Thursday, February 01, 2007

Running Interference

I live in Boston's backyard. I've been hearing the buzz and fuss about the 'Aqua Teen Hunger Force' guerrilla marketing campaign snafu:
The US city of Boston was snarled in traffic jams January 31st as police investigated hoax boaxes with flashing lights placed around bridges all over the city.
Turner Broadcasting Systems had hired people to plant the strange devices around the city of Boston to market a television cartoon called "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" which has a movie coming out February 23rd.

Road and rail traffic was disrupted by the Police as they investigated the hoax and removed the boxes within emergency protocols for bomb scares. Two men alleged to have placed the boxes have been charged, and Turner Broadcast Systems apologized. Boston's mayor will pursue compensation to the city for the cost of the scare.
The media circus seems to have oscillated around this event. Most people think Bostonians have overreacted. I agree.

If this were just the work of renegade guerilla artists, it would be one thing. But this isn't quite that.

Guerrilla tactics are flourishing in the hyper-networked age. We see the guerrilla meme changing the nature of war, marketing and advertising -- even childhood. We see it in art, as a form of expression.

The magnetic lighted boards planted in Boston by Berdovsky and Stevens were a kind of guerilla art that is ultimately funded by a large entertainment conglomerate -- Turner Broadcasting. It was apparently the brainchild of Interference Marketing, Inc., engaged by Turner to promote 'Aqua Teen Hunger Force.' In the end, it was all part of a promotion created to enrich a mega-corporation that is shrewd enough to hijack the emerging guerrilla cultural meme.

A friend of mine said that this is a pathology of the wartime mentality we have assumed over five years. Indeed, these are jittery times. In some ways, there's a similarity between this event and the overreaction to Welles' War of the Worlds radio broadcast in 1938. It was the eve of another war then. People had lost their sense of humor. Who can fault them, under the circumstances?

The two men arrested for planting the devices later gave a surreal press interview for television. They made a mockery of the situation, which on some level couldn't be denied as being ridiculous. I wanted to like them and appreciate their Dada moment.

But I didn't. What troubles me is that I can't determine if Berdovsky and Stevens are renegade Dadaist artists, brilliant marketing tacticians, hapless idiots or corporate stooges.

People wag their fingers at an overreactive, jittery populace as being the villain in this situation. But really, it's hard to tell who the villain is. People living in a paranoid age acting irrationally? The pathologies created by the war on terror? Artists? Marketing? Corporate media? The guerilla mentality?

The whole bloody circus?