Turner Broadcasting, through the marketing company, Interference Inc., hired Boston based artists, Sean Stevens and Peter "Zebbler" Berdovsky to help promote the new movie Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters (2007), by asking them to place magnetic, "Lite-Brite-esque" signs of the character "Ignignokt" from the series holding up his middle finger around local "high foot traffic areas" as a form of guerrilla style advertising.
"Ignignokt" is a "Mooninite", which are pixelated, kleptomaniac beings that live in the center of the moon. "Ignignokt" has a history of flipping off earth as he and his accomplice, "Err", flee the planet.
© Turner Broadcasting
Stevens and Zebbler got paid $300 and did as they were told; placed 38-50 signs around the Boston area on bridges, overpasses, storefronts, etc. at night over two weekends. Other signs were placed in cities all over the US by other artists. All of them were up for around 2 weeks. But on the morning of January 31, 2007, when a woman in Charleston mistook one of these signs as a possible terrorist attack, it shut the whole city of Boston down.
Stevens and Zebbler had no idea that they were involved in the bomb scare happening around them until they were arrested later that day. Interference Inc. posted bail for $2,500 and the two received a lawyer.
Upon release, the press were clawing for information, crowding around the Boston court house where the artists would be leaving, but after being advised by their lawyer not to answer any questions, the two would only talk about hair.
The media would have to wait two months for answers during the court hearing in March.
In the time inbetween this and the trial, Jim Samples, a vice-president of the network resigned, saying that it was "in recognition of the gravity of the situation that occurred under my [Samples'] watch..." and "...hope that my decision allows us [the network] to put this chapter behind us and get back to our mission of delivering unrivaled original animated entertainment for consumers of all ages."
During the trail, Zebbler and Stevens were charged with "placing of a hoax device and disorderly conduct" and sentenced to 60 hours of community service; where they cleaned docks and worked in/created a mural for the children's ward at Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital.
The mural has most likely been thrown away due to the hospital relocating over the years.
Reportedly, Adult Swim paid $2,000,000 in damages to the city.
Although Boston was only one of many cities around the country to have the signs, it was the only one that had such a reaction. It is criticized that if the news didn't blur out the signs (or the "hand") during broadcasts, then the matter would not have escalated to such a degree because people would have better recegnized the character.
I asked Zebbler if he would still work with Adult Swim again if given the opportunity, he said, "Sure, why not? I actually really really love Adult Swim, especially "Off The Air" episodes. I think I would actually be a pretty good match for them, with my uber weird music videos. Send them a note! :) "
Stevens, who is now in San Franisco, and Zebbler continue to work as freelance artists.
The Banned Episode
This scare inspired an episode of the series that was never officially released called "Boston", which would have been the first episode of season 5.
In the episode, Shake, trying to auction Meatwad off on the internet, decides to try and boost Meatwad's value by taking a trip to Boston to help advertise the sale by putting Meatwad up on a highway overpass wearing a battery pack with LED lights (and "exposed wires").
There, they meet Paul Revere. Later that night, the city of Baltimore sees the night lights of Boston and thinks the entire city is a bomb. Back at home, Shake builds a giant Lite-Brite, and a bomb squad is called out. The episode ends with "Ignignokt" and "Err" dressed as terrorists in a cave on the moon watching the affair on TV.
Although it was nearly completed, only needing a few scenes to be lip-synced, animated, or have backgrounds added, it was never finished. Adult Swim pulled the plug on production due to the controversy surrounding it and the network chose never to release the episode.
"Ignignokt" and "Err" appear on the season 5 DVD packaging in their terrorist garb even though the episode was banned.
The Boston episode, got leaked in its entirety online on the 8th anniversary of the event on January 31, 2015.
Zebbler said that he "wished they actually finished it."
"It was odd to watch their half-baked ideas. Kind of disjointed and collage-like. So, I am not sure. I am kind of honored to be mentioned in this way, as a part of their show history, but they really should grow the balls and make a real episode about this. It's been 10 years. I know the president of the Cartoon Network resigned and everything over this... but come on... have some humor already. 10 years later - they should finish an actual full episode dedicated to this event. I bet a ton of people would watch it."
Sean Stevens has yet to have seen it.
The scare has become synonymous with blind hysteria from the media, and helped spark a converstation about the ways TV shows go about marketing themselves.
Edited on 2/1/17 to include Zebbler and Sean Stevens interview details/quotes, picture of officer removing sign, and info about/quote from Jim Samples (because I'm an idiot and forgot to put it in the article at first...oops).