Seventeen-year-old grocery clerks demand proof of age from 50-year olds buying beer. Five-year-olds are arrested as sexual predators for hugging their kindergarten teachers. A dingbat in Wisconsin yesterday called out the bomb squad for a "land mine" in her yard that turned out to be a stand for an outdoor umbrella.
While Americans in general have lost all common sense, it seems Boston officials have lost all touch with Reality itself. They want to crucify The Cartoon Network and a couple of twenty-something stoners for guerilla marketing, instead of admitting that police over-reacted to the battery-operated Lite-Brite signs being used to bring attention to a new movie.
Boston's Finest went into over-time (and over-kill) mode yesterday chasing down the flashing signs meant to bring attention to The Cartoon Network's program Aqua Teen Hunger Force, a surreal late-night series (part of a block of shows intended for mature audiences called "Adult Swim") about a talking milkshake, a box of fries and a meatball. A movie based on the show is due out in March.
A marketing company hired by The Cartoon Network, a division of Turner Broadcasting Systems, Inc. (in turn part of the Time-Warner empire), hired two men to place at least 38 blinking electronic signs on bridges and other high-profile spots across the city, as well as in nine other cities across the nation. The blinking signs have been in place for two to three weeks. It was only yesterday some paranoid actually noticed one. Before that, apparently they were only visible to fans of the show, who recognized the blinking face as one of the program's characters. At least one of the signs in Boston was attached over the front door of a comic book shop, and had been there for two to three weeks.
Then, yesterday, hysteria set in. Call out the bomb squads! Bring in the dogs! Ring up the fire department! Save the city! We're under attack! Sheesh... you'd think Shriners in UFOs were attacking, the way the Keystone Kops reacted.
I hear you. You're saying, in your best Mr. Bill voice: "Oh nooooo! It could have been for real! You should be glad the police are ever-vigilant, looking out for our safety! Remember 9/11!"
Vigilance is one thing. Over-reaction is another.
And how vigilant are they, really, if these signs have been up, not just in Boston but also in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Austin, San Francisco and Philadelphia for the past two or three weeks?
Officials removed 38 blinking electronic signs (after being told where they were) promoting the Cartoon Network TV show Aqua Teen Hunger Force on bridges and other high-profile spots across Boston Wednesday. Highways were closed; bomb squads were deployed. Thousands of people were inconvenienced, not by the signs, but by officials' over-reaction to the signs.
"It's clear the intent was to get attention by causing fear and unrest that there was a bomb in that location," Assistant Attorney General John Grossman said at the "suspects'" arraignment. "The appearance of this device and its location are crucial. This device looks like a bomb."
Oh, bullshit. If that was the intent, it failed terribly until yesterday. The signs had been up for two to three weeks, in 10 major cities, and were only noticed by those predisposed to recognize the cartoon character, people who would watch the show and pay to see the upcoming feature film.
And just because something has a battery or wires dangling from it doesn't make it a bomb. If it did, can you imagine how many terrorists they could round up at seventh-grade science fairs, with all those dry cell batteries attached to little lights (not to mention the baking soda volcano bombs one table over)?
Michael Rich, a lawyer for the Peter Berdovsky, 27, and Sean Stevens, 28, the two men arrested in Boston for distributing the signs, said the description of a bomb-like device could be used for any electronic device.
"If somebody had left a VCR on the ground it would have been a device with wires, electronic components and a power source," he said.
The mayor thinks otherwise. "It is outrageous, in a post 9/11 world, that a company would use this type of marketing scheme," Mayor Thomas Menino said Wednesday. "I am prepared to take any and all legal action against Turner Broadcasting and its affiliates for any and all expenses incurred during the response to today's incidents."
Lighten up, Mayor. You over-reacted. I'm sorry you spent nearly a million dollars chasing cartoon characters around your city. You didn't have to. And you shouldn't waste any more of the city's money prosecuting a case that doesn't exist. Maybe you could spend a little bit of cash hiring an assistant under the age of 30 to keep you up to speed on youth culture. Berdovsky and Stevens and The Cartoon Network are guilty of nothing more than perhaps violating local sign ordinances, like someone hanging a sign on a telephone pole. They certaintly didn't violate the law under which they're being charged, which outlaws the placing of a "hoax device or hoax substance... with intent to cause anxiety, unrest, fear or personal discomfort to any person or group of persons."
On Sept. 11, 2001, America was blindsided and took one hell of a beating. It was a terrible thing. I'm not downplaying the dangers we face today, and I'm not saying we shouldn't be paying attention to our surroundings.
But we've become like Pavlov's dogs. Ring a bell, or say the word "terrorist" or "bomb," and everybody shits their pants.
Shortly after 9/11, a rural north Georgia elementary school was "locked down," keeping young students stuck in their classrooms til after 5 p.m. one day. Parents were kept well away from the buildings, while emergency personnel swarmed the area. Why? A student had spilled some baking soda in the hall while carrying one of those volcano science projects from one classroom to another. Though he immediately told his teacher what it was and how it got there, the alarm had been raised, and no one would back down.
America has truly lost her common sense.
Maybe we all need a chill pill and an Adult Swim.
Image: The Aqua Teen Hunger Force in action
- Watch them build and set up the "hoax bombs"
- The pair giving FOX News an interview, taking only questions about hairstyles in the 1970s
- The Phoenix blog has tracked down Peter Berdovsky's band's website, where you can read more about the man who will only take questions about 70's hairstyles
- Boingboing.net's Mark Frauenfelder on ABC News speaking about the Boston "terrorism."
UPDATE Thursday, Feb. 1: The Boston Herald is reporting that yesterday Boston police found two fake pipebombs, one at Tufts-New England Medical Center, and one attached to the Longfellow Bridge. Police have identified a hospital employee as the suspect who planted the "realistic-looking" fake bombs, but he has not been arrested! They didn't even close the bridge to traffic while they removed the "bomb"!
UPDATE Friday, Feb. 2: Boston television station WCVB-TV has photoshopped the extended finger from the Mooninite LEDs. Compare the before-and-after photos of the uniformed and helmeted LED disposal expert as he carefully removes the deadly object. (Thanks to fantent.com.)
Adult Swim | Boston | Sean Stevens | Peter Berdovsky | Aqua Teen Hunger Force | Cartoon Network | BurningTaper.com | Burning Taper