A Bird in the Hand: Boston's "Terror" Scare


The big news in Boston today is the tasteless, thoughtless, and potentially dangerous ad campaign waged by the folks over at Ted Turner’s channel. Now, to put a bit of context to this (because isn’t context always important? Doesn’t it matter who is speaking, what their experience and investment in a given topic? I think so . . . ), Boston, as many of you will recall was involved with 9/11 in that two of the planes, American Airline flight 11, carrying Mohamed Atta, and United Airways flight 175, flew from Boston’s Logan Airport. Nationwide scrutiny turned to our airport, our commonwealth (as well it should), and we’ve really not recovered since. No state (or commonwealth) wants to be the one with the bad management, lax security, or other failings that allow such heinous acts to occur. New York was a victim, Massachusetts . . . well, we had something to do with it, however, indirectly. And I can tell you that Massachusetts has not recovered from that, and we are always vigilant, always conscious of our security and safety.

That understood, let’s look at what Adult Swim (on a Ted Turner channel) thought would be a good idea in this post-9/11 world and in THIS post-9/11 city . . . they hired a couple of guys to plant electronic devices all over Boston and in high traffic areas (of course, it’s an ad campaign). The trouble with this plan is that no one bothered to notify the city’s terror units or even the city police forces of this, so city and state police were mobilized to defuse what they believed to be dangerous explosive devices and to cope with the possible repercussions should one of these things “go off.” Of course, if it did “go off” all it would do is show a cartoon character flipping the bird. Nice.

As can be predicted, even from my narration of events, there are two camps, two distinct ways of thinking about this incident: On the one hand, Boston (its police and officials from the shiny new governor to the chief of police) over-reacted and made fools of themselves and our city; on the other hand, Boston took the measures they were trained to take in the event of suspicious and therefore potentially dangerous electronic devices being reported around town.

I fall on the latter side of better to be safe than sorry; just as soon as someone shrugged off the devices, one of them would blow up (and again, these were at high traffic, heavily populated locations or in “key” places like under bridges and overpasses) and kill hundreds perhaps thousands of people or perhaps cut off first responders by destroying key roads. The pic above is of one of the devices spotted under the I-93 overpass. I wouldn’t want to be THAT shoulder shrugger, that’s for sure. Just as I wouldn’t have wanted to be running Logan Airport on 9/11 (what ever happened to that woman? Does anyone know? She just quietly faded away after being battered in the press for incompetence . . . ). But then, I wouldn’t want to be a city on high alert over a blinking sign with a cartoon shooting a bird, either. Hmmmm.

Frankly, it’s a pretty big deal around here, and I doubt it ends there. Or here. The guys they hired, I feel rather sorry for because they’re clearly not the sharpest knives in the drawer and were arrested yesterday, in court and released today; they’re currently enjoying their fifteen minutes of fame waving wildly into cameras, smiling broadly, and mumbling inanities about their hair (and quickly being cut off by their attorney). But Governor Deval Patrick and Mayor Menino don’t quite see the humor or the insignificance of the acts and are vowing to prosecute those responsible and seek restitution. I just heard a young woman say that this just goes to show that there is a generation gap, and that the whole thing happened because “old” people didn’t get the joke (this was on NECN as I’m typing this, so I don’t have the link to a vid or story, you’ll just have to take my word for it). I have no comment on that; it speaks for itself.

Now these same signs were placed in a total of ten cities, and Boston is the only one that went into high alert, so I do rather wonder if we weren’t a bit . . . um, over-reactive and excitable. Even New York City, which obviously has stronger reason to be highly sensitive to threats, more so than Boston–except, and it’s a BIG “except,” in the sense that NYC could not have stopped the 9/11 attacks and Boston could have (two of the four planes anyway), but in the case of the strategically placed blinking boxes, NYC didn’t panic. Indeed, the ad campaign was dreamed up by some firm in NYC.

I’m torn on this one; I think it was irresponsible, but I also think that it’s gone a bit too far. It’s illustrative, though, of that line we walk post-9/11 between terror and freedom.


16 thoughts on “A Bird in the Hand: Boston's "Terror" Scare

  1. well, as you said, if they hadn’t done anything, something would have gone off and it wouldn’t have been a joke. i’m thinking what needs to happen is a large sum of money needs to be fined so that the next time some ad agency gets a brilliant idea like this, they remember to notify city officials first.

  2. I agree, Kerry. It’s similar to pondering what might have been the fall out HAD someone at Logan said that Atta and his buds couldn’t fly that sunny Tuesday morning . . . a huge outcry, no doubt, and the City would have suffered then, and no one would have known what had been stopped. Ugh, I’d so not want to have to work in terror; there’s no way to measure success (how do you gloat over what never happened?), and there’s no way to do the job without at least stepping lightly on someone’s rights. Sigh. But yeah, a heavy set of fines all ’round, and that will definitely make these companies think twice. Notifying officials, asking permission (as it seems they’d need to do to post advertising signs, no?), would have circumvented the whole mess!! :))

  3. I think that there are always going to be pranksters around that do this type of thing and I think after 9/11 it probably isn’t a good idea. The bloke with the long hair does look a bit like a weirdo, not sure I would trust him with anything. Its good that Boston was on high alert it proves that the Police force will be ready god forbid they should be needed! I hope not.

  4. You should have seen the press conference with the guys who were charged with planting these devices. Their lawyer really would have been smart to speak for them and not let them do their own taling.

  5. Hi Fuzzy.
    Isn’t it amazing what companies will do for publicity??

    There were also several of the electronic devices placed here in Portland. Out of consideration of the “scare” in Boston, the ones here have been removed.

    This brings me to the observation that apparently the devices had been in place for DAYS and did not raise any alarm….Hmmmmm??? What good is an advertising campaign if nobody notices?? Is it possible that the very company that placed the devices is also responsible for creating the alarm???

    When I look at the photo here in your blog, and also when I see the units on the local news….I can certainly see why the devices did not raise an alarm. They are not threatening looking.

    I agree that it is better to be safe than sorry, and I feel that the city of Boston was correct in treating this as a potential hazard.

    I also feel it is indeed a sad day when 9/11 is now being used by the advertising community to garner publicity.

  6. I know that all of you did see these guys and I wish I had that video. I just feel that they could have notified the city that they were planting these devices around. I am not torn on that because it seems sensible. You have to have a license to sell hotdogs on the street. Why should someone be able to plant devices that others, whether they are elderly or not, may interpret as a danger. You can’t just throw advertisements around anywhere you want in a city. That is why they have zoning laws. I just think it would have been wise to consult with the mayor’s office. It certaily would have been a lot cheaper. Turner is going to have to pay big bucks for this stunt…

  7. Seems to me that lack of planning on one part and over planning on another just mixed, and the solution was a volatile one. Yes they could have alerted the city, yes the city could have reacted a little better, but when push comes to shove we have to look at the entire canvas.
    No person was hurt or killed, the station will probably lose a fair sum of cash and life will go on, the world won’t stop turning over this, but existence will suffer if we spend too long analysing every situation. Lets just move on and put this one down as a stunt turned sour.

  8. I am with RainyDay, and think maybe the excitement was their intention. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. Negative attention makes money too. I think Boston should put the hurt on them in the fine department…along with the other towns that were not notified.

  9. I didn’t even think of that, Snuggles, but yes, it IS heartening to know that they’re at the ready should something really go wrong. Huggs!! xx

    LOL, yeah, I know, Wyatt; one of my links goes to the press conference and one to a series of links including them walking into court waving crazily. Ugh. And yes, if there aren’t, there should be laws about putting up random stuff around the city! :)) Huggs

    YAY, Rainy! I’ve missed you so much the last few days, so it’s nice to see you again. Maybe a publicity stunt, but a pretty stupid one, and one I’m sure won’t be replicated given the repercussions we’re seeing here. I think the advertising community will use anything, even 9/11, to make a buck; they’re a sick bunch, I think, or at least a focused bunch . . . sell, sell, sell . . . no matter what the cost to whom. I’m a bit bitter, can you tell?, about what they helped do to women regarding body image and gender roles. I do know that they aren’t responsible for everything, maybe even for nothing, but they sure don’t mind exploiting anyone and anything (as perhaps we’re seeing in Boston now). Huggs Rainy!!

    Yes, Monty, a distinct lack of planning, even it was a publicity stunt, it was poorly executed. My guess would be that they really didn’t want Homeland Security involved, and they were/are, probably not a banner day for the brain trust at that ad company. Huggs :))

    Thanks for your comments, Pris; I’ve addressed your marvelous points in my response to Rainy and still further in my response to Monty. Now I’m all out of stuff to say about the publicity angle. :)) Huggs.

  10. I am reminded of an analogy regarding Law Enforcement in general. What happens when an officer is shot in the line of duty? Every Law Officer in that guy’s department tightens up on safety procedures and protocols. This goes on for a period of a few years, then they all begin to get more lax and start leaning the other way again until another one gets shot. Tides swing in our societies. In that Boston reacted asserts the sense that they still take 911 seriously enough to assert legal actions to those responsible for the installation of these devices and well they should. False Bomb threats years ago into any school would bring in Fireman and Police teams anywhere in the Country. How is this any different? Anyone who makes a Bomb Threat today, False or not, faces prosecution.

  11. Don’t quit yet Fuzz you don’t have a thousand responses yet. Everyone seems to be very mature and reasonable in their comments. Let’s also consider where this got started… The show called “Adult Swim” is an oxymoron (ck spel?). It is a show marketed to young adults with with a childs mentality towards responsibility, morality and hate for the older generation for whom they blame all of their own mistakes… Sound familiar, every generation does it. But the difference we should note is that there are older people who are suppose to behave as adults making decisions about the show. The success of the show puts money in their pockets. They have made knee jerk decisions based on what they feel will increse their monetary or power wealth. When this is the base for such good sence and morality and responsibility go out the window.

    There are no rules in Gorilla advertising. That’s why it is usually irresponsible in it’s use.

    The police may have over reacted or maybe not, after all it was not that much of an inconvienc. Better to do than not. The foolishness comes with how it is handled now. Now you have politicians involved. Need I say more about that. Yes they are going to make you look like fools.

    The two dummys….gie them a week of changing public bed pans at the public hospital and cut them loose. They’re nobody.

    Technically there were lays broken because there were no permits for post bills or the like….. Fines to the advertising group that organised putting them up is in order. The amount should be graded according to their relative responsibility in pursuit of a mindless campaign. This includes those within TBS that made the decision to go this way.

    And last I think all involved should have to write an essay about this and their appoligy included. These will then be read on the media and published on the web. A thousand dollar fine for each day they are late in getting it to the web or local media outlet. It should be due tomorrow.

    Fuzz your the expert… what should be the title and subject properly be?

  12. Hi River, and yes, Boston really does take all this very seriously indeed; I’m glad they/we do, though. Of course incidents like this may subtly change that . . . little boy who cried wolf and all that jazz. Thanks for your comment! :))

    Heyman! How fabulous. I think it’s a WONDERFUL idea to assign essays to everyone involved; actually, in theory, I’d love that to be a punishment for all crimes. It sure would help with literacy in this country. LOL. You’re right, those guys are nobody. I guess part of the reason the politicians got involved is that the whole incident cost the city 3/4 of a million dollars, that shoots it to Capitol Hill, you know? Plus the whole “terror” element demands their attention. They’d have been remiss not to comment, but perhaps they are being a bit too defensive? I know the timing sucked because the city was already gearing up for Super Bowl and the associate problems that usually entails. Plus the news reported other and unrelated terror threats that our police were dealing with. All together, it was bad timing, bad “thinking” (though not really thinking at all on the part of the advertisers and Ted Turner’s co.), and bad taste. Huggs, and thanks as always for your fab comments.

  13. Great blog again Fuzzy, you summed it up well, I haven’t seen anyone write like this in 360 or other blogs. The Ad agency who devised are stupid morons, they are trying to get attention desperately and sadly they are getting paid to do all this sorts of things by the network. Because they don’t care what they are doing as long they get the audience. They should know better as you how the whole 9/11 started in Boston. I read in other blogs Boston is taking it too much, if it happens at their cities then they will now. I am glad what the Police did, as you said it rightly it is better to be safe than see 100s of lives lost because of neglect. They should make the Broadcast company Turner pay damages. That generation gap comment is stupid, if you want to have fun just have it in a studio do whatever you want don’t do it in public like this causing anxiety to everyone. Well done Boston, they should be the same.

  14. Completely irresponsible. How they were able to do such things, I just don’t understand, but it just goes to prove the value of publicity. Hell, we are still talking about it!

  15. Wow, Chris, I’m not used to such strong language from you, but I like it!! You’re just right and so balanced, too. Huggs my friend. xx

    I know, Gregg, ridiculous, huh? The city already has a million from Ted Turner, I saw on Greater Boston last night, so it’ll go away pretty quickly now. Those two imbeciles are still out there being scapegoated, but hey, they’ve probably never been happier! Weird. Thanks for your great comment!

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