Media

An Army of Pop Geeks

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Joshua Glenn has the best comment yet on the Mooninite menace:

I once interviewed a homeland security consulant who claimed that ordinary citizens armed with wi-fi laptops, smart cellphones, and the like would be far more effective at responding to terrorist attacks than any governmental organization. Tonight I have seen the proof of that argument….

What were the devices? The answer to that burning question was available earlier today on blogs and social networking sites like Flickr, thanks to the sharp eyes of pop-culture-savvy young Bostonians. Todd Vanderlin, for example, spotted the devices and recognized right away what they were: a guerrilla marketing campaign for the Adult Swim TV show "Aqua Teen Hunger Force."

Advantage: distributed intelligence. Though to be fair, this doesn't really prove that ordinary citizens are better than government at responding to a terrorist attack. It just shows they're better at responding to what is transparently not a terrorist attack.

Meanwhile, many reporters and officials continue to refer to the ads as a "hoax." The only hoax here is the pretense that anyone intended these things to be mistaken for bombs.

Bonus link: Orson Welles' classic War of the Worlds broadcast.

Bonus link #2: Yet another wave of suspicious devices.

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  1. A hoax? The hoax was on the taxpayers of Boston, courtesy of the Boston PD.

  2. Whatever happens, you can always count on Batman to diffuse the threat. He’s a scientist.

  3. This is only a distraction from the real threat.

  4. “””Meanwhile, many reporters and officials continue to refer to the ads as a “hoax.”””

    Just shows you can’t trust the media to get the story right. Hoax sells more newspapers, and keeps people in front of the TV, it’s sensationalism at it’s finest. I’m sure the Boston media thinks they if they say it enough it will be assumed a hoax if it ever goes to trial, which I doubt.

  5. I think what we really need is briefcase control.

    “What we need to do is we plant this little electric gizmo. Then we get a van, and put WHAK TV NEWS on the side. Then…”

  6. A hoax? The hoax was on the taxpayers of Boston, courtesy of the Boston PD

    And what were the police supposed to do? Sit around and wait for input from some hipster doofus?

  7. I guess when the only terrorism response tool you have is a bomb squad, then everything looks like a bomb.

    Any, by the way…

    Why the hell would a Terrorist put a lot of blinky-lights on his bomb?

  8. Why the hell would a Terrorist put a lot of blinky-lights on his bomb?

    So that the infidels would piss their pants before being blown to smithereens.

  9. “Why the hell would a Terrorist put a lot of blinky-lights on his bomb?”

    If I told you several years ago a handful of young men could bring this country to its knees with BOX CUTTERS you would think I’m nuts.

    Who the hell truly knows how terrorists think?

    In hindsight, we can laugh at these government boobs for overeacting. But let’s bring up 9/11 again. The attacks happen within hours, and an interesting development all of sudden became catastrophic.

    So a city finds out there are a number of unexplained electronic devices popping up out of nowhere. Which is better: quickly and aggressively handling the situation assuming the worse, and risk looking like fools, or just chilling out and risking another 9/11 (or worse)?

    I can be as snarky and insolent toward government boobery as the best of them, but c’mon people…

  10. So a city finds out there are a number of unexplained electronic devices popping up out of nowhere. Which is better: quickly and aggressively handling the situation assuming the worse, and risk looking like fools, or just chilling out and risking another 9/11 (or worse)?

    Well, if they’ve got little cartoon characters on them, I’d send the bomb squad out after one, check it out, but just put the others under surveilance until the threat had been identified.

    Still, I have less blame for the BPD, and more for Coakley and Grossman who continue to insist on intent when it’s plainly obvious that these were not intended to look like bombs. They were intended to be mooninites, and any resemblance to bombs was completely incidental.

    I’m not even suggesting that they get a sense of humor. They don’t have to find the mooninite installations funny. They just need to understand that most people don’t have the worst in mind. These guys made things with exposed wires and electronics because they were meant to be lit at night, and so no one would see the bits and bobs. So no effort went into hiding them. They just need to acknowledge that there’s CLEARLY reasonable doubt about whether they were intended to be bombs.

    Adult Swim has a history of these little installations. I remember the Venture Brothers murals they had all over their bumpers just before that show debuted. The bumpers showed people walking past these wall-sized paintings of the Venture Brothers logo, and looking puzzled. I’m sure they were going to get some of that from these installations. They had no fucking intention of the police even being involved.

  11. Mr. Nice Guy,

    I am not buying this “what if it had been a bomb and they didn’t do anything” line. I heard that from a caller to Penn Jillette’s radio show.
    1. Following that line of thought, everything that appears unusual to anyone should be treated as a bomb.
    2. Terrorists hide bombs. They don’t attempt to draw attention to them before they detonate. This much I do understand about terrorists’ thinking. The 9/11 hijackers did not walk onto the plane shouting “we are going to kill you all!”
    3. I will not live my life like that. I refuse.
    4. Authorities in every other city where those advertising devices were planted did nothing until this Boston story appeared. Were they wrong in not overreacting?

  12. So a city finds out there are a number of unexplained electronic devices popping up out of nowhere. Which is better: quickly and aggressively handling the situation assuming the worse, and risk looking like fools, or just chilling out and risking another 9/11 (or worse)?

    I don’t think that the city’s initial reaction is that big a deal. It’s their behavior during the aftermath that’s a problem.

  13. I don’t think that the city’s initial reaction is that big a deal. It’s their behavior during the aftermath that’s a problem.

    The fact that Boston is paying for a team of highly trained explosives experts who can’t identify a bomb seems like a big deal to me. Has any of the media noted this ?

  14. Folks:

    I’ll reiterate my point that hindsight is always 20/20, and the easiest thing to do is to criticize something in retrospect.

    I happen to be a big fan of stoner comedy (hence my name) and am familar with “Aqua Teen” (though it’s certainly not one of my favorites). So I know what a Moonite is. But I’m guessing most normal people do not.

    There was nothing on the devices to indicate what they were (from what I’ve seen). Of course, this was to maximize the “What the Fuck”? But again, most normal people aren’t going to get it.

    So Boston decided to scramble around and now they’re pissed about it. I’m a true subscriber of “fuck them if they can’t take a joke”, but I believe this goes over the line. The stoners who set off this prank were banking on a small degree of chaos, and got a lot more than they bargained for (at least I hope this wasn’t intentional).

  15. I won’t fault them for examining every lite brite before making that determination. I will fault them for continuing the “hoax devices” charade when it clearly wasn’t intended to be a hoax.

  16. Explosive experts, and monkeys shall fly from my ass, or something else. Those chowderheads couldn’t identify their own dick in a lineup.

  17. From Mr. Nice Guy: “In hindsight, we can laugh at these government boobs for overeacting. But let’s bring up 9/11 again. The attacks happen within hours, and an interesting development all of sudden became catastrophic.”

    Indeed, let’s bring up 9/11 again. It was one series of attacks, over five years ago. True, it was a tremendously devastating series, but so far it’s been the latest attack on US soil. How many years after 9/11 are we as a government going to get hysterical over an unidentified lite-brite box? 10? 20?

    This isn’t to denigrate sensible security measures. Taking a peek at one of the devices with a bomb-bot seems prudent. Locking down the city of Boston does not. Come on people, the US isn’t Ramadi, or Haifa or Saigon circa 1965—any of those places I could see rationally having a conniption fit over an unexplained electronic device

    And why aren’t we currently like those places? Muhammad and Malvo demonstrated that it’s not exactly hard to run around playing urban warrior and freak out the Eastern Seaboard. They would probably still be running around, if they hadn’t sent in that extortion letter. Ditto the Unabomber. Why haven’t we seen duplicates of those evil men? For that matter, why haven’t we seen duplicates of the London/Madrid bombings? Is it just that the threat from Al Qaeda is vastly overblown? Is it due to the frightening skill of our SigInt/Law Enforcement apparatus? It’s perplexing.

    All I’m trying to say is that, right now, Nice Guy’s set of choices:

    “Which is better: quickly and aggressively handling the situation assuming the worse, and risk looking like fools, or just chilling out and risking another 9/11 (or worse)?”

    are a false dichotomy and not yet warranted by the situation.

    All this is off the table of course, along with most of our civil liberties, should a truly heinous domestic terrorist campaign happen.

  18. The stoners who set off this prank were banking on a small degree of chaos

    What gives you the idea that they thought they’d create ANY chaos? I suspect that they thought they’d do nothing beyond annoy some random public works or transit workers who would’ve been sent to take the signs down.

  19. “There was nothing on the devices to indicate what they were (from what I’ve seen). “

    Except for the fact that Cartoon Network had also evidently purchased billboard space all over town in order to promo the show.

    And those billboards, by report, have pictures of the same exact characters on them.

    You’d think someone in the brain trust that is the BPD would have been able to look up at a billboard, look down at the little blinky led device and make the obvious connection.

  20. What gives you the idea that they thought they’d create ANY chaos? I suspect that they thought they’d do nothing beyond annoy some random public works or transit workers who would’ve been sent to take the signs down.

    I agree with that. To me, what these guys did is only marginally different than the guys that hand out the strip club ad cards that wind up all over the group.

  21. Link to picture of one of the GIANT FUCKING BILLBOARDS that includes not only the character on it, but the tag for [Adult Swim]

  22. Dosen’t a soda can look like a bomb? quick arrest everyone with a soda can!!!

  23. Joker, don’t forget about iPods.

    Battery? Check.
    Wires? Check.

    Off to gitmo.

  24. Sure, there was an overreaction, but if so many hipsters were hip to the campaign, were they too hip to pick up a gd telephone and call the local knuckledragging doofuses to let them know what was going on?

    And why was I watching this debacle on CNN and nobody at the hipster cartoon network was hip enough to call their sister network and say “Hey! Have I got a funny story for you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Boy are they going to have a laugh at the next corporate get together!

    There was an overreaction allright but then there were a bunch of idiots who evidently sat on their too-cool fat asses instead of making the slightest effort to bring the whole thing to a quick end.

  25. Why bring something so hilarious to a quick end?

    Besides, it’s not like cops can’t use Google, too.

  26. What if instead of those lite-brite looking things they had put up neon signs with the mooninites on them? Would the same kind of response be justified? Do you think people would have more quickly understood them to be marketing tools?

    Go Bears!

  27. but if so many hipsters were hip to the campaign, were they too hip to pick up a gd telephone and call the local knuckledragging doofuse…

    Do you know that they didn;t call the local authorities? Or are you just assuming that the continued ranting and raving from the knuckledraggers implies that?

    C’mon…this story is all about the so-called authorities overreaction to a totally harmless ad campaign…that’s all.

  28. I think if I was “banking on a small degree of chaos” I’d do a lot more than hang some light-up signs around town.

  29. Sure, there was an overreaction, but if so many hipsters were hip to the campaign, were they too hip to pick up a gd telephone and call the local knuckledragging doofuses to let them know what was going on?

    I was watching the local media coverage (New England Cable News) on and off throughout the day and didn’t see any pictures of the signs until they were already identified.

    I don’t know if anyone can confirm my anecdote, but I believe that the powers that be were intentionally suppressing the information about it.

    Besides…remember…when Turner called and said “it was us”, the powers at be responded to the media “we’re following that lead, among others”.

  30. eb, I think that the people involved were probably busy earning a living and weren’t slacking off watching CNN.

    I suspect that they did communicate with the Boston PD. After all about the time they figured out it was a Mooninite they were arresting the people responsible.

    The only time the Boston PD moves that rapidly is when they identify a drug dealer who hasn’t paid his taxes directly to the PD.* ** In this case I suspect our hoaxers called the police to diffuse the situation and got arrested for their troubles.

    *Incidentally, I thought it incredibly funny when, on an episode of cops, the Boston PD hunted down and nailed a runner for a Charleston drug distributor who hadn’t bought protection, and called the distributor and taunted him in thinly vailed terms for not having purchased protection. In front of a camera crew. In a nationally syndicated show! That’s what I call chutzpah.

    ** Remember when the Boston PD hysterically roughed up every young black mael they could find shile searching for the mysterious killer of Mrs Stuart? Critical thinking and calm reasoned responses are not hallmarks of the Boston PD.

  31. Lifelong Chicagoan here. The only other American city I have ever enjoyed is Boston. I must like cities with dirty cops.

  32. As I said already, I think the authorities overreacted, but that doesn’t excuse the morons that allowed this to continue long after it should have been over.

    Sorry but I think it is hilarious to see so many people on a site dedicated to libertarianism guffaw over a city wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars investigating a stupid marketing campaign.

    And the same people somehow think that its cool for a company to cause that waste of money.

    I’ve long questioned how libertarian this blog is and here’s another example of “Libertarian” being confused with “snarky”.

  33. I’ve long questioned how libertarian this blog is and here’s another example of “Libertarian” being confused with “snarky”.

    So many self-referential comments lately.

  34. We can make fun at Boston all we want. But if Boston thinks it worth it to spend 750,000 everytime something looks questionable, that’s there issue. I’m fine with that. I do have a problem when THEY make a big issue out of it and turn around and blame someone else for THEIR response, then become irrational about it by claiming things are different than what they were, i.e hoax devices.

    Boston should drop the charges, and own up to their own sillyness. Since Turner has agreed to pay for the expense, which he doesn’t have to do but it was far more than a Million dollars worth of promo, the whole thing should be moot and quietly fade away.

  35. that doesn’t excuse the morons that allowed this to continue long after it should have been over

    The only morons were city officials. If you wish to claim otherwise, please present a timeline which indicates when said officials first released images of the signs and when they were subsequently notified that the signs were, well, signs.

  36. eb, Where are you getting this whole “they let it go on” thing?

    I don’t think anyone here is addressing it because I don’t think it’s been part of the narrative of this story. Turner’s rep says..

    “As soon as we realized that an element of the campaign was being mistaken for something potentially dangerous, appropriate law enforcement officials were notified and through federal law enforcement channels, we identified the specific locations of the advertisements in all 10 cities in which they are posted. We also directed the third-party marketing firm who posted the advertisements to take them down immediately.”

    I don’t think there’s any reason not to take them at their word, here.

    Furthermore, look at the actual timeline here:

    “The first device was found at an MBTA subway and bus station located under Interstate 93 on Wednesday morning. The device was detonated and determined to be harmless, but as a precaution the station and the interstate shut down temporarily.

    Then, around 1 p.m., four calls came into Boston Police reporting suspicious devices at the Boston University Bridge and the Longfellow Bridge, which both span the Charles River, and the corner of Stuart and Columbus Streets and at the Tufts-New England Medical Center.

    Another device was found in Somerville under the McGrath Highway Bridge. The latest package was found outside Fenway Park around 5:30 p.m.”

    So the government found the first device, determined it was harmless, then shut down the city and wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars going after identical devices – WITHOUT looking for a reasonable explanation at that point, and you want to blame the company for.. something… still not clear what.

    I think plenty of people are upset that the government wasted this money, which it appears they did, but I don’t think that’s really what this story is about at this point. They apparently decided that was in the interest of safety, albeit with very poor decision-making skills, so to paraphrase Mr. Nice Guy, better safe than sorry, I guess.

    It’s the decision to then arrest people and go after Turner Broadcasting for what appears to the crime of totally embarrassing a lot of Very Important People that is raising the eyebrows here.

    And anyway, your comments aren’t hair questions. Sorry.

  37. Oh, the sources on the quotes are:

    For the Turner spokesman’s take: This CNN article – http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/01/31/boston.bombscare/index.html?eref=rss_us

    For the timeline, this CBS affiliate article –
    http://wbztv.com/topstories/local_story_031135507.html

  38. Then, around 1 p.m., four calls came into Boston Police reporting suspicious devices at the Boston University Bridge and the Longfellow Bridge, which both span the Charles River, and the corner of Stuart and Columbus Streets and at the Tufts-New England Medical Center.

    The thing is, these four calls were about legitimate hoax threats. So while the BP bomb squad clowns were blowing up lite-brites…everyday citizens who could actually think were calling in real threats.

  39. You’d think someone in the brain trust that is the BPD would have been able to look up at a billboard, look down at the little blinky led device and make the obvious connection.

    I’m sure at least one kop had a brain, but dammit, protocol is protocol! LOCKDOWN!

  40. Lifelong Chicagoan here. The only other American city I have ever enjoyed is Boston. I must like cities with dirty cops.

    The only reason Chicago kops didn’t overreact is because when you kick the shit out of a Lite Brite is won’t bleed and beg for mercy.

  41. everyday citizens who could actually think were calling in real threats.

    No, they were calling in real hoaxes.

  42. I’ve long questioned how libertarian this blog is and here’s another example of “Libertarian” being confused with “snarky”.

    Get over yourself. Most of the country is laughing at this and making the same comments. Libertarians are finally in tune with the rest of the country, but you still manage to think it’s only libertarians being snarky. Geez, even the Boston PD is smarter than you.

  43. There was nothing on the devices to indicate what they were (from what I’ve seen).

    My last iota of empathy for Boston officialdom evaporated when I finally saw what the signs actually looked like. They consist of:

    a) a black board the size and thickness of an LP sleeve, with
    b) lights on one side in the shape of a Mooninite and
    c) some “D”-cell batteries attached to the bottom.

    So explain to me: if these things were supposed to be “bombs”, what the hell was supposed to explode? The biggest threat these things pose to public safety is that you might put someone’s eye out of you flung one at them like a frisbee.

    God, if these guys had walked into a Virgin Megastore the day Pink Floyd’s “Pulse” album came out, they’d have called in a frigging airstrike.

  44. So explain to me: if these things were supposed to be “bombs”, what the hell was supposed to explode?

    From what I saw, the case which contained the batteries was rectangular and covered with black electrical tape. So a truly paranoid person would possibly see that black rectangle and equate it to a masked plastique brick. Now, why that didn’t fall to the wayside upon closer inspection, I don’t think we’ll ever know, because I think they are too embarrassed to say anything truthful.

  45. “Why the hell would a Terrorist put a lot of blinky-lights on his bomb?”

    If I told you several years ago a handful of young men could bring this country to its knees with BOX CUTTERS you would think I’m nuts.

    But the point is, it’s easy to understand WHY a terrorist would use boxcutters–it’s a usable weapon that, at the time, a person would not have been prevented from carrying onto a plane. Most likely, nobody looked twice at a box cutter being in somebody’s bag.

    But if you want to set a bomb, why would you make it light up like a Christmas tree? Naturally, you wouldn’t; rather, you would make it as inconspicuous as possible.

  46. And what were the police supposed to do? Sit around and wait for input from some hipster doofus?

    No, the police do exactly what the police in nine other cities did…

  47. Libertarians are finally in tune with the rest of the country,

    Mmmno, the rest of the country is finally in tune with libertarians. Subtle difference, yes, but a difference nonetheless.

  48. dancing is forbidden…

  49. Defective Yeti sort of sums it all up in one image. Click on my name or go to:

    http://www.defectiveyeti.com/archives/001864.html

  50. Gidney and Cloyd would kick the Mooninites’ asses. If Mooninites had asses, that is.

    Kevin

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