Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Advertising paraphernalia: threat or menace?

Posted by metaphorical on 3 February 2007

For those who responded to it, professionals, it had a very sinister appearance. It had a battery behind it and wires. — Massachussetts Attorney General Martha Coakley

The winner this week of the award for Best Hyperbole In An Orwellian Language is Massachussetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. In calling the advertising paraphernalia that was hung around Boston “hoax devices” she presumes most of the case she needs to make before a jury. Because let’s be clear about this: if the fellows in question did anything illegal, it was on the order of hanging up signs on lampposts asking if anyone had seen their missing cat.

If you somehow missed the sight this week of the Boston police department doing a citywide imitation of the Keystone Kops, as they frantically looked for terrifying ad-campaign devices even after they were known to be harmless, the basic facts can be found in any wire service version of the story.

Boston — Several illuminated electronic devices planted at bridges and other spots in Boston threw a scare into the city Wednesday in what turned out to be a publicity campaign for a late-night cable cartoon. Most if not all of the devices depict a character giving the finger.

Peter Berdovsky, 29, of Arlington, was arrested on one felony charge of placing a hoax device and one charge of disorderly conduct, state Attorney General Martha Coakley said later Wednesday. He had been hired to place the devices, she said.

A second man has since been charged as well.

Others can debate the level of irresponsibility on the part of Turner Broadcasting, the advertising firm, and the freelance contractors who actually placed the signs. What’s important to watch is the way language is being twisted to suit the aims of the mayor, the police, and the attorney general, who themselves have quite a bit to answer for, as it was their overreaction, not the placing of the devices, that virtually shut down a major city this week.

By using the phrase “placing a hoax device,” Coakley imports to the case the idea that those involved intended to place devices that would look like bombs, and, presumably, therefore intended to create the chaos that ensued.

That’s in fact exactly what they didn’t do. They hung the same device in a number of locations in 10 cities around the U.S. “Only Beantown went berserk,” to quote a blog in the online Cape Cod Today.

As the AP noted in a different story:

In nine cities across the country, blinking electronic signs displaying a profane, boxy-looking cartoon character caused barely a stir.

But in Boston, the signs – some with protruding wires – sent a wave of panic across the city, bringing out bomb squads and prompting officials to shut down highways, bridges and part of the Charles River.

Even the Boston Globe, which has a little bit of answering to do, given the way it has provided an echo chamber to the authorities’ Orwellian circumlocutions, acknowledged that in no other city were there bomb scares.

In Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle, police said they were not collecting the devices.

In Seattle, the first device was found Tuesday by a public works crew working on a railroad trestle, Woodinville Police Chief John McSwain told the Associated Press.

“Public works found it and took it down and didn’t even bother to call us,” because the device didn’t appear to be threatening, he said.

(Here’s what a bomb looks like, and here’s what a bomb doesn’t look like.)

Attorney General Coakley defended herself by upping the hyperbole ante. (I’m reminded of my favorite headline ever in my generation’s version of The Onion, the National Lampoon: “Pornography: Threat or Menace?”) As Cape Cod Today put it, in a story entitled “Sorry Boston – you’re the joke, and worldwide at that”:

What seemed to be a possible national emergency turned out to be just the tenth city visited by these same merry pranksters.

What is ludicrous is that a “terror emergency” continued after it must have been obvious to those who found and deactivated the first one early in the day that it was just a hoax.

However, “Madame La Farge” Coakley told us of the government’s expert appraisal of the dire situation. As she said on CNN, “It had a very sinister appearance. It had a battery behind it, and wires.” Wow, just like your i-Pod, Martha.

Thanks to Peter “Dangrsmind” for the image links, and to Jim Youll for pointing out the misuse of the word “hoax.”

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2 Responses to “Advertising paraphernalia: threat or menace?”

  1. How did they shut down part of the Charles River?

  2. I think what’s meant is the river traffic, not the molocules of water. What, besides sculling crews, that includes, I can’t say. If it were the Harlem or East Rivers, there would at least be garbage barges and tour boats.

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