In Defense Of Novelty Ringtones

If I'm not going to ever answer my phone, I can at least be entertained by the sound of it ringing.
Publish date:
July 24, 2013
cell phone, pharrell williams, iphones, ringtones, technology is not the enemy

I have decided once and for all that the best thing about having a cellphone is that you can download novelty ringtones.

I tried explaining this to my dad when the family finally convinced him to upgrade from walking out onto the deck and screaming in the hopes that someone would hear him to buying a cellular phone.

To encourage his growth from technophobe to full on techie geek loser like me, I played a selection from my own trove of recently discovered ringtone wonders: Babies saying hello, Roaring Lions, The Trolley Song from "Meet Me In St. Louis."

He was not swayed. This is his loss.

In fact, he was appalled, and then went out and bought a Jitterbug, because he is 8,000 years old and calls only my mom. The phone has three buttons and no voicemail. Inexplicably, it’s got a camera, not that he can operate it. He left the thing to charge not long after buying it and I took a photo of my mom bent over to fill the dishwasher and set that image up as his background. I took his lack of comment as tacit thanks.

It’s funny that my dad feigns disinterest in these advancements. Because I can remember him buying one of the first commercial cellphones available and calling my mom from it in the car. He had to use two hands to hold it to his ear because it was the size and weight of a full-briefcase. “I’m calling you FROM INSIDE THE CAR!” I guess those days of adventure are past. I mourn that I shall never see him tottling around the backyard wearing Google glasses.

I don’t consider myself that “in” to the latest trends in mobile phone technology, either. These days I am mainly of the “Can it give me emails while alerting me that someone is contacting me by blasting the dulcet tones of Robin Thicke?” mindset. If it can, then I am okay with it. I need no further innovation -- as fun as panoramic photos and verbally abusing Siri can be. I don’t even really need to be able to hear the person calling me -- knowing that they have called, and being able to text them is also just fine.

I’ve been down with novelty ringtones since back in the days of flip phones. I had zero shame. Cake crooning the refrain of “Never There” from the bottom of my purse while I laughed and agreed with the band from across the room was as funny as when my phone began demanding, in the voice of James Brown that I get up and show him what I was working with while the rest of a horrified church congregation watched me scramble to silence my device.

“Oh, my god,” I thought, my whole self blushing, “I cannot wait to tell EVERYONE this.” My passion for the ‘tones was problematic but always hilarious.

Vanity reached a whole other level when, to save money, I began recording my own cellphone rings.

“Oh, my god Loser, PICK UP!” I bellowed at myself in a library or perhaps on the bus.

If some woman could have her kid whining, “Moooomy” as a ringtone, why could I, too, not demonstrate that I had a demanding, bitter tyrant who harped at me constantly? This is not a good argument as people become immediately defensive when you compare your damaged psyche to their children.

I stopped using novelty ringtones altogether for a while. This was around the time I stopped doing joke-y voicemail messages to. (A favorite was one where I urged callers to try me at another number, then provided them with the cellphone number they had just dialed.) I had this idea of what it meant to be a sensible adult, of what it meant to have an adult sense of humor.

For a time my novelty ringtones were banished, hidden in the bowels of my iTunes library. They would surface every so often, like when I put my music library on “random.” Every time Martin Short as Jiminy Glick would start yammering, I’d cringe. Until a couple of months ago, when I snorted into my latte, thus scalding my nasal passages and proving that humor is humor is humor, and that really being an adult being saying “fuck off” to any previously conceived notions of what exactly that meant.

The ringtones went back into rotation, and I’m sure I’ll catch some guff for them -- but I mean, they make me answer the phone, and they make me happy, and in the words of Jiminy Glick, “Isn’t that a goood stooooory?”