The strange events which transpired last week in Boston got me thinking of many things. I of course am speaking of the two young performance artists who distributed small boxes containing electronic images of cartoon figures from the late-night cartoon show "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" throughout the city of John Adams. The police mistook the boxes for terrorist bombs, and after several arrests and an odd press conference in which the two twenty-something culprits who put up the boxes were appropriately "ironic," the television network responsible for the promotion campaign agreed to pay the city of Boston two million dollars to compensate for the money spent on police overtime.
Now, for that same two million dollars the Turner Network (the network in question) could have purchased approximately forty seconds of ad time during the recent Super Bowl, an ad that would have been forgotten on the following Monday. Instead they spent two million dollars on an underground stunt, and the story of their inane cartoon show has dominated the national news for three straight days. Every fat, thirty-year old fan boy who lives in his parents' basement now knows about "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." (I know there are tens of millions of young Americans who fall into that demographic, for I write science-fiction, and if it were not for overweight male virgins who still live at home and have never had a real job because they are on their computers nine hours a day not a single sci-fi novel would ever get purchased.) Now is the time to buy Turner, because their stock is going to rise.
But what really interested me about this story was the fact that none of the authorities in Boston recognized the characters on the electronic boxes before they were told the devices were part of a promotion. (To tell the truth, I had never heard of the cartoon show either.) All of the educated, worldly adults running a modern city that is bull's roar away from Dogpatch were completely ignorant of a large portion of contemporary youth culture. As an aging baby-boomer, I can assure the youth of today that this was not the case forty years ago. My elders knew about the Rolling Stones and underground comic books like those drawn by R. Crumb because they had seen articles in "Look" and "Life" on what the kids were doing. Dick Cavett interviewed Tim Leary and John Lennon on broadcast TV. Heck, Ed Sullivan had the Stones and everybody else who was anybody on his Sunday night show, right after Steve and Eddie and the Italian puppet Popogigio. My elders--I was raised by my grandparents--of course disapproved of the counterculture I and my teenage friends sampled, but they nonetheless were aware of it. Today, popular culture changes so quickly and there is so much of it and it has such a vast array of outlets no one can know it all, and one can know a part of it really well only if he devotes a major portion of his life to absorbing that particular genre. All of us live at the same time, yet we live in different cultures, indeed in different civilizations, and we hold less and less in common with each passing year.