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Glorious Jabberwocky

by Archives February 7, 2007

The swat team descended. The bomb diffusing robot was deployed. The cops and firefighters, stood at the ready. And when it was all said and done, the one question on everyone’s mind; “what the hell is Aqua Teen Hunger Force?”

Last Wednesday, Boston screeched to a halt as parts of bridges, an Interstate highway, subway stations and a portion of the Charles River were shut down after what police described as suspicious devices were found in nine places.

The metal panels, which included circuit boards, had small blinking lights that looked like tiny ‘lite-brite’ boards featuring what Boston authorities called “a sinister looking character.”

They turned out to be part of a guerrilla advertising campaign by Turner Broadcasting in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Austin, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

The aim of the campaign was to bring attention to Cartoon Network’s late night ‘Adult Swim’ series Aqua Teen Hunger Force in anticipation of its film release. The ads featured a blinking light likeness of Mooninite, a character from the cartoon.

In terms of free advertising, Turner hit the mother lode. Unfortunately, it wasn’t really free.

Turner broadcasting has decided to pay the city of Boston about half a million dollars for their reckless use of ‘lite-brite’ technology on public property. And two men, Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens, face charges of “placing a hoax device in a way that results in panic, as well as one count of disorderly conduct.”

So in an interesting turn of events, Turner Broadcasting is effectively apologizing, and paying for an error made by Bostonian authorities.

The company said in a statement that “[They] regret that [the ads] were mistakenly thought to pose any danger.”

Boston’s Mayor, Thomas Menino said in a statement “It is outrageous, in a post-9/11 world, that a company would use this type of marketing scheme.”

To be sure the scheme was not authorized by the powers that be, but the reaction was hardly commensurate with the act. Guerilla advertising may be frowned upon, but it is technically not illegal.

This all begs a few questions.

First, how could an advertising company even imagine that metal boards clearly depicting the blinking likeness of cartoon characters would be mistaken for the handiwork of terrorists?

Second, how could highly trained explosives and terrorism experts, including some from the all-knowing realm of Homeland Security not distinguish the “Mooninite” cartoon character depicted on the boards from the more intricate circuitry of a sophisticated explosive device? Especially when the ads managed to go unnoticed in so many other major cities.

Third, and most importantly, how safe should Bostonians feel after realizing that the offending devices were in place for several weeks before being discovered and dismantled by the bomb squad?

If the Mooninite lite-brites had turned out to be explosives, Boston would have been littered with rubble and engulfed in chaos long before the authorities knew what hit them.

And therein lies the problem. Not only did the city overreact and blame an ad campaign for causing panic, they did so after having failed at one of their most important tasks; to identify and protect people from terrorist plots in the first place.

As funny as the story of the Boston bomb squad and the killer Mooninite seems, it is another in a long line of absurdities visited upon the world in the name of citizen protection against terrorism.

Yes, terrorism is a reality, and yes our law enforcement and governments need to be vigilant about impending threats, but with all of the anti-terror efforts are we actually any safer? Maybe, but it also seems that we are increasingly living in a world where the fear of terrorism has rendered us all guilty until proven innocent. Where individual freedoms, and human rights, are trumped by the need to protect society from evil doers.

When lite-brite boards are mistaken for lethal weapons, and they throw entire cities into a panic we need to ask ourselves if the war on terror hasn’t already been lost.

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