This week’s invasion of the lite-brite bombs has become something of a national hullabaloo, with many differing viewpoints.

Cartoonist August J. Pollak had this to say:

1. Attorney General Martha Coakley needs to shut up and stop using the word “hoax.” There was no hoax. Hoax implies Turner Networks and the ATHF people were trying to defraud or confuse people as to what they were doing. Hoax implies they were trying to make their signs look like bombs. They weren’t. They made Lite-Brite signs of a cartoon character giving the finger.

2. It bears repeating again that Turner, and especially Berdovsky, did absolutely nothing illegal. The devices were not bombs. They did not look like bombs. They were all placed in public spaces and caused no obstruction to traffic or commerce. At most, Berdovsky is guilty of littering or illegal flyering.

3. The “devices” were placed in ten cities, and have been there for over two weeks. No other city managed to freak out and commit an entire platoon of police officers to scaring their own city claiming they might be bombs. No other mayor agreed to talk to Fox News with any statement beyond “no comment” when spending the day asking if this was a “terrorist dry run.”

4. There is nothing, not a single thing, remotely suggesting that Turner or the guerilla marketing firm they hired intended to cause a public disturbance. Many have claimed the signs were “like saying ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.” Wrong. This was like taping a picture of a fire to the wall of a theater and someone freaked out and called the fire department.

5. The FCC can’t pull a private cable network’s license, Mayor Hyperbole McFuckwit.

OTOH, cartooner Colleen Doran, who grew up in a household so hardcore they used defused bombs as doorstops had this to say:

Since my dad spent many years working in bomb disposal, I don’t think this is funny. A resident claimed she didn’t believe the threat must be serious since she saw a bomb disposal technician handling the device with his bare hands. I got news for you lady. Not only do they sometimes handle those devices with their bare hands, my dad used to bring them home.

What a prankster dad was. Incidentally, the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators just had their annual meeting right here in Virginia. Only about 29 people showed up. I assume the others were all dead, missing limbs, or busy dealing with jihadis who claim they are blowing people up for the love of Allah.

The other morning I had to go to midtown for a meeting at a big office building owned by a big corporation. I don’t do this very often, and I’d forgotten that here in NYC when you go into a big office building owned by a big corporation you have to pull out your ID, get a pass, go through some kind of turnstile, sign in and out and in general account for your whereabouts. The big office building wasn’t far from the one that houses DC, where I used to work. On September 10th 2001, there were two entrances to this building, one on Broadway and one on 53rd Street. After 9/11 the side entrance on Broadway got closed. I rarely go uptown, but a few months ago I was up there to meet someone. As I was going there I wondered if five years later, that door would be open, or if, like all those mystery doors you see in the subway or a pyramid, it was still closed.

Still closed. Maybe it’s closed forever and ever. Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of a world where going in the side door is dangerous, but I guess we’ll have to muddle through somehow.
[Pollak link via Kos.]

Update: Here’s a link to a “breaking news” story that shows how the “threat” emerged on live TV. Pretty hilarious (or infuriating) in hindsight.


  1. That is all true, but those signs did cause a disruption to a city’s life. I think people should boycott ATHF until Turner apologizes for it and promises never to do a stunt like that again. The best thing people can do against a TV network to make a point is to not watch it.

  2. I would describe this as a bad idea perpetrated with no malice, followed by a pretty understandable overreaction. Everyone needs to calm down.

  3. Doran’s feelings are understandable but obviously biased.
    The signs were NOT intended to create a bomb scare, and were in place for several weeks before the doofuses in Boston OVER REACTED. (Even in all caps, that’s a huge understatement.)
    It reminds me of people who are enraged when they see or hear criticism of Wal-mart’s destructive and immoral business practices just because someone they know works there.
    If the pictures of the (very brave) Boston bomb defusers delicately handling light brites that are flipping them off isn’t funny (and surreal) I don’t know what is.
    Turner should just pay the damn costs of the scare and move on. And these guerilla marketing guys (who were MORE than ready for their 15 minutes yesterday) should certainly not be prosecuted for anything more serious than a misdemeanor. I’m pretty damn sure these guys were asked to take the fall by some suits in Atlanta that by now have hopefully had the ATF and FBI raking THEM over the coals.
    Yeah, Turner should be happy to pay that half-million. This whole mess has bought the ATHF characters (and the upcoming movie) more public awareness than several million dollars of conventional advertising.

  4. I have to say I was a bit put off by Doran’s remarks regarding the marketing scheme. To me it wreaks of a certain kind of ignorance. Can you honestly tell me that someone who has grown up with a house full of bomb parts can’t tell the difference between an explosive device and LED technology? I didn’t grow up in a house where disabled bombs were used as doorstops and I can easily recognize LED technology. So can most people who have ever played with a light bright. Did the guerrilla marketers cause a disturbance? Yes. Was there reason to investigate said disturbance? Yes, definately. But I can’t help but feel that a decision like shutting down huge chunks of a major city stem from an irrational paranoia rather than concise logic.

    It’s similar to a situation when South American psychedelic rock band Reynols was barred from entrance to the United States, thus reneging on their contractual agreements to perform music, simply because they had some home made electronic instruments. Granted, this is all very suspicious behavior to people who are unfamiliar with homemade electronic devices, but are you telling me that an airport doesn’t employ electricians on staff who could have opened up the metal casing, taken one look at the circuit board, and say “No, there is not potentially explosive parts in here.”

    Coverage of the Mooninite advertisements strategically placed in other cities has been all over the internet. Over at the MAKE Blog, there were articles on how to make your own Mooninite LED signs. LED graffiti has proven an effective alternative for guerrilla street artists to the permanent spray painting of buildings. Here in NYC, there are plenty of restaurants and business that use LED technology in and around their buildings to create ambiance for their client el. These geurrilla marketers are not the first people to use LED technology in a public space.

  5. The best part about this whole deal was the press conference where a city official was told that Turner Broadcasting has already come out and admitted that they put up the LEDs. Boston’s response: We’re still looking into that and some other leads.
    At that point, it was clear that all fault should be laid on the Boston City officials.

  6. Everything August J. Pollak said was right. A few weeks ago, 63 birds turned up dead in downtown Austin. The city shut down downtown for hours (costing downtown businesses an estimated 1 million dollars), called in guys in space suits, and sprayed everything down with some sort of chemical, “just to be safe.” Meanwhile, 5 feet away from the men in space suits spraying chemicals, a bike cop (in bike shorts, and short sleeved shirt), sat at a barricade and slowly ate his sandwich. I think it was tuna fish. What a great clip on the evening news!

    I understand in a post-9/11 world we must remain vigilant to possible threats or danger. When someone saw the signs in Boston, they were right to think, “What if?” and call the police. But to shut down a city for hours while hundreds of officers run around screaming “DANGER!” is just ridiculous. They should have checked the signs, realized they weren’t dangerous, and issued a statement saying, “It’s OK, people.” Takes maybe 30-45 minutes. Tops. I imagine Boston was sitting on millions of Homeland Security dollars, and thought, “Hey, we’ll never get a chance like this again, let’s go CRAZY!!!!! Let’s show everyone we know what to do!!!!! Maybe we’ll get more money out of this deal!!!!!”

    Oh, and by the way, after extensive testing, the 63 dead birds were done in by the cold weather. Do they make a chemical to spray for that?

  7. There’s much more wrong with this situation than can be said in a few sound bites, which is what everyone involved is trying to do — whether to apologize, explain or backtrack. I personally don’t know that terrorists have much of a sense of humor (sorry, Kaczynski!) to include a figure flipping its victims. I think there might be something of a generational disconnect — about a 20th century v. a 21st century mentality. I’m thinking some of those involved could not make out the icon and saw something threatening and terrifying. Rather than malign their ignorance, I feel sad.

  8. Hi Tonio,

    I never said that a bomb disposal expert couldn’t recognize a litebright when he saw it, but a litebrite could be used as part of a bomb. In fact, my dad once got a call out for a bomb disguised as an Airwick.

    Bombs can look like anything, including toys. Or shoes.

    The police have a legal obligation to handle every call as a serious call. They got a complaint and the police did their jobs.

    What was stupid was placing one of those things on a bridge. Boston does have laws against placing advertising in public places without a permit. If the advertisers had gotten permits and informed city officials, this might never have happened.

    And no, Tom, I can’t recognize what is BEHIND the panel with the cartoon LED on it any more than you can. It would have been simplicity itself to place a small plasticene explosive behind the LED. The LED batteries could have set it off when the litebright was moved.

    That’s how the cops are going to handle it, anyway.

    If you are disappointed with that news, well there it is.

    And nowhere did I say anyone INTENDED to create a bomb scare. If you read my post and comments, I specifically stated that I did NOT believe the advertisers meant to scare people. Someone got scared nonetheless, a complaint was filed, and there you have it.

    If my words can be this easily misconstrued on a message board, imagine how easy it is to misconstrue the intent of a lighted object on the underside of a bridge seen by a motorist traveling at 55 miles per hour.

  9. > I think people should boycott ATHF until Turner apologizes for it and
    > promises never to do a stunt like that again.

    They did, there was a long apology before every Adult Swim show that night.

    And, of course, all this means that the guerilla marketing was probably way more successful than they originally thought, and is probably a huge boost for their upcoming movie…

  10. rolando said…

    Oh, and by the way, after extensive testing, the 63 dead birds were done in by the cold weather. Do they make a chemical to spray for that?

    Actually, they were killed by the combination of cold weather and stomach parasites. Don’t forget that charming detail.

    Anyway, this whole thing has been — at least for me — sublimely hilarious and a telling commentary on post-9/11 paranoia. Colleen certainly has a point, and I wouldn’t say that the guerrilla marketers thought things through terribly well, but nonetheless there was a pretty clear overreaction here. Even though the lite-brites theoretically could have been bombs it seems like a real stretch that any terrorist would disguise their explosives as Cartoon Network characters, and it seems odd that there was such a culture gap in officials’ response that nobody was able to identify the Mooninites. Yeah, it’s a cult show, but I expected someone would have connected the dots.

    At any rate, it all seems a big misunderstanding for me, and I don’t think Turner — and the young men who conducted the campaign — should have to pay with anything more than an apology. More than any other party, it’s the media I’m disappointed with on this one. The continuing tendency to call the ads a hoax or a prank shows a shocking disregard for language, and how so many copy editors have let it slide is beyond me.

  11. I find it funny that the national press didn;t take note of the fact that a day or so later, Boston PD busted a guy for making fake pipe bombs. Wonder why he’s not on Fox. Maybe because he’s not a “hippie”?

  12. “those signs did cause a disruption to a city’s life. I think people should boycott ATHF until Turner apologizes for it and promises never to do a stunt like that again. The best thing people can do against a TV network to make a point is to not watch it. ”

    Why should anyone boycott a TV show because some concerned citizen freaked out over an advertisement?

    No crime was committed, and no charges or fines should result from this other than potential fines for misplacement of ads (such as with the bridge, but I have no idea whether there are laws restricting where a person can put up a flier). Turner shouldn’t even have to apologize. If it were me, I would say “I’m sorry that you’re stupid” (directed at whoever called in the potential bomb threat).

    I’m also not going to slam the Boston PD for doing their job. Whether it’s real or not, bomb threats and potential bombs are always treated as real until conclusively proven otherwise. It’s unfortunate that it supposedly cost them a lot of money, but that happens sometimes.

    I don’t really think a person placing a bomb is going to place a lighted cartoon character on the front (and as I write this, some nutjob is doing exactly that) because usually bombs are intended to remain hidden until they explode producing the desired effect–death and destruction. A lit up cartoon character would likely draw attention.

    My only reaction to this marketing push is now I want a light-up mooninite sign for myself.

  13. I live in new york. I don’t much watch the show anymore, but if i saw the ads I would have laughed. This was a funny way to advvertise the movie/show. I think Colbert had a funny spoof of the overattention this has gotten from the media.