Friday, February 2, 2007

Where's Mr. T When You Need Him?

Back when I was in between 5th and 6th grade, I took a summer school class called “Ghosts and Monsters, Comics and Clowns”. The teacher was “Mr. Franklin”, who was not just an English teacher, but also the advisor to my stamp club and the A/V teacher (as you can see, girls would be throwing themselves at me …). This class exposed us to classic movies and radio shows, both horror and comic. I really enjoyed the old time radio shows; I was a big fan of “The Shadow”, and the horror story “Leninger versus the Ants”. My favorite—“War of the Worlds” by Orson Welles (hereinafter “War” [what is it good for?]).

“War” was great theatre, albeit strictly auditory (this whole event even spawned a TV movie-“The Night that Panicked America” from 1975). Take the basic story of a Martian invasion, make it seem that you have “real” reporters out in the field throwing fits about the Martians, add all the sound effects and it’s a cocktail for success. “War” was designed to sound real, but came with a disclaimer at the very beginning; unfortunately, not a lot of people paid attention, to the beginning. The show, when broadcast, caused quite an uproar, with people thinking the Earth was actually being invaded. This was back on October 30, 1938, before we had space travel and could only imagine what Space would be like. The country was on the brink of a world war, mired in the Great Depression. Radio was the primary way people got their news, before Wolf Blitzer or CNN Headlines News could show some giant Martian ship blasting away the Celine Dion Theatre at Ceasar’s Palace (not that this would be a bad thing.) People really got sucked in, if they were stupid enough to believe it. Guerilla radio, no doubt.

What was not great theatre was the happenings here in Boston this past Wednesday, when Cartoon Network apparently hired a “guerilla marketing” company to surreptitiously mount suspicious items on buildings, bridges and major arteries leading in and around the city, to advertise some late night cartoon. I should note here that they were large, box-like items, with battery packs and wires attached to them. When an item was discovered, the police were deployed to investigate. Throughout the day, more and more of these suspicious items were discovered; some were destroyed, some were taken to be analyzed. The city responded to a growing panic by deploying their professional anti-terrorist units, expending tremendous resources to make sure this city, and its citizens were safe. What else do you expect from the city that was the front line for 9/11?

While society reacted in a puzzling fashion back in 1938 to the broadcast of “War”, is it any real surprise that Boston reacted with such purpose and alacrity when notified there were suspicious packages with wires and batteries attached? Wasn’t it a lack of attention that led to the tragic events of 2001? Isn’t this behavior now exactly what we expect, and in fact demand, of our police force? Aren’t we glad that they are there, doing this job, to make sure we can all sleep more safely at night?

What is shocking, however, is the cavalier attitude of the 2 clowns that mounted these devices for the advertising company. The two can’t spend enough time in jail thinking about the widespread panic caused by their thoughtless actions. They won’t spend much time there at all, but we can hope, can’t we? They get led into and out of Court, with Cheshire cat grins on their faces (where’s Mr. T when you need him?--“Wipe that look off your face fools, before I wipe it off for you!” or “I pity the white fool that wears dreadlocks to Court”) and hold press conferences surprised at everyone’s reaction. What planet are these guys from? These fools aren’t the standard bearers for the First Amendment-they are “Exhibit A” why tigers eat their young.

And what about Cartoon Network, and its owner, Turner Broadcasting? Word on the street is that they knew early in the day that Boston was treating the discovery of these items as a terror attack. So like any responsible company, they sit on it and stay quiet. For hours, and hours. It was not until a late afternoon press conference by the Boston mayor did the corporations behind this finally admit it was an advertising ploy. And then, wearing the “I’m with Stupid” shirts, begin pointing fingers.

One of my colleagues claims that it is a sad time for society, when “Yippie” and fun-spirited “guerilla” tactics are met with such derision. I’m all for fun and frivolity…you want to tell people to “steal this book” or you want to spray paint graffiti with political messages (or “Joanie Loves Chachi”), I’m okay with that. Those activities and statements won’t likely incite widespread panic and shut down a city. But, we’re a port city with a direct link to 9/11. People are on edge, and may be forevermore. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the reality. To play games like Turner Broadcasting, the Cartoon Network and their lackeys did is irresponsible.

The least they could have done is send over Underdog!

You’ve been a great audience…

3 comments:

mdstets said...

I could not disagree with your comments more. Clearly the over-reaction by the public domain has taken on new eccentric levels. This device was clearly not a threat and did not even look harmful but our society has been programmed to expect the worst case scenario and cry wolf for everything. The over reaction by the public agencies make them look foolish and the money wasted on their efforts will be reimbursed by Turner. We all know that any advertising is good publicity for and entertainment company and I am sure it is money well spent for them. I will be sure to TIVO aqua-man to see what the show is all about.

michmash said...

While the two guys who put up these devices aren't as bright as the light bulbs they used, I'm convinced they were told it's okay and so they did it. They only made 300 dollars not really enough money to risk going to jail. Also, there were other individuals in other cities that didn't get in trouble for putting up those things so I doubt they will get into any serious trouble. Where was Turner saying they authorized this when these guys were being arrested? Nowhere. They left them out to dry, no surprise there.

I have to disagree with the previous poster though. I feel the city agencies responded appropriately and while we know now that there was no immediate threat, what if someone decided to be a copycat. These devices had been up for some time and let's say out of 30, only 29 were checked and it was that last one that was a bomb we would all be sitting here today saying not enough was done. I don't really think a bomb will say "hey look at me, I'm a bomb" it could very well be disguised as a cartoon character.

So while I don't think the police, FBI, homeland security and all the other agencies overreacted I do feel the media gave it too much attention. I was watching the 10:00 news and it wasn't until 20 minutes into the broadcast that another story was mentioned. By this time we all knew that it was a marketing campaign and it was time to move on. And as we all know there is no such thing as bad press, and Turner got plenty of it. However, I have a feeling someone at Turner might be looking for a new job soon.

Ray said...

I'm with you: these two frat boy marketing morons should have been tossed into the tank for a few months, to better appreciate the wisdom (not!) of simulated public menace