Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Road to Serfdom is Paved with Lite-Brite Cartoon Characters Flipping the Bird.

In case you have not already heard, some performance artists in Boston have caused a commotion because they put up some advertisements that resemble Lite-Brite images of a cartoon character from the Cartoon Network show Aqua Teen Hunger Force. A movie based on the television show will be coming out soon. Here is a video showing the ads (which attach magnetically and depict the character Ignignokt displaying a rude hand gesture) being hung around Boston (they were hung in other cities as well, as it turns out).

The ads were spotted by some concerned citizen, who did not know what they were, and reported to the police as possible dangerous devices planted by terrorists. The police then proceeded to go around the city blowing them up, alerting the press to a terrorist threat, and generally causing widespread panic.

The two performance artists have been arrested and charged. In the following clip they hold a press conference--sort of--and refuse to take the charges seriously. Having been advised by their lawyer not to answer questions about the charges (which is the usual advice given by lawyers in these situations), the artists announce that they will answer questions regarding hair in the 1970s.

Some people--particularly the press in that video--are upset that they are not taking the charges seriously. Others are upset with them (and with Turner Broadcasting Systems, which owns Cartoon Network) for causing this panic. A crazed commenter in Reason's Hit and Run blog says that Turner has essentially shouted "fire" in a crowded theater.

My reaction is "To hell with them." The press, the Boston Police, and the overreacting public should all be embarassed and ashamed. It is they who were causing a panic, not Turner or these artists. The artists are giving these charges exactly the degree of respect and serious consideration that they deserve: none. This is a farce. The problem is that the television press benefits from the ratings that panics bring, and a crisis is the most effective method for governments to promote their most important goal: getting, keeping, and using power. Hopefully the artists will benefit from turning this situation on its head by mocking it.

We cannot afford to live in a society in which everyone is constantly concerned about doing anything that any person could possibly interpret as being suspicious. Should all ad campaigns be submitted to several government agencies for approval from now on? Should they be publicly announced and explained so that everyone knows what is an ad campaign and what is not? What about other activities that could possibly be interpreted as terroristic threats? If I leave my satchel at my table when I get up to get a drink refill at the cafeteria, should the bombsquad be called in?

I find it refreshing that someone has the courage to laugh at the absurdity of the reporters and the government. I suspect that most people, unfortunately, will not get the joke.

As usual, Reason Magazine has a better take on this story.