Yesterday, an innovative marketing gimmick for TBS' "Adult Swim" program, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, inadvertently froze Boston in a terrorist panic. What were intended to be buzz-worthy signs were interpreted to be potential terrorist bombs....
This, despite the fact that these "threats" had been in place throughout the city for more than two weeks.
Despite the fact that they had been on display in NY, LA, Chicago, San Francisco and other major cities without incident.
Despite the fact that these were flat panel displays of illuminated LEDS, without any sign of bulk or volume one would expect from explosive materials.
Despite the fact that they were deliberate designed to be conspicuous (they light up for Pete's sake) -- a quality anyone intent on mischief would probably try to avoid.
No matter. For Attorney General Martha Coakley, "it had a very sinister appearance," because, "It had a battery behind it and wires." Santa Claus, consider yourself on notice: You even think about approaching a chimney in Boston with anything deviously composed of batteries and wires, you're a dead man.
The media has proved no more reasonable. Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker headlined his fear-mongering screed this morning, "What about next time?" He notes that similar devices caused no disturbances elsewhere but suggests, "Maybe people are less observant there, or perhaps the billboards were planted in less conspicuous locations. That isn't clear yet."
Here's a possibility: Perhaps citizens of other cities were simply less willing to assume that something strange or unusual has to confirm their worst fears.
Now a 27-year-old artist has been arrested on charges of instigating a hoax, even though it's crystal clear from his Web site and the objects themselves they he had no such intentions whatsoever.
For marketers looking for new ways to reach new audiences, all of this is obviously bad news. But it's even worse news for people, like me, who love cities. One of the biggest pleasures of urban life is the tantalizing confrontation with the unexpected, the surprising, the unusual -- those things that challenge our ordinary habits and perspectives. Such possible encounters are, in fact, the best reason to live and work in a major city.
But as Walker says, "What about next time?" In Boston, the message is clear: The unusual is not something to cherish, but something to fear.
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