Art and Entertainment

Teen Buzz, Barry Manilow punishment, Mosquito ringtone

Colorado Noise Polluters Sentenced to Annoying Music

November 25, 2008 11:58 AM
by Anne Szustek
In Fort Lupton, Colo., those found guilty of noise violations are sentenced to a diet of easy listening classics such as songs from Barry Manilow and even Barney the Dinosaur.

Fort Lupton Court Fights Fire With St. Elmo’s Fire

Easy listening music, long the bugbear of retail sector employees, dentist office patrons and any caller put on hold, has now wormed—or “earwormed,” as it were—into the penal system in a High Plains town near Denver.

Paul Sacco, a municipal judge in Fort Lupton, Colo., is condemning those found in violation of city noise ordinances to one-hour sessions of music he deems would cause repeat offenders to cringe: namely selections from the Barry Manilow catalog, tracks released by PBS darling Barney the Dinosaur and “Only You,” the 1955 doo-wop hit by The Platters.

“These people should have to listen to music they don’t like,” Sacco told Denver NBC station KUSA, and was quoted by the Associated Press.

Sacco was inspired to launch the program 10 years ago when he realized that repeat noise violators were often teenagers who were let off after paying a cash fine, likely doled out by their parents.

Robert Mort, a member of a local garage band sentenced to punishment by way of Manilow’s “I Can’t Smile Without You,” told the AP that he and his bandmates were sent to the program after they were taken in for playing loud music at a party at a late hour. “The cop station was two blocks away,” said Mort. “People who were at the party loved it. I’m not sure the cops did.”

Video footage of a recent session revealed local teenagers’ disdain, with them gazing toward the ceiling or moving around in their seats.

Perhaps this punishment is generation-specific, however. Were Sacco, for example, subjected to similar punishment, he may enjoy the listening session: “I don’t think Manilow’s too bad,” he told the AP.

Related Topic: Other instances of torment by music

Audio is also being used to target adolescents through the Mosquito, a device that emits an unpleasant ultrahigh-frequency sound inaudible to most people over the age 25 because of presbycusis—age-related hearing loss. Devised to keep loitering at bay, some human rights activists say it infringes on the rights of young people to congregate peacefully.

“There have been discussions locally and nationally on the legality of a device which does not distinguish between those causing nuisance or anti-social behaviour and those who do not,” a spokesperson for the U.K.’s Newport Community Safety Partnership, which in 2006 asked a location of European supermarket chain Spar to stop using the Mosquito, was quoted as saying by the BBC.

Spar defended its use of the Mosquito, pointing out that within the first three months of its use the location saw an 84 percent decrease in the number of calls made to the police. “It’s absolutely disgusting. These louts can infringe on our rights to run a profitable shop for the community yet we can’t dare infringe on their right to loiter and make life a misery for our shoppers,” a spokesperson for Spar told the BBC.

Yet teenagers are also wielding the Mosquito sound to profit from adults’ hearing loss. A cell phone ringtone called “Teen Buzz” uses the high-pitched frequency so teenagers can be alerted to new text messages while in class, with teachers likely oblivious to the noise.

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