It’s Been 10 Years Since the Great Mooninite Panic of 2007

Do you remember where you were?

Photo (Cropped) by Rekha Murthy on Flickr/Creative Commons

Photo (Cropped) by Rekha Murthy on Flickr/Creative Commons

Just before 9 a.m. on January 31, 2007, Boston Police Department’s bomb squad responded to a tip from an MBTA passenger who spotted an electronic device affixed to an elevated section of I-93.

“It had a very sinister appearance,” then Attorney General Martha Coakley told reporters at the time. “It had a battery behind it, and wires.”

Only hours later did police and city officials realize that the device wasn’t an IED, but one of 38 light-boards scattered across Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville by Charlestown artist and Massachusetts College of Art alum Peter Berdovsky, also known as Zebbler, as part of a guerrilla marketing campaign for Adult Swim’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The devices, essentially jimmy-rigged Lite-Brites that ran on four D-batteries, depicted Ignignokt and Err, two pixelated villains known as Mooninites with middle fingers erect.

As part of the campaign, the Mooninites appeared in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Austin, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. But only in Boston did they spark a full-blown bomb scare.

I-93 was closed for about an hour, as were the Longfellow and BU Bridges once more Mooninites were found. The Coast Guard even halted boat traffic on Charles River. “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]” Berdovsky told the dearly departed Phoenix in a 2012 retrospective.

“I just think this is outrageous, what they’ve done,” the late Mayor Tom Menino said of Turner Broadcasting, Adult Swim’s parent company. “It’s all about corporate greed.” Menino and Coakley said they only confirmed that the devices belonged to Turner after the company sent City Hall a fax at 5 p.m., eight hours after they were first reported.

Berdovsky and his co-conspirator Sean Stevens, who were paid $300 apiece by the New York-based marketing company Interference for the stunt, were arrested and faced a maximum of five years in jail. Both Turner and Interference issued statements apologizing for the panic, and the former later paid $2 million in reparations.

“It is outrageous, in a post-9/11 world, that a company would use this type of marketing scheme. I am prepared to take any and all legal action against Turner Broadcasting and its affiliates,” Menino said in a statement.

In a press conference, rather than discussing their role in the fiasco, Berdovsky and Stevens waxed philosophical about 70’s hairstyles and the history of the dreadlock. This wasn’t received well, according to the Craigslist (yes, Craiglist) commenter the Herald cited, who said they “better smarten up.”

“My friends saw me on some dive bar TV set in Bolivia where they were scuba diving,” Berdovsky said. “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.”

Berdovsky got off with community service, and painted a mural for handicapped children at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. The Mooninites, meanwhile, instantly became collectors’ items. CNN reported that a man named Jack was selling one he found outside a bar in Philly. The starting bid: $2,000.