Greetings. Sometimes a media situation unfolds where everyone involved ends up looking somewhat silly, naive, stupid, or some combination of these attributes.
Such is the case in Boston, where authorities called out the troops and shut down parts of the city to collect small flashing animated character signs that had been planted around town as part of an insipid Cartoon Network PR campaign.
The signs had apparently been in place in Boston for weeks and were documented on a Web site. Other cities around the country also hosted similar signs from the campaign, but only in Boston did authorities trigger the heavy artillery.
There seems to be blame to go around on this one. Clearly the PR campaign itself was seriously misguided to say the very least, given the hair-trigger sensibilities of law enforcement these days, and their now standard proclivity to calling anything with wires and a battery a "bomb-like device" of one sort or another.
Stupid, stupid move, Cartoon Network. You got your publicity, and the show will get its bump to be sure, but "irresponsible" doesn't begin to explore the underpinnings of your actions.
Still, one must ask why it took weeks for the alarmed reaction in Boston to take hold in this case, and why other cities didn't respond the same way? Did Boston authorities perhaps overreact a bit, and now -- perhaps feeling somewhat sheepish -- consider it necessary to justify their singular response among all affected cities by inflating the situation somewhat out of proportion?
Reactions of this kind are unfortunately understandable, but to a significant extent they're not always for our benefit. Government officials at all levels have fostered an environment of panic throughout the country for years -- validating the goals of real terrorists to create an environment where we'd willingly destroy our own freedoms and way of life.
Abandoned suitcases or spilled soap powder evoke major evacuations, and while genuine concern for public safety is admirable, one can't help but suspect that a certain amount of self-promoting grandstanding is also playing a role in some of these reactions.
A little more common sense all around would serve everyone well in these kinds of situations. There's absolutely no excuse for the Cartoon Network campaign's actions, but authorities in Boston could have (and still can) use a bit more logic and a dash less testosterone when evaluating such circumstances.
There are genuine threats out there. Public safety is a paramount concern. But let's not turn our country into a bastion of fear, either. To do so would be to hand victory not only to real terrorists but to evil in general. We can do better.
Blog Update (February 2, 2007): Reactions to "Stupidity Meets Overreaction in Beantown Bomb Scare"