern times, their efforts were experimental. We can easily find loudspeakers from street vendors or local circuses in modern times.
Loudspeakers become measure to catch and hold attentions of unempowered listeners (Sewald, 2011). I started to question my control over exposure as the lockdown went by. Surrounding public and private soundscapes seized such control. One morning, my irritation reached its limit; I picked up my phone calling a local authority claiming about the annoying loudspeakers. Thankfully, she listened and reduced the broadcasting time to once a day. I added another layer to my previous question: If we used loudspeakers to inform policies, when 'enough is enough'?
Apparently, loudspeakers are still relevant. Household Living Standards Survey 2018 dataset showed 60% of citizens acquiring news from the loudspeakers. Looking closer, people in rural areas are more likely to listen to loudspeakers than urban citizens (65.7% vs 54.4%). The limited ownership of radio, television, smartphone, and computers might contribute to such dependence on loudspeakers.
In terms of regions, the Red Delta River residents have the highest percentage (83%) listening to loudspeakers the most. Significantly, 89% of rural residents get their news from loudspeakers. Urban residents also have the highest possibility (67.7%) of listening to loudspeakers compared to urban residents in other regions. It might be driven by passing habits or soundscape from the past war in Northern Vietnam.
Given the high dependency on loudspeakers, no one can deny the importance of the system. It still can serve as an effective information channel during times of crisis. However, when Vietnam enter the new normal, the overplay of loudspeakers can damage its citizens' mental health. It damaged me, a fragile soul who is oversensitive with sound. Broadcasting became a form of forced listening. In 2017, 70% of Hanoians voted to remove loudspeakers. By 2021, the government has already issued an initiative to change to better information channelling (Tuoitre Online, 2020).
Broadcasting loudspeakers is also up to 2 morning-afternoon/day, five days/week. Saturdays and Sundays are broadcast only when there are exceptional cases, but the maximum broadcast duration is 45 minutes per radio session.(Vietnam News Agency, 2017)
Yet as the fourth wave hit, we returned to "emergency stage". Loudspeakers was back in its war mode. As the crisis extended, loudspeakers lost their magic. My fascination over them is gone. I turned my music extra loud whenever the loudspeakers were on. And here is my pandemic playlist:
P.S: My curiosity over loudspeakers remains. It, however, might take some weeks to recover from my mental wound. Until next time, I will update you my new findings over loudspeakers.
Nguyen-Thu, G. (2020). From wartime loudspeakers to digital networks: communist persuasion and pandemic politics in Vietnam. Media International Australia, 177, 144–148.
Sewald, R. L. (2011). Forced listening: The contested use of loudspeakers for commercial and political messages in the public soundscape. American Quarterly, 63(3), 761–780. https://doi.org/10.1353/aq.2011.0041
Tuoitre Online. (2020). Hơn 70% người dân Hà Nội ủng hộ bỏ loa phường - Tuổi Trẻ Online. https://tuoitre.vn/hon-70-nguoi-dan-ha-noi-ung-ho-bo-loa-phuong-20181028223139725.htm
V. H (2017) War-time loudspeakers to continue blaring out across Hanoi despite huge public opposition. VnExpress, 2 April. Available at: https://e.vnexpress.net/news/news/war-time-loudspeakers-to-continue-blaring-out-across-hanoi-despite-huge-public-opposition-3564352.html (accessed 14 June 2020).
Vietnam News Agency. (2017). Hà Nội quy định thời lượng phát của ‘loa phường’ không quá 15 phút | baotintuc.vn. https://baotintuc.vn/xa-hoi/ha-noi-quy-dinh-thoi-luong-phat-cua-loa-phuong-khong-qua-15-phut-20210318143315239.htm