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Vogon Poetry

October 10, 2008

A strange item in Ohio's Springfield News Sun, via Yahoo News, caught my attention today.

The story concerns the punishment facing a 24-year-old man, Andrew Vactor, for playing rap music too loudly on his car stereo in July.

Champaign County Municipal Court Judge Susan Fornof-Lippencott absurdly offered to reduce Vactor's $150 fine to $35 if the miscreant agreed to spend 20 hours listening to classical music. The thinking behind this idea was to give Vactor a proverbial dose of his own medicine by forcing him to listen to something he might not like, just as other people had no choice but to listen to his loud rap music.

According to the news story, Vactor managed to listen to only about 15 minutes worth of music by the likes of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven before giving up and agreeing to pay the full $150 fine, citing his need to get to basketball practice. "I didn't have the time to deal with that," the article quotes Vactor as saying. "I just decided to pay the fine."

I don't know who's more worthy of ridicule here: Vactor, for assaulting peoples' eardrums with his unnecessarily loud music, or Fornof-Lippencott for co-opting Mozart & Co as devices of torture. The thought of it makes me feel a little queasy. No music, not even angry rap, should be used to punish people. The idea reminds me of that hilarious scene in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where the pan-galactic stowaways Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect are strapped to chairs and forced to listen to the captain of the Vogon spaceship reading his poetry aloud. Dent and Prefect almost die from being exposed to such thumbscrew gems as "Ode to a Lump of Green Putty I Found Under My Armpit One Midsummer Morning."

The judge in the Vactor case apparently makes a habit of meting out similar punishments. According to the article, she has on occasion taped TV shows for defendants to watch on topics such as financial responsibility. As she sees it, they get the chance to have their fine reduced "and at the same time broaden their horizons."

But Fornof-Lippencott is deluding herself if she thinks that forcing someone to listen to classical music is going to turn them onto the art form. If anything, it'll have entirely the opposite effect.

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