The artists are innocent

It's the media and politicians who blew this one
By HARVEY SILVERGLATE  |  February 2, 2007

The Boston Fire Department removes a Mooninite

I have to disagree with almost everyone in the mainstream press -- and many bloggers too -- in assessing blame all around for the latest “terrorist hoax,” so-called.

It was an obvious joke, as anyone under 25 would have known in an instant.

The problem is that our entire “National Security/Anti-terrorist” establishment appears to be composed of older guys (no offense meant – I’m an older guy myself) who had no idea it was a piece of performance art touting a Cartoon Network show aimed at the young.

But by the time the anti-terrorist squad water-cannoned the first “exhibit” around 10:30 am and saw that it did not explode, why was the campaign continued until 5:30 pm?

By late morning, after all, the Blogosphere realized what it was. Why did it take the “experts” six or seven more hours, with closed subway lines and a blocked Charles River and all, to catch-on?  How safe does that make you feel?

I attach no blame (get that – NO blame at all) to the advertisers and performance artists.  After all, the same campaign in a number of other cities did not spark panic. (And, besides, the damned things were up two weeks before the first report spurred a panic. How safe does that make you feel?)

This could be seen as a serious threat only by the people to whom we have delegated the job of protecting us in the Age of Terror. From the CIA director right down to the local city or town anti-terror squad, we’re in sorry shape. Maybe watching Cartoon Network should be part of the training henceforth. Or maybe just hire a few younger folk.

When I was a young lawyer, I represented a couple of MIT students who were charged with making so-called “black boxes” which imitated the touch-tone sounds of a telephone (touch-tone was then fairly new); by using these tones, they were able to imitate the signals that allowed them to make long-distance calls without going through the phone company’s billing computer. Hence, they were able to call all over the country and the world for free. This technical achievement by smart MIT students threatened to cost the phone company a fortune. But the phone company (then AT&T, the monopoly), rather than push ahead on the prosecution, HIRED the MIT students to advise them how to counter this technical achievement. Naturally, the MIT students, having invented the problem, also invented the solution. It was one of those times that I thought that private industry was much smarter than the government. The prosecutors were urging the phone company to put the kids in jail. The phone company just wanted to protect itself – and, besides, the MIT students were not criminals, were not the enemy. They were us. The phone company hired the kids. Problem solved.

That’s my take on this whole sorry mess. I would give the perpetrator an award for performance art, and I’d send the anti-terror cops back to school. The Globe’s coverage is unreal today, right down to the breathless editorial. Emily Rooney (with whom I normally agree) last night was swooning and fainting with Tom Menino, each out-doing the other as to how awful this “hoax” was. Well, it was NOT a hoax. It was performance art.  A hoax is meant to panic people. This was meant to entertain and advertise. It worked only with the younger among us. We older folks should learn a lesson and make sure we hire some younger folks to help protect us. They at least can differentiate a real threat from art and advertising.

I’ve rarely seen such massive self-delusion and dis-placed anger. As Pogo used to say, “we have met the enemy and he is us.”

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