Ringtones: Playful or Passive Aggressive?

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“Where you at – The Whole City Behind Us…” Boost Mobile Commercial, 2004.

Was at the airport last night, happily typing away, when I hear an alarm next to me. But not a routine “beep beep beep,” but more of an air horn “hide the artwork and the silver the Nazis are coming!” type of alarm.

Looking to my right, I see a guy pick up his iPhone, press a button to stop the alarm, put the phone to his ear, and say nonchalantly, “Hi honey.”

I realized that his personalized ring tone for his wife was an air-raid alarm, and I cracked up.

Not only because of how funny that actually is, but because I thought I was the only one who did that!

See, my girlfriend gets this when she calls.

If you can’t read music, the one line above is probably the most famous example of leitmotif in the world. Leitmotif means “a recurrent theme associated with characters or events in a drama.”

In other words, when my girlfriend calls, she gets The Imperial March from Star Wars.

Now, before I continue, you have to understand – This is no way is, or has been been meant as an insult. In fact, it was refreshing to meet someone else who also had the highest regard towards his girlfriend.

The Imperial March, or an air-raid siren, to me, is one of the highest heaps of praise imaginable.

Think about it – Darth Vader was, and still very much is, the ultimate bad ass! He’s got the power! He can kill you or cut off your airflow with his mind! This is Darth Vader! You don’t mess with Darth Vader!

An air-raid siren goes off? You snap your ass to full attention and focus, because if you don’t, you gonna die!!

And yes, I also did it because it’s damn funny as hell. To hear “da da da doo da da, doo, da daaaa… Hi honey!” naturally makes everyone around me laugh.

Well, everyone except her.

Which to me, kills me – because my logic has always been “hey, if I DIDN’T do it, and you were just a generic ring, it would mean I didn’t care!”

So I posted the question around and guess what? It ain’t only me.

I stopped and asked “alarm” man at the airport what the deal was. His name is Patrick McQuown, and he’s a professor at Georgetown University, as well as working for a wireless company called SinglePoint. He noted the “terrific irony” of it,” saying that “she got a laugh out of it, but was also kind of asking why.” When I pressed him, he noted, “well, what did she expect?”

Patrick has a point. No matter how much of a “man” we are, we’re programmed… When the woman we care for calls, we jump. So alarms, Darth Vader… It really all makes sense – and more importantly, is a sign of respect!

I got some more interesting comments, as well.

Barry Wegener, Senior Director over at Carlson Marketing in Minneapolis, told me that the ring tone for his wife is a wolf whistle, which “does attract attention when she calls.” He goes on in an email to say that “it really doesn’t go over well at church.”

One thing I did notice in the responses though, is that while men do it because it’s funny and they tend to see the humor in it, if a woman does it to your number, you should most likely keep your head down – you’ve got a situation on your hands.

Saretta Holler, the Marketing Communications Manager at Kettley, notes that her now ex-husband has the ring tone “Don’t Lie” by the Black-Eyed Peas. Hence the Ex, I suppose. She also mentions that a friend of hers uses “Wasted” by Carrie Underwood for her lesser half. Interesting.

Good thing for Saretta’s ex that there isn’t a song called “I’ve just sliced off your testicles.”

Erica Beutnagel, over at Text 100, tells me that just to drive her father crazy, she made his ringtone “This Old Man.”

I do like Kate Dowdle, though. Over at Kaplow PR, Kate writes, “The ringtone I use for my boyfriend is a Jimmy Fallon song, “your idiot boyfriend.”

When the phone rings it starts, “Hey I’m gon get ya gifts, and keep them for myself. and I’m gon screw it up, yea, cause I’m an idiot and I’m your boyfriend…”

It was just a joke but one day I left my phone at home when I went to the grocery store and he tried to call me. He was a definitely hurt; I don’t think things have been the same since. Maybe it’s because I still use it for his ringtone …”

Nice, Kate. “No, honey. I love you. I really do! Whether you’re the stupidest person I’ve ever dated is neither here nor there. By the way, you’re really not that great in bed. But I love you!”

We do it for clients, too. One woman I work with on a regular basis gets Tubular Bells, the theme from The Exorcist. Another one gets Dueling Banjos, the theme from Deliverance. It makes me happy, and gets me through the hell I know usually accompanies the phone call.

Perhaps the best answer came from Kevin Myers, at Reed College. It would seem that much like myself, Kevin is a misunderstood soul.

Kevin writes… “The ringtone I have set for my wife is a dog barking. As my wife loves dogs, has been active in dog agility, and is the main caretaker of our two big mutts (our 16-year old greyhound passed a few months back), I thought this was a natural. I found out I was wrong, however, when I misplaced my phone in our house over Christmas and used her phone to call and locate mine… I got an, “EXCUSE ME!” It’s been a long recovery…”

Perhaps the lesson here isn’t so much one in passive aggressiveness or psychology, but rather to just keep our phones on vibrate.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Liz says:

    I was reading this post because my husband has Star Wars as. My ring tone. Before I read this I was a little hurt but I guess it’s all in good fun.

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