Today in Recent History: Laughing at the Police State

On this date ten years ago, two artsy Boston residents faced down a militarized police bomb disposal unit, who were accusing them of faux terrorism, and took the opportunity to shift a discourse dominated by paranoia into one revolving around hairstyles of the 1970s.

The United States was in a transitional period in the years following the September 11th attacks. The military industry, both at home and abroad, had found its justification for massive expansion through the impending fear of another devastating attack on civiliansbombsquad_boston by a malicious, and presumably foreign, entity.

Following a morning of alerts, warnings, and hyperbolic reactions to glorified lite-brite displays in Boston, the media prepared to depict the first public images of the mysterious humans allegedly responsible for the panic. As the youths emerged from the courthouse with a lawyer in tow and graciously opened up a press conference, it was clear that journalists had expected different personas from the “suspects”, as one perceived a failure on their part to be, “taking this seriously”.

What was most significant about the conference and the impact it would have is that the two individuals placed in the national spotlight for their mild activity defied the perception that they were supposed to be afraid. In a culture of fear, and especially in the nation with the largest prison population, the assumption was that someone facing a threat of terrorism charges should be terrified. Considering this, being terrified is the true intention of the all terrorists, both of the foreign and domestic variety. By refusing to be afraid, the two artists stemmed a rising tide of fear culture, and reminded us to laugh at the hypocritical authorities, who were the only ones actually handling dangerous explosives on that day, as police detonated all of the light displays that they had found.

It wasn’t until May that charges were dropped against the two, in exchange for an apology and community service. In the meantime, there was plenty more to laugh at in watching police responses across the nation to the incident, as Boston authorities became the punchline of jokes for other departments. A total of ten cities had similar such devices installed by street artists at the time, yet none caused the reaction as occurred in Massachusetts. Less than a month after the scare, police detonated a suspected explosive device which turned out to be a city-owned traffic counter.

Apart from taxpayers, the organization volunteering to hold itself civilly responsible for the incident, Turner Broadcasting corporation, paid millions of dollars to Boston bureaucracies as part of a settlement to avoid lawsuits. Ten years later, let us never forget the importance of not taking things too seriously.

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