In my last post about the Aqua Teen Hunger Force/Boston bomb scare, I declared the campaign a "win for the client". That, of course, was before the client's parent company paid $2 million in restitution and compensation to the affected cities and various agencies
. Today CNNMoney.com
reports that the head of Cartoon Network has resigned over the incident
. So, uh, not so much of a win after all.
In Slate's Political Gabfest podcast for today ("The Nonbinding Gabfest
"), David Plotz and Emily Bazelon explain why they thought the campaign was a terrible idea. Plotz says something that I found really striking:
"You don't have to like living in a national security state. I don't like living in a national security state. But the fact is that we live in this state of heightened alert and when you do things like what the Cartoon Network does, you disrupt people's lives. You know, you can't just sit around talking about, 'Well, it was all in fun' or 'There were levels of irony in it'--well, irony still makes people mess up their commutes and causes panic."
This follows a suggestion by Bazelon that from an official perspective it didn't matter whether the devices looked like bombs or toys, because terrorist weapons could take any guise, even weird light displays.
I heard this after reading Dion Dennis' essay "Fear and Loathing in the Bay State
" (via Boing Boing
), in which he analyzes the reactions of Boston officials, media, and citizens to the incident. Dennis believes that we're seeing a mix of the city's Puritan heritage, neo-liberal obsession with uncertainty, and the generational warfare startegies of a graying populace.
This may be the most sobering lesson that we take away from this event: In America today, artists can be terrorists simply by creating and displaying certain types of art. By virtue of being married to an artist, I've heard a lot of different views on what art is all about and what (if anything) it's for. Often I hear that the purpose of art is to unsettle people, to challenge them, to jar them from their everyday assumptions and put them into a place of uncertainty. I've also heard some agency creatives says the same thing about guerrilla marketing: Grab people's attention by introducing something surprising into their environment.
Interference Inc. introduced something surprising into the environments of 10 American cities. In 1 of those 10 cities, the resulting uncertainty led to panic and chaos--in other words, terror. If Bazelon and Plotz are correct, given the national climate we should expect people to see unexplained objects in their vicinity as a threat to their lives. I would like to believe that this isn't true; but in light of the Boston debacle (not to mention the 2006 Ohio Super Mario bomb scare
), I wouldn't roll those dice when the consequences are arrest and millions of dollars in restitution.
The bad news for guerrilla marketers is that if any public disturbance could be considered a terrorist attack, their activities will be severely limited.
The good news for artists who want to be subversive is that the bar is set really
low right now.
(Seth Godin, meanwhile, is annoyed at what he describes as "invasive...unanticipated, impersonal and irrelevant spam
Tags: guerrilla marketing
, national security
, national security state
, Cartoon Network
, David Plotz
, Emily Bazelon
, Dion Dennis