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In Boston, on January 31, 2007, a panic ensued because of an advertising campaign for a new movie c0ming out in March of this year.

The Cartoon Network wanted to promote a new animated film about the “Aqua Teen Hunger Force“. It is an “adult swim” cartoon shown late at night.

They hired an ad agency that put up unique signs in ten different cities, including Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland (Oregon), Austin (Texas), San Francisco and Philadelphia.

These signs were made out of circuit boards, batteries, wires, and LED’s in the shape of one of the main characters of the cartoon.

Like any conscientious ad agency, they put the signs up in high traffic areas such as roadways, bridges, and subway stations.

Two men responsible for putting up the signs in Boston now face over 20 years in prison if the Mayor has his way.

Think about that. In nine other cities, not one complaint or problem has been reported. In Boston the city is shut down and now the men involved may go to jail for a very long time. From Forbes.com:

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said the city was prepared to take civil or criminal action against those responsible. “This is a heavy penalty, imprisonment, two to five years for each one of them,” he said. “When it comes to public safety, we are throwing everything at them.”

Varying reports indicate up to 24 of the ads were placed. CBS news reports that the men were only charged with one count of disorderly conduct and one count of placing a hoax device. They were each granted bail of $2,500. A picture of one of the devices and a video are available at the CBS site linked above.

It appears that the ads were in place for 2-3 weeks before panic engulfed Boston yesterday. It seems that the fine inhabitants of Boston overreacted. But, according the Governor of Massachusetts, “It’s a hoax — and it’s not funny,”.

The mayor of the fine City of Boston (CBS link) said as well:

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.

It seems that the Governor and the Mayor do not have a sense of humor, or proportion. There was a group of people protesting outside of the court house:

Fans of the show mocked authorities for what they called an overreaction.

About a dozen fans gathered outside Charlestown District Court on Thursday morning with signs saying “1-31-07 Never Forget” and “Free Peter.”

“We’re the laughing stock,” said Tracy O’Connor, 34.

It’s almost too easy to be a terrorist these days,” said Jennifer Mason, 26. “You stick a box on a corner and you can shut down a city.”

This would be a humorous story if it were not so serious for a couple of reasons.

These ads were unreasonably mistaken for bombs and identified as hoax devices and mass panic ensued. One person commenting on the story had this to say:

I’m sorry, but if you can’t see that this is nothing but a circuit board with a bunch of LEDs on it, you’re a moron.

The terrorists have won. Completely. The sight of a lite-brite cartoon character is all that’s needed to shut down a city. How utterly stupid and cowardly.

The reason there hasn’t been any terror attacks since 9/11 is that we have become experts at terrorizing ourselves. Politicians promote fear, the media amplifies it, and we eat it up… big steaming piles of paranoia. There’s nothing that al-qaeda could do that would top the level of fear we’re producing on our own.

The goal of a terrorist organization is to instill terror and disrupt their targets way of life. Mission accomplished. We, as a nation, could have said “No, we will not surrender to fear.” Sadly, we chose the opposite. Pathetic.

While I disagree with the choice of words, I agree with the sentiment. What I am even more concerned about is if the day comes when we really do have bombs placed here and there. The United Kingdom and Israel have had to deal with bombings on a far more regular basis and they keep going. [I will be the first to admit that the situations are markedly different and that other cultural effects also contribute to the differences, but they still handle themselves better].

The second major problem seems to be that the prosecution may just be an effort to save face on behalf of government officials. Nine other cities did not have a problem with the advertisements and Boston did not either for over two weeks. One day of panic later and the Mayor of Boston is ready to sue the Cartoon Network and to throw two men in prison for up to five years. I don’t know the motivation behind the prosecution, especially where there is no clear violation of the law when people in nine other cities did not have a problem.

Common Sense Surrenders.

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