Ashton Kutcher’s Latest Prank: Room 401, WTF

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Among the many annoyingly-addictive gimmicks J.J. Abrams has helped loose upon the world — TV show cryptograms, mysterious movie trailers, Alias — is that inescapably virulent strain of marketing known as the interactive mystery. The latest show to employ the format, albeit without Abrams’ imprimatur: MTV’s Room 401, named after the hospital room where Harry Houdini died.

The show, EP’d by Ashton Kutcher and Jason Goldberg, is a reality series that pranks unsuspecting people with terrifying (but fake) situations: Crabs scuttling Alien-like out of a man’s chest at a sushi restaurant, a man who deep-fries his hand, a rat inside an arcade game, you get the idea. The show also contains, apparently, a series of easter eggs — subliminal messages by a doo-rag wearing Kutcher, directing videos toward an online mystery.

I say “apparently” because after watching the show online, I can’t find a single “secret” message. I scrubbed back and forth, but it’s difficult to see anything with online video. Probably much more apparent on TV if it exists. Maybe, subconsciously, I just don’t want to see Ashton Kutcher. Or maybe there’s no mystery. After all, the only way I learned about this was via a NewTeeVee tipster, who pointed me to the small community hashing out the “mystery” at 401wtf.wikispaces.com.

Mystery? Hoax mystery? The latter seems more Kutcher’s style — what better way to pull a prank than to prank the audience watching the prank. Either way, the show gets publicity. And either way, I’m getting really bored with interactive marketing. Thanks J.J.

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