Five years ago today, that all changed. The Mooninites accomplished what the collective efforts of Lex Luthor, the Green Goblin, Magneto, the Joker, and Skeletor never have and probably never will because they do not exist. By merely raising their legendary middle fingers in defiant indifference to human civility, the lunar scoundrels incited a citywide catastrophe. Highways, bridges, T stations, and the Charles River shut down. Some Bostonians crumbled into quivering balls of panic-crazed goo. Many more were inconvenienced and annoyed by a delayed commute. In the end, the dastardly duo practically extorted $2 million from a major global corporation.
It was the stupidest thing that has ever happened in Boston.
Of course Ignignokt and Err – pixelated foes of the Cartoon Network’s Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1 (formerly known as the Aqua Teen Hunger Force) - would terrorize Boston on purpose, for free. The real perps, Charlestown artists Sean Stevens and Zebbler, intended solely to make 300 bucks apiece by advertising a movie.
“I think Boston was still going through the collective guilt of the 9/11 planes originating from here. I sort of understand (the big freak out)” e-mails Zebbler (whose driver’s license reads “Peter Berdovsky”).
A little more than half-a-decade ago, NYC-based marketing company Interference, Inc. hired Zebbler to promote Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters on behalf of Cartoon Network. Zebbler enlisted the aid of Stevens. Their mission: Under the shroud of night, place blinking, magnetic Mooninite mini-billboards (basically Lite-Brite portraits of Ignignokt and Err) at spots with maximum visibility to passers-by all over Boston. One night in mid-January, they tossed up about half of their gadgets and put a video of themselves doing it on the internet. Two weeks went by without anyone crapping themselves at the sight of the sparkly, villainous visages. Mooninites had been similarly floating around nine other major cities during this time without incident. On the night of January 29, Zebbler and Stevens posted the remaining half of their Mooninites.
“I enjoyed getting them up really high, in difficult-to-access places. I really like to climb, skip and jump. I am kind of a monkey by nature,” writes Zebbler. “I had a list of all the locations given to me, and as a result, I had to explore around 50 different locations all around the city. Some places were really fun, especially MIT.”
About a day later, unmitigated pop cultural and technological obliviousness brought Boston to its knees.
01-31-07 Never Forget (aka the Great Boston Bomb Scare) from Zebbler on Vimeo.
A bit before 9 am on January 31, someone alerted the authorities to an ominous object attached to a beam supporting the highway running over Sullivan Square Station. (Not necessarily an unreasonable reaction for someone who’s just been randomly flipped off by a cute little cartoon alien.) Fearing the worst, and unaware that Aqua Teen existed, police responded to this “suspicious device” with full-on bomb squad prudence. 1-93 North was closed for about an hour. Around 1 pm, more “suspicious devices” surfaced Downtown, and under the Longfellow and BU bridges, prompting more cautionary closures, as well as a hold up on boats traversing through the Charlestown River.
Zebbler saw the hullaballoo at Sullivan Square, and promptly told Interference what was happening. The guerilla marketing company told him to keep quiet, and inexplicably failed to relay the thing about their advertisements causing a bomb scare to Cartoon Network until about 3:30 pm. This was also about how long it took the BPD to figure out who the Mooninites are and why they’re nothing to worry about. Turner Broadcasting System, Cartoon Networks’ parent company, issued an apology, and Turner and Interference eventually paid a total of $2 million in damages. Nonetheless, Zebbler and Stevens were arrested that night. As soon as they posted bail, a collectively baffled global media descended upon them.
“My friends saw me on some dive bar TV set in Bolivia where they were scuba diving,” writes Zebbler.
“The surreal feeling peaked when, after my three-hour interrogation by the ‘good cop,' I walked outside and realized the whole neighborhood was swamped with media. Lights, cameras, action. The whole world and its massive media eye of Sauron was on me.”
And the eye demanded answers. What did Zebbler and Stevens think they were accomplishing by freaking so many people out? Were they trying to make the entire city look stupid? And why was everyone age 18-30 laughing their asses off?
Unlike Frodo Baggins, Zebbler and Stevens refused to appease the abyss with the ring of power it craved. Also, their lawyer advised them against discussing their situation with the press. However, during their post-release press conference, they happily agreed to discuss haircuts. Specifically, haircuts from the ‘70s. Reporters remained nonplussed.
“I just wanted to flip the mirror on the world. And the media is always so insane - obsessing with getting more fear-inducing messages to pump into people's brains to increase their ratings,” writes Zebbler.
“I didn't think there was anything to be afraid of. So I wanted to show people how ridiculous this whole thing was. I didn't want anyone to be able to find an agenda in our press conference. So I tried for the most random, apolitical thing I could think of - a genuine discussion of hairstyles in the ‘70s.”
As it turned out, Zebbler was right not to panic. Though their charges carried a maximum penalty of five years in the joint, Zebbler and Stevens got off with community service. (To pay his debt to society, Zebbler painted this totally rad mural for the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.) He’s still kind of miffed he and Stevens had to deal with a substantial hassle in court and got stuck with blemishes on their legal histories that will follow them for the rest of their lives. Meanwhile, Turner and Interference dealt with a public relations problem and wrote a couple of checks.
These days, Stevens remains in town working on various technological and art projects. Zebbler stays active as a VJ and creator of live multi-media performance art. The Zebbler Encanti Experience – his audio/visual duo rounded out by Z.E.E. Encanti - play the House of Blues on February 9.
“It could happen. The protocol is still in place. But it's much less likely now. We've been all quiet for a while,” writes Zebbler, on the likeliness of history repeating with a similar “hoax.”
“I think it's less likely to happen because advertising agencies learned a lot from this and they will not waste litigation money on a stupid campaign that could be misinterpreted. At least not without paying off the cities and police first to get permission. And private street artists just don't have money to install similar sculptures everywhere and cause a massive panic.”
FROM THE ARCHIVES: Read all of Phoenix's Mooninite Madness dispatches from the archives, including bomb-defusing burlesque, Zebbler tributes, and more