Humor, though elusive, is rarely dangerous. Most of the time, a failed joke leads to a flush face and a few eyeball rolls or, at worst, a theater stampede from the latest Will Ferrell film.
That is, until thoughtless gags elicit panic rather than laughter, as happened when a recent marketing ploy – in which small, luminous devices were placed around 10 cities, including Seattle – spun the city of Boston into gridlock and chaos. The ads were supposed to be part of an underground campaign for a television show, but were mistaken for bombs by some passersby. Beantown subways and roads were shut down for much of the day.Thankfully, no one was hurt and no other cities hit by the ad campaign flew off the handle. But that doesn’t alleviate the frets or finances expended.
The ad campaign’s defenders argue that the devices didn’t look like bombs, but that’s not the point. More vexing than how regular passersby (much less a bomb squad) could mistake a giant LiteBrite for an explosive device, is the question of how the marketers could be so woefully out of touch with the perils of today’s world. Sure, some people can’t take a joke. But some also don’t have sufficient chops to attempt them, as further evidenced by recent events at two island schools.
A week ago at Bainbridge High School, a morning bomb threat forced evacuation and the closure of school, a result met with mixed reviews by students embroiled in finals week. Ten days later, as police continued to look for the BHS culprit, came another bomb scare, this time at Woodward.
Like most sequels, few found it funny, much to the dismay of three 13-year-old girls who admitted responsibility for the hoax. You could chalk it up to childish cheekiness, but as test scores have shown, kids on Bainbridge are smart. By 13, even those who aren’t attuned to world events have likely seen enough episodes of “24” to understand the very real dangers posed by terrorism.
“They very clearly knew that what they were doing was wrong,” Deputy Police Chief Mark Duncan said of the girls, who are not being identified. “That doesn’t make them bad kids. It makes what they did a bad decision.”
True enough. But bad decisions should lead to bad consequences, lest they be repeated. It’s hard to say whether setting an example is an effective goal, particularly when kids craving attention see how much publicity stunts like this receive. But what’s the alternative? If poorly conceived humor has a place, that place is far outside the public eye, which has become far too fearful. That’s sad to admit for those who enjoy the occasional irreverent joke, but jokes about explosives have no place given the sensitive times in which we live.
None of these folks, the guerilla marketers or the island teens, are terrorists. But neither have they been studying the color wheel to keep up with government terror alerts. Otherwise they’d have stayed out of the prank business.
Fishing for laughs with threats or intimidation in an already skittish society is one way to ensure that a joke will bomb.