In a guerrilla publicity campaign to promote Adult Swim’s animated television show “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” the Cartoon Network placed blinking boxes depicting one of the characters in 10 U.S. cities–Boston; New York; Los Angeles; Chicago; Atlanta; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Austin; San Francisco; and Philadelphia. The devices, described as resembling a Lite Brite, ignited fears of a terrorist attack in Boston. Trains, bridges, highways, and areas throughout the city were shut down, while state and local police with bomb squads were deployed to search for and carefully investigate the objects.
Boston Mayor Tom Menino demanded restitution of at least $750,000 to compensate the City for police costs. The Attorney General charged the two men who were working as artists and were hired toinstall the devices with”placing a hoax device in a way that causes panic and disorderly conduct.” This charge carries a sentence of up to five years in prison. Subsequently, Turner Broadcasting, the parent company to the Cartoon Network, agreed to pay $2 million in compensation for the emergency response. The agreement between Turner, Interference Inc., and several state and local agencies resolves any potential civil or criminal claims against the two companies.
Commentary on the scare has flooded the internet. One camp criticized Boston authorities for overreacting. Bloggers have used this incident to argue that our society has become hysterically fear-driven to the point that we can no longer accurately discern a real threat from an innocuous sign.In a period where water bottles are treated as potentially threatening objects, has the fear of a terrorist attack clouded our judgment?
Authorities in other cities applauded Boston’s stealth response and expressed outrage over the ad campaign. Many others feel that our nation’s security is in real danger in this post-9/11 era and that the continued conflict in Afganistan, Iraq, and growing threats in Iran merit a “high alert response.” Furthermore, some contend that federal and local agencies must be cautious and quick to action to defend innocent lives, and that those who threaten the sanctity of our nation should be punished.
Is justice being served by charging these artists? Was Turner Broadcasting grossly irresponsible? Were Boston authorities justified in shutting down the city? Should other cities where the devices were located have respond similarly? As we struggle to protect our country from terrorist attacks, is there room for error?
Join us this week at Café Society to explore this most recent terrorism scare.
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