Blog Ian

Friday, June 30, 2006

The Insidiousness of Bob the Builder

Although not by name, Ian was featured today in a piece in Tusk, the entertainment supplement of the Tuscaloosa News.

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"Stuck on You"
By Mark Hughes Cobb
Tusk Editor
June 30, 2006Some songs stink up the mind. We’ve all got an achy-breaky, wimoweh, mmm-bopping hit or three we’d like to erase from existence.

Once inside the skull, those tunes burrow like the parasitic worms from “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn,” eating their way out until the recipient goes mad and loses willpower.


Can we fix it?

Parents of 2-year-olds know the answer: “Yes, we can!”

That’s an exchange from the “Bob the Builder” theme, one of numerous insidious children’s TV tunes that bore into brains.

“Doubtless there is an entire genre of tunes-stuck-in-heads that consists of kid-vid themes that have been inflicted upon parents,” said Jeremy Butler, professor of telecommunication and film at UA, and host of Alabama Public Radio’s “All Things Acoustic” show.

“It’s a rich vein of irritation.”


A common belief is that one can dump a nagging song via viral transmission: Sing it away to someone else.

“I’ll find myself humming some undistinguished ‘80s disco song that I don’t even know the name of and can’t even remember hearing,” Butler said.

“Then I’ll realize that my wife had just been humming it – probably without even realizing it – and had transferred it to me.

“I believe it’s a technique commonly used at Abu Ghraib.”

Memory studies point to another solution to the stuck song: Do something complicated.

Working memory, used to complete complex tasks, to store and manipulate information, takes up so much processing power that other things, like songs, fall out.

“When people say they’re trying to stay busy, because they don’t want to focus on a death in the family, that’s actually a good strategy,” Black said.

“Find some hobbies or tasks to occupy the brain.”

Or if all else fails, just relax. Sooner or later the memory will dump the insignificant.

As in so many things, it turns out Mom was right all along: If the brain itches, don’t scratch. You’ll only make it worse.