Thursday, February 08, 2007

Culture Shock 02.08.07: 'Aqua Teen Hunger Force' attacks; Boston not amused

There is no avoiding the conclusion that the city of Boston has gone insane.

Last week, emergency teams there shut down major highways and rail traffic in response to "suspicious devices" found throughout the city. For a time, Boston was paralyzed — with fear.

As it turned out, the "devices" were advertisements, part of a marketing campaign for "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," a popular animated series airing on Adult Swim, Cartoon Network's late-night program schedule. The small, magnetic, flashing signs depicted Ignignokt, a character on the show.

For the uninitiated, Ignignokt is a Mooninite — a rude, two-dimensional creature from the moon, where he and the other Mooninites spank nerds with moon rocks.

A Boston Globe editorial the next day equated the promotional stunt with "terrorism hoaxes," as if Turner Broadcasting, Cartoon Network's parent company, were responsible for the overreaction of law enforcement and other officials. The editorial admitted that "public safety personnel might have overreacted," but mostly it lambasted Turner Broadcasting, claiming that "anyone over 8 or 9 should be able to understand the dangers of staging such a stunt in the post-Sept. 11 world."

What the editorial did not say is that any public safety official over the age of 8 or 9 should be able to tell the difference between an explosive device and a small, battery-powered sign resembling a Lite-Brite.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick chimed in with "It's a hoax — and it's not funny."

A "hoax"? Get real. Turner was out to promote a TV show, not cause a panic.

Interestingly, similar signs had been on display for two to three weeks in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Portland, Ore., and Austin, Texas, without triggering any states of emergency.

Clearly, only Boston is sensitive to the Mooninite menace.

The indignation coming out of Beantown is expected, if not justified. All over the Internet, Boston's officials are laughingstocks, and rightly so.

But one part of this is no laughing matter.

Within hours of Boston's bout of temporary insanity, police there had arrested two men in connection with the ads.

Sean Stevens, 28, and Peter Berdovsky, 27, the two who placed the signs around town, were working for Interference Inc., the company contracted by Turner Broadcasting to carry out the ad campaign. Stevens and Berdovsky pleaded not guilty to charges of "placing hoax devices" and disorderly conduct. They face up to five years in prison.

Presiding Judge Paul K. Leary noted, however, that a person must intend to create panic to be charged with placing hoax devices, the Globe reported.

Instructed not to speak to reporters, and probably sensing the weakness of the state's case, Stevens and Berdovsky gave an irreverent press conference last week, during which they refused to answer any questions not about 1970s hairstyles.

It was their absurdist response to an absurd situation.

By Monday, Turner and Interference had apologized and agreed to pay $2 million to make the whole thing go away. Half will cover the cost of the resources that city, state and other agencies wasted. The other half is "goodwill funds," which the involved agencies can waste on their next panic attack.

Of course, it's hard to put a dollar amount on Boston's other losses. How much are a city's pride and sanity worth?

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