Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Aqua Teen Hunger Force Scandal

DogBlogger has insisted that I address last week's scandal associated with the forthcoming Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie.

Agents of a guerrilla marketing campaign for the movie placed 38 illuminated signs of the ATHF character Ignignokt presenting his middle finger in public places scattered around Boston. Homeland security officials in Boston concluded that these signs were bombs and major thoroughfares throughout Boston were shut down as bomb squads examined and then destroyed the signs.

The marketers (two of whom have been arrested) video recorded their plan in action. After they made bail, they gave a press conference consisting entirely of discussing the history of American hairstyles, thereby showing how they so completely misunderstood how serious the situation has become for their futures. Jokes that land you in prison aren't funny.

In order to assess their actions, we must ask the following questions:

1. Were they aware that their Ignignokt signs would be seen as bombs? If so, then they should be prosecuted.

2. If not, was it reasonable for homeland security officers in Boston to interpret the signs as bombs? If no, then the marketers should not be prosecuted.

Despite their misbehavior at a press conference, I have not seen any indication that the marketers intended to create a public panic.

To the second question, it is hard to say. Any ATHF fan would have immediately known that these were merely signs, not bombs or any other threatening behavior. But is not reasonable to assume that homeland security officials would be aware of what was up until last week a fairly obscure cartoon (despite ATHF's involvement in the United Methodist Church).
Nevertheless, Boston's response was unique. The signs had been up in various spots around the city for two weeks before city officials noticed and summoned bomb squads, and similar signs placed in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Austin, Washington and Philadelphia did not provoke such reactions from their homeland security officials.

Turner Broadcasting has apologized for their misunderstanding and financially compensated the city for the cost of the alert. This seems more than enough given what happened: Boston officials misunderstood the signs, panicked, and are now covering up their foolishness with feigned outrage.

Hey, I want the people in charge of homeland security to have an easy trigger finger on the Red Alert button. A false alarm is better than one that never sounds. But they shouldn't prosecute these men (despite their obnoxious behavior) because homeland security misunderstood the signs.

Either the Boston officials panicked and overreacted, or the officials in the ten other cities were asleep on the job and negligent in their duties. Which conclusion do you make?


DogBlogger said...

Thanks for the in-depth reporting and commentary, John (and the flashback to your ATHF interview, too).

An observation: if these signs had actually been bombs, they probably wouldn't have been placed around the city for two weeks before detonation. Nevertheless... it took Boston PD 2 weeks to take notice of "bombs"?!?

Stan said...

I think this shows how vulnerable we are: things that flash and light up with wires are placed around likely target sites and most cities don't notice while the one that does takes two weeks to notice?

I also think anyone who comes up with this kind of guerilla marketing campaign is a good idea in this day and age needs to have their head examined.

Yes, it will cause public panic among people not hip enough to know about or watch ATHF. Which is a good portion of the population.

Let's say the cops would have come around or DHS would have caught them on tape and showed up while they were affixing the signs. Would the obnoxious hairstyle guys have been able to joke their way out of that situation? Did they even have a plan for that? No, they could easily have ended up, at least for a short time, learning what DHS does with folks it suspects of terrorism.

An interesting commentary I read at the Washington Post the day afterwards noted that TV and film marketers use tactics all the time with reporters who cover their industries (they send them fake anthrax in the mail, break into their hotel rooms at conventions and spread fake blood all over their bathrooms, etc.) in an attempt to "break through the clutter" and get noticed. It's common.

But when the tactic spreads beyond people on the inside who are used to "getting the joke" and the marketers expect the general public not to be alarmed, that's just stupid---and shows a disconnection with reality.

The Post article is well worth reading and is at:

the reverend mommy said...

They look like funky light-brights to me. Next the police will be blowing up easy-bake ovens....

John said...

They were made from Lite Brites.

Tom Jackson said...

I think this shows how ignorant we are: things that flash and light up with wires are generally assumed to be dangerous. Apparently many people are getting their explosive ordnance information from Bruce Willis movies.

Were there any actual explosives experts who thought these things were dangerous?

Cases like this threaten to set a very bad precedent. When Alice does something -- anything -- that Bob does not understand, and Bob assumes that because he does not understand it it must be an act of terrorism and calls the police, and the one who gets in trouble is not Bob but Alice, then we have a really big problem.

~c. said...

I thought the whole thing was really pretty funny. Go ahead and examine my head if you need.

DannyG said...

A few months after 9/11 I was once again at the Major Medical Center for a 12 hr day. Going to the cafeteria for some more coffee I noticed a steel briefcase sitting outside the hospital gift shop, right in the middle of the crowded lobby. I pointed it out to security. Nobody had seen who placed it there or knew who it belonged to. A full alert was called, including police and explosive experts from the Marine facility down the road. Turned out that the case belonged to a repair contractor who had stopped by the gift shop for some candy and had neglected to pick up his bag. Was this too much? I don't think so. If you have ever spent any time overseas, where terror has a long, bloody history, you become wary of anything which might hide explosives: a briefcase left alone, a car parked where it shouldn't be, even a solid metal trashcan. The only reason that this seems silly is that we haven't had hundreds of citizens killed by this type of weapon, yet. People seem to forget that we are in an actual, shooting war, with people who use these devices without a second thought. It is only a matter of time before we see attacks of this kind in our country, and the only question will be why our people were so casual about such things

aquabot said...

Actually, I think Boston showed some guts by taking the threat seriously. What if it hadn't been a marketing ploy? If it had been an actualy terrorist threat, Boston responded quickly, where other cities didn't. Not everyone can be expected to recognize these characters. I've never even heard of this cartoon these characters come from, and I'm not a sheltered person.