Topic: Business & Commercial

Sinister Signs in the Cartoon Caper
(2/2/2007)

The line between wantonly unethical and dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks can be nearly imperceptible. So it seems with the Cartoon Network marketers who decided to place mysterious blinking devices underneath bridges and on elevated subway tracks in Boston as a promotion for an odd cartoon program about a talking milkshake and his friend, the talking box of French fries. Is it possible that nobody bothered to tell the people at Turner Entertainment, who paid for the stunt, that people are juuust a little nervous about being blown up these days? Are they really that dumb, or was there something darker afoot?

The strange one-foot tall blinking signs, which had wires coming out of them, managed to cause a near-panic in Boston and shut down parts of the city. The two self-described "artists" who had been hired to design and plant the things were arrested, and they mocked the city and its occupants for "over-reacting." Turner Broadcasting, which authorized the astoundingly irresponsible stunt, has apologized to the city, but some suspect that the architects of the promotional campaign are delighted with the publicity the fiasco brought to "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." Some even believe that the marketers were hoping to cause a panic, guaranteeing that the hitherto obscure show would find itself on front pages, as it indeed did. Why else were the devices placed primarily in locales that would be likely terrorism targets? And wasn't Interference Inc., the company that peddled the idea to Turner, one of Brandweek Magazine's "Guerrilla Marketers of the Year"?

The target audience for the cartoon show also suggests that this may not have been a stupid stunt gone wrong, but rather an unethical stunt that was wildly successful. "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" is part of the Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" series, which is especially popular with Gen Xers and Michael Moore worshippers who have somehow concluded, like Moore, that 9/11 is, like, soooo last week, and what was all the fuss about, really? Less than 3000 people dead? Don't have a cow, man…we're killing more people than that with pollution, cigarettes and fast fossil fuel-powered cars! Boston Globe columnist Steve Bailey quoted a like-minded e-mail to his paper that praised the gimmick and asserted that the panic "over nothing" perfectly described the show's point of view and why its audience is so contemptuous of mainstream society. Bailey also observed that the $750,000 likely to be paid by Turner's parent, Time-Warner, is a bargain price for all the publicity.

Hmmmmm.

This is worthy of investigation…far more worthy, for example, than the endless and confusing inquiry into whether Scooter Libby or Dick Cheney lied about being the first ones to let the media know that Valerie Plame was a CIA operative when she might not really have been an undercover operative and anyway had apparently crossed the line by suggesting her husband go on a mission to confirm the doubts of anti-Bush administration staff in the CIA about pre-Iraq war intelligence…oh, who cares? Everyone involved in the Plame affair from President Bush to Bob Woodward to Joe Wilson to both parties to the media behaved miserably in this essentially political mess from the beginning, and there's nothing more to be said. The Cartoon Caper, however, has more sinister and far reaching implications. As the media increasingly turns those responsible for outrageous conduct into celebrities, making stars out of the seedy likes of Anna Nicole Smith, Brad Pitt, Nicole Richie, Howard Stern, Terrell Owens, Al Sharpton, and Kevin Federline, American society finds itself moving toward a nightmare culture where bad conduct doesn't result in shame, shunning and rejection, but fame, wealth and success. In such a culture, sociopaths will bloom like dandelions, and it will be ethical conduct that is derided as the practice of losers and suckers. And American corporations, with their built-in tendency to go where the money is, will lead the way.

The only course that will prevent such a fate is to make certain that corporations do not profit from contemptible attention-getting ploys like the one that shut-down Boston. If the execs at Turner and the Cartoon Network really were unethical rather than Forrest Gump stupid, then they tried to cause a public panic for financial gain. That's unethical, all right, and it is also illegal. There have to be some documents or e-mails somewhere that can confirm if this is true, and if it is, some expensive suits deserve some hard time.

We don't want to live in a world where being unethical works.

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