Art Panic in Boston!

A nation of sheep?

It seems an edgy advertising campaign for a late-night adult cartoon series caused a bomb scare of epic proportions in Boston yesterday, paralyzing the city for most of the day. Yesterday’s anti-“terror” mobilization in Boston in response to a “viral marketing” campaign for Turner Broadcasting’s “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” cuts so many different ways it’s hard to know where to start. I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. I’ve decided not to laugh in front of any authority figures, figuring that humor is nearly an arrest-able offense these days.

Electronic art figures depicting the character “Err” in light-emitting diodes, of the aforementioned cartoon, replete with a bird-flipping left hand, sent Boston’s many-headed hydra of police/anti-terror forces into overdrive. (Perhaps it was the middle finger that really set things off). The figures had been installed under bridges and overpasses, and have been in place for several weeks, unnoticed by clueless over-30’s, but accepted by 20-something’s as provocative and trendy ads, sort of guerrilla advertising. A subway worker freaked, thinking they might be bombs, and the three-ring circus ensued while the “sophisticated devices”, as was reported in the frenzied media, were located and removed.

If anyone needs a better example of what the “War on Terror” has brought us to, I’d like to see it. Here you have a security bureaucracy and a fear-indoctrinated population of consumers so on the edge of panic that an entire city is brought to its knees. Fear. That’s been the main product being offered by the government/corporate media culture for the last five years, and it’s been free of charge. Now we’re so drenched in it, we’ve lost our wits. No one had the intestinal fortitude to stand up (and thus stand out), and say “Wait a minute, this looks like a prank, at worst.”

Fear has so taken command, that the “What if” question drives everything. It’s beyond doubt that the “What if it’s really a ‘device’?” question shifted entire bureaucracies into overdrive, petrified at being held responsible should any one of these have been “I.E.D.’s” and not “L.E.D’s (harmless light-emitting diodes), which is what they were. There’s no doubt they were unusual, which was the point of the ad campaign, after all. In today’s commercial message-saturated world, the Madison Avenue contest revolves around how to best be noticed (thus the considerable energy put into shock and humor ads during the Superbowl ratings extravaganza). In today’s world, however, being unusual in one person’s eyes means being suspicious in another’s.

It’s already begun, of course. Who isn’t nervous when going through the security screenings at airports? Everyone’s quiet, and no one wants to “look suspicious”. Who doesn’t dread border crossings, especially when returning to the U.S. from overseas, sweating while the cheery officer looks up your computer file to decide if you need a little more scrutiny in a closed room? How soon will there be routine checkpoints at state borders? Or roving checkpoints at random? “Driving While Black” is already a crime to many law enforcement personnel.

We can take this even further, of course. The hodge-podge swarm of “security” forces, increasingly militarized into S.W.A.T.-style special ops units, will be asking the “What if” question more and more as the generalized panic gets hard-wired into the culture. They will increasingly answer that question with an itchy finger on a trigger, and opt to “play it safe” by the ever-so-slight pressure needed. After all, no police officer would want to be held responsible for letting a real bad guy go, and the unfortunate collateral damage (you and I) will be seen as by-products of the campaign to keep us all “safe”.

A nation of sheep, indeed. Boston’s security panic yesterday should be a lesson as to what’s coming, while our Constitution is being whittled away by a national security state apparatus run amok and its willing army of politicians, pundits and media models all chattering up a deafening cacophony boiling down to one thing: “be afraid”. We citizens should be ashamed and embarrassed at participating in this shallow circus, with such potentially deadly consequences. Are we?

WINSTON WARFIELD is member of Veterans for Peace. He lives in Boston.