School and civic authorities across North America have recruited some unusual help in keeping the peace: the Backstreet Boys, Wayne Newton and Carmen composer Georges Bizet.
Behold the new sounds of discipline. At the University of Toronto, police are trying the patience of student protesters with the sugary strains of the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync. A judge in suburban Detroit sentenced a noise violator to two solid hours of nothing but "Danke Schoen" crooner Newton. And a college administrator in Connecticut is offering to cut disciplinary community service by half for offenders who agree to take in an opera.
"It's a slow process of trying to torture us," said Denise Hammond, 25, a local organizer with Students Against Sweatshops who has spoken with the Toronto protesters. "It's like, let's destroy them mentally and drive them crazy."
The student group wants the school to adopt human-rights standards for garment workers who make official university gear. Twenty students occupied the university president's office March 15; eight remained Wednesday (March 22).
Late at night, school guards stationed with the occupiers are blasting albums by "I Want It That Way" (RealAudio excerpt) singers the Backstreet Boys, the Spice Girls and hard-rock veterans AC/DC, she said.
Jane Stirling, manager of public affairs at the school, denied that any mind games were being played. She said campus police must be present in the office 24 hours a day and that they were listening to the local radio station to keep themselves alert.
"Apparently, one of the guys in there does like dance music, so if something comes on that he likes, he likes to play it loud," she said.
'A Taste Of His Own Medicine'
In Michigan, Justin Rushford, 18, of Clawson landed himself two hours of Wayne Newton for blaring rap from his truck in a residential area. He probably shelled out about $15 for the copy of the singer's Greatest Hits, but that was a bargain compared to the $1,000 in fines and costs he could have incurred.
He listened to the disc five or six times in a jury room on Tuesday, Michigan District Court Judge Michael Martone said on Wednesday.
"Why pick his pocket or put him in jail or give him community service?" said Martone, who's known for creative sentencing. "Let's give him a taste of his own medicine."
Rushford could not be reached for comment, but according to Martone, he reappeared in court, said he'd learned his lesson and gave the CD to a 61-year-old clerk.
Let's Make A Deal
That's the kind of good-natured response that Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Kirk Peters is hoping to generate with his opera sentencing program at Eastern Connecticut State University. Peters stumbled on the idea last fall. When a student who was handed 10 hours of community service for trashing an athletic field heard opera in Peters' office, he twisted his face and asked, "Do you really listen to that stuff?"
Bingo, a deal was born: Attend Carmen, along with a half-hour seminar before the performance and a discussion afterward, and Peters would knock five hours off community service for minor offenses.
So far, 40 of 140 school violators have taken him up on the trade, he said.
Next month, students will attend Giacomo Puccini's Tosca.
But he stressed that he doesn't want anyone to think of opera as punishment. "By hook or by crook, I want to challenge them to experience something different."
The recent incidences certainly don't mark the first time adversaries have wielded songs instead of swords. In perhaps the most famous instance, U.S. Marines blared Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" (RealAudio excerpt) in 1989 while trying to ferret Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega out of the Vatican Embassy.
In Toronto, the protesters may be starting to take a shine to the tunes that interrupt their sleep. "They're having fun with it, to be honest," Hammond said. "It's becoming a running joke. They're starting to actually sing along with it, because what else can you possibly do?"