Take Me Away From Your Leader

Curator's Note

The Mooninites—a proud race of two-dimensional assholes sporadically compelled to visit New Jersey and instruct a young wad of meat in the sacraments of adolescent deviancy. Through the liturgical conventions of invasion sci-fi, domestic sitcoms, and primitive gaming technologies, Ignignot and Ur draw their impressionable ward into the world of smoking, drinking, shoplifting, pornography, arson, and the precise comic timing of bird flipping. Distributed as lite-brite totems across nine American cities, the image of Ignignot in full-flip mode apparently caused some Bostonians (one? Ten? A hundred?) to hallucinate a cross-over episode with that other great TV series—The War on Terror. Calls were made. Resources deployed. Ignignots defused. All leading to the arrest of Sean Stevens and Peter Berdovsky, hipster ad-reps for Turner Broadcasting who took it upon themselves to engage in a little journalistic bird-flipping of their own (“They’re performance artists,” explains their lawyer somewhat awkwardly). Sure, it would be nice if these guys “hair of the seventies” shtick had been a bit more clever. But then again, imagine the courage it must take to stare down one of our nation’s most stupid yet profoundly solemn social rituals—the wholly meaningless press conference. “You don’t seem to be taking this seriously,” shouts an irritated vector of Newscorp. Taking what seriously, exactly? That a network eager to put O.J. back on the air is now stoking “outrage” over their Meatwadic audience’s inability to decipher symbols from an adjacent cable empire? Truly, we now live in wholly separate media worlds. And beyond the hour or two of targeted product beamed our way to sell our particular demo to advertisers, one of “broadcast” television’s few remaining pleasures are these sadly all-too-rare skirmishes of hilarious mistrust and misrecognition. And in the end, isn’t it fitting that a fake war sold on strategic marketing would boomerang into a fake panic over marketing itself? If nothing else, Stevens and Berdovsky have demonstrated that “guerilla marketing” and “guerilla warfare” are now wholly indistinguishable. They’re no Andy Kaufmans you might say…Still, let’s give them an “A” for effort in reminding us that a hundred birds flipped through the studio window at Fox and Friends would be worth far more politically than a hundred votes in the next election cycle.


By Anonymous

I was just at another institution where I received not one, but two questions about what I thought the Daily Show, Blogging, etc. and how some scholars have professed that it is building a "cynicism" about the news. My own feeling is that the collective and clueless cheer leading that NBC, CBS, Fox, ABC and even PBS participated in from late 2001 to early 2003 was to blame for many of us being cynical of the news. And given that the best critique of the Bush Administration's attempt to control the terms of pre-war debate came when The Daily Show noted that Powell's second presentation to the UN in 2003 was as the biggest letdown by a sequel since Ghostbusters 2, I think that the news staffers should hire a few humorists as researchers: they seem to at least be skeptical and have a clue or two. Which brings me back to the topic at hand: humor, the news, and what happens when reporters don't get it because their idea of research is, all too often, reading the latest press release which has been faxed to them. In short, this latest "scare" elicited the backlash from the likes of Fox and Friends because these staffs and reporters have simply given up any form of critical thinking. To be an educated member of society and NOT know that this was something of a joke, both in form and content, simply screams of a collective cluelessness, the kind of which should get entire organizations fired. Yes, police were concerned and, yes, it did shut down transport, but why not question the police? Didn't they have a clue or someone on staff that would have noticed that lite-brites do not equal terror? Why not grill them rather two 20 somethings with bad hair? To make these guys out as villains while less than 48 months ago we had the likes of Tony Snow telling us what brands of duct tape and garbage bags we should have stocked just in case the baddies attacked is hypocrisy to the Nth degree.

When I first heard this press conference I was thoroughly entertained by what these two decided to do. Like Jeffrey said these guys definitely get an 'A' for effort. What I want to know is when is the media itself going to hold a press conference about this event, to the extent that I would argue on some level the Boston area converge of the "crisis" was more at fault for the reaction than either of these two, especially FOX. As the "crisis" was unfolding FOX continued to interview people who talked about how frightened they were, rather than explicate that there was no crisis. Given this media framing, what can one do except respond with humor. The most interesting part of the press response here comes with about a minute left in the video (interestingly enough this part is absent from News source footage-not the Youtube video-the major networks cut away before this part) when a reporter says they are doing nothing to gain sympathy from the press or the public. Why separate these two in the question? and more importantly why is the press first, as if the press is the one that determines sympathy and tells the public what to feel? Given these parameters it seems as if humor is probably the only response, the way to say, "I don't accept your rules, lets play by different ones." But then again what good did it do as Turner agreed to pay $2 million today to settle the case?

As a partner in a "guerilla" marketing firm (and media scholar) I can tell you that the fallout from this campaign has been swift and conventional. Long-time clients are now asking for assurances in the wake of the "Boston incident." They might be better off considering some of the risks associated with more traditional media channels. Guerilla marketing at its best acquires extra value through free media, and these folks in the press corp are usually too willing to play along (what else do the have to talk about? Health care? Bloodshed? Been there; done that.) What happens with this bit of theatre extends but also distorts the usual news cycle. What the press is really grumbling about, of course, is that they are being exposed as players in the drama, rather than their accustomed narrator role. What the 'guerillas' know, is that the viral media demand this kind of performance for high rankings and extended webplay. The two part strategy, first get the mainstream news media to manufacture a crisis, then use the press conference to extend the meme online, is a classic. Note how one reporter scolds that the campaign cost Boston "over a million dollars." Why the overreaction? While marketers should be wary of tactics that really endanger citizens, this stunt clearly distinguishes the sirens of panic from the innocuous, even banal "hair" jesters.

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