Terrorism

Artifact: Boston Bomb Scare

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Credit: Cartoon Network electronic advertising devices. © AP/Wide World Photos

Ignignokt and Err are Mooninites, space creatures from the Cartoon Network show Aqua Teen Hunger Force. They're foulmouthed, they give bad advice ("Using a key to gouge expletives on another's vehicle is a sign of trust and friendship"), and fans love them. So promoters hired people in 10 cities to put up small circuit boards around town that, when lit, display Mooninites flipping the bird.

On January 31, about three weeks after the signs had been posted, a Bostonian called the cops to report a "suspicious object." The city responded in force, and reporters swarmed to watch demolition experts blow up the ad. "This is a perfect example of our passengers taking part in Homeland Security," Boston transit police Lt. Salvatore Venturelli told the assembled media. Minutes later, another panicked citizen called to report another sign. Swathes of the city's public transportation were shut down before police learned they were chasing cartoon characters.

The government didn't waste any time apologizing for the panic. "It is outrageous, in a post-9/11 world, that a company would use this type of marketing scheme," Boston Mayor Thomas Menino fumed. Turner Broadcasting, which owns Cartoon Network, agreed to fork over $2 million to the city, more than twice the expense of the police operations. At press time, Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens, the artists who posted the boards, were facing criminal charges for planting "hoax devices."