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Aqua Teen Hoaxing Force? How a Cartoon Brought a City to a Halt

by on January 31, 2007

Just a mere six years ago it would have been unthinkable for a television cartoon to cause a citywide highway shutdown. Thanks to post-September 11th paranoia, our police are now summoned to settle issues that would previously have seemed asinine. Recently Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block decided to promote cult series Aqua Teen Hunger Force with electronic billboards placed around ten major cities in the United States including San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, and most notably Boston. These advertisements featuring series antagonist Ignignokt prompted the Boston police department to shut down many of the city’s major thoroughfares on Wednesday.

ATHFThe question that this crisis initially raised was whether or not these billboards were bombs. That should have been cause for caution, yet the police and the city government made no effort to research the cartoon character on the “bombs,” nor whether a license may have been obtained for their placement.

The second question brought up was whether or not this “hoax” was committed by a “some teenager,” or by Cartoon Network. This matter was quickly settled when Cartoon Network’s parent Turner Broadcasting issued a statement claiming responsibility for the advertisements. Massachusetts Representative Ed Markey placed the blame on Adult Swim. “Scaring an entire region, tying up the T and major roadways, and forcing first responders to spend 12 hours chasing down trinkets instead of terrorists is marketing run amok,” Markey, a Democrat, said in a written statement. “It would be hard to dream up a more appalling publicity stunt.” The problem with this is that it was the paranoia of the police department that created the crisis, not Aqua Teen’s creators down at Williams Street in Atlanta. A similar false alarm occurred a couple of years ago when a talking newspaper vending machine caused a bomb scare.

I am not blaming the Boston police for the problems caused today, but rather the city government and media’s spinning of the story to create a sense of paranoia. The comments of Shepard Smith and his co-workers at News Corp provide a prime example of the media’s hand in this story. Many of the Fox News interviews were with citizens who were “distraught” over the Aqua Teen advertisements. Smith explained the plot of the show, portraying it as something appalling. Now I understand that the media has the right to their opinions on a show like Aqua Teen, but I think that Fox’s comments in particular only aggravated the situation. What most newscasters should have at least commented on is that this investigation was a result of pure paranoia. If you ask any teenager or young adult I am sure that most would be able to identify Ignignokt as a cartoon character at the very least. Sadly no one thought to do so, and at least one of the poor little guys was blown to smithereens by overzealous police.

The government’s handling of this situation has proven incompetent at best. In the end the artist who created the ads was arrested, and Boston mayor Thomas Menino threatened to take legal action against Turner Broadcasting for a crisis he himself was largely responsible for. The long time to discover the billboards’ true nature is by far the most disturbing part of this story, and I hope that in the future we can be more prudent about declaring bomb alerts. I am not saying by any means that we shouldn’t investigate these incidents, but levelheaded thinking and careful research could save us all a lot of headaches.

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