The Great Balloon Hoax & And Our Obsession With Fame
It seems that I’m one of the few Americans who can both proudly and truthfully proclaim that I am not, nor have I ever been a fan of what’s come to be called—ridiculously I believe—“reality television.” After about a decade of being over served on a steady diet of this crap, I would have thought that by now most other Americans would have yanked of their collective bibs out of near-bursting, thrown up their hands in surrender, and moaned, “No more...I’m full!” However, not only do Americans continue to gorge themselves on these intellectual nutrient deficient “depictions” of [the] daily life of our fellow Americans, but a great many of us ourselves are chomping at the bit to jump on the bandwagon of instant celebrity-for-no-reason…often at the expense of reason itself. The events of last week illustrate the lengths that people will go through to achieve empty notoriety.
Last Friday, millions of us—myself included—watched live breaking news of a runaway experimental hot air balloon flying out-of-control over Colorado, supposedly with a 6 year-old boy trapped inside its basket. For what seemed many long hours, Americans were glued to their television sets, no doubt praying that somehow, the dozens of mobilized law enforcement and other emergency personnel would find a way to end the saga with a happy outcome.
After a time, the balloon had finally descended on it own in an empty field after slowly losing air during its flight. Cameras then recorded emergency officials rushing secure and search the downed balloon for the little boy who had been reported to have been on trapped aboard; the televised search yielded nothing. There was an initial suspicion that the little boy may have even fallen out of the balloon as it traveled across the skies of the RockyMountain state, which thankfully turned out to have been untrue. Later, it was discovered that the 6 year-old was “hiding” in the house of his parents, who the ones who called authorities to report the incident. A happy ending?
Almost immediately following the conclusion of the televised adventure, there was the usual media blitz following a newsworthy incident of this magnitude. As the boy and his family were interviewed on the various network news broadcasts, it soon came to light that the father of the boy, Richard Heene, a would-be scientist and past reality television “celebrity” had talked of aspirations of having a reality show centering on the family. Over weekend, inconsistencies revealed during the initial reporting of the incident, subsequent investigation of the report’s validity following the boy’s safe “discovery,” and the pitfalls of unrehearsed live interviews began to point to the distinct possibility (and high probability) that the entire incident was staged by the parents as a publicity stunt to—what else—showcase the family for a possible reality television show.
Clearly, the sheriffs department of Larimer County, Colorado, which supplied much of the resources to secure the boy’s safe recovery during the now-revealed hoax, was not amused…it is preparing to file felony charges against the family in the case. In fact, Sheriff Jim Alderdan is also reported to be talking with federal authorities in an effort to add possible federal charges the impending state charged the Heenes are facing.
Aside from asking What the **** were you thinking, the Balloon Hoax as its now being called, should force us as Americans to ask ourselves why do we go to such lengths to achieve fame, or infamy as the case may be? Why are so many of us obsessed with the desire to rise above the din of the otherwise anonymous masses and stand out, even when we have no special abilities or talents which make us stand out otherwise? What makes Omarosa Manigualt-Stallworth, Nicole Ritchie, and Paris Hilton so special (ok, Hilton is an heiress to a large familiar-name fortune, but otherwise, what?)? From what I’ve seen, all it takes to be a “celebrity” is a fondness for making a spectacle of oneself, the ability to exploit others, and a lack of self respect…all demonstrated in the Balloon Hoax. And these are attributes which I can see exhibited by my fellow Americans without having to resort to watching the idiot box…so appropriately nicknamed given the abundance of such programming.
Even sadder is the fact that Americans, most of whom pay for television programming via cable and satellite services, do not seem at all insulted by the lack of quality and substantive entertainment value of such programming, which has taken different many forms. There is no acting (as such), no colorful writing, no elaborately-designed sets which indicate production effort and a desire to take our minds to different places and times. Yet, for some insane reason a great many of us as Americans still tend to identify with the participants of these uninteresting and unentertaining programs…to the point of wanting to have one of our own…to the point of willing to do anything which attracts attention to us.
As a Generation Xer, I so long for the days of the Day-of-the-Week movies that I remember growing up with…programs which actually engaged my mind with not-too-distant fantasy, and on occasion, my conscious with social commentary. Last week’s Balloon Hoax is a testament to the pitfalls of our obsession with the TheAmazingSurrealRealWorldAmericanSurvivorIdol-type programming which has taken captive of our minds and our good sense.