Sunday, October 18, 2009

Balloon Boy

Judge Not, Lest Ye Be...

Ha ha. Just kidding. What kind of blog would this be if I weren't judging everyone who caught my attention for a split second? This means you, Emily!!!!

But, like everyone else, I've been thinking about Balloon Boy.

In case you had not heard, the Sheriff of Larimer County, Colorado has deduced that the entire balloon chasing production on Thursday wasn't just a hoax, but one intended to land the family involved a television contract. And apparently scrambling the air force, shutting down the Denver airport, involving a massive portion of the police force and untold numbers of public servants isn't exactly legal. Thus, the Sheriff is throwing the book at the Heene family.

Marshall had a post on this, responding to an article on gawker

My own brother had this to say.

Mostly, I'm admiring the entire scenario as a perfect encapsulation of how I believe a portion of the populace has viewed the post-Survivor/ Richard Hatch era of pointless celebrity. And, as countless other navel-gazers have concluded in regards to the sort of Z-level fame and meritless notoriety sought by the those such as Heene: this isn't actual celebrity.

There's no word for what this is, but if eskimos have a few dozenw ords for snow, for the number of fame-seeking jack-asses there are in the world, we need a word that better describes the Z-Level fame via reality show. You know... the kind of famous that earns you a life being known as "Juice-a-Licious" from your run on "Flava of Love" or assuming people will know or care who you are because you were a jackass on Survivor six years ago.

There's no real name for that kind of fame. Please send in your ideas.

What's so beautiful about the Balloon Boy story is how jumbo-sized hubris, ineptitude and counting on a six year old to keep a story straight spun out into a yarn that, if you made it up, people wouldn't buy it... And now, when and if the tale is folded into someone's TV movie of the week or Oscar winning picture, what with charges filed, nobody actually needs to pay Heene for his side of the story. And Papa Heene may well wind up in jail (and will most certainly go broke on legal costs).

Sounds like a Coen Bros. project to me.

The Gawker article blames "us", which I don't buy. If we hear a kid is pilotlessly drifting across the Colorado sky in a runaway balloon, we're going to tune in every once in a while to see if that kid is okay. The dimensions of our displays don't matter. Yes, "we" watched a balloon floating across the landscape (well, I didn't. I saw the headline and then walked into a two hour training presentation, and by the time I was done, it was all over). That's like blaming "us" for Baby Jessica falling down a well back in the 80's.

Yes, it was something exploited by Heene, but there is more than voyeurism in this, or guilt the media should feel for breaking a live story. "We" don't need to feel shame for clicking on a hyperlink to understand a headline in bright yellow at the top of I understand that because Heene fooled us, Gawker is trying to turn that into a "we should have known better" story of personal shame, but... I'm not buying it this time. There are a lot of things "we" should have known better than that nobody has bothered to shame anybody about.

Reality TV isn't what created someone like Heene, but it did make the myopic pursuit of fame-by-any-means-necessary seem like it may have a greater likelihood of success, once you realized you may lack any actual talent. And, it cut out the middle-man of asking people to love a character, and let them get right to the business of loving you directly. Had Heene's grasp not over-extended his reach, no doubt he would be cutting a deal with somebody right now to feature his wacky family and their exploits. Unfortunately, in believing he and his brood were smarter than, apparently, literally everyone in Colorado and/ or America, he screwed up. (Not to mention appearing twice before on TV, pitching shows about his family to basic cable networks, and leaving a trail of videos seemingly demonstrating exactly what sort of jackass he was molding his children into).

If any of the Heene kids wanted a chance at not ending up in the fail column, maybe humiliation and a little jail time for their old man on a national scale will give them a moment of pause before they decide they, too, can outsmart laws of physics and a background check.

Heene's actions weren't harmless (all the resources that had to be brought forth to deal with the situation), and had he succeeded, if he was willing to exploit his kids in this situation, what would have been next? If the book is thrown at him, so be it. And if it gives the next idiot inflating a balloon and actually sticking his kid into the balloon a moment of pause, all the better.

I think Jason posited that people were mad at the Heene's because they had become invested in the gripping story of danger that turned out to be false, but I'd suggest that was only part of the story. That may be true, but its also possible there is a population out there who doesn't buy the E! channels narrative, or that of the Insider, Entertainment Tonight, etc... and who have grown quite tired of the cult of celebrity and the past decade's insistence that we know about people like Richard Hatch, Kardashians, the awful New York woman of VH1, any Real Housewife in any city, Jon & Kate and a thousand just like them. And seeing someone cut down before they had an opportunity to pop up on our Yahoo News page, in our headlines on, etc... that they somehow managed to take care of themselves sits okay with many of us.

Sorry your dad is going to jail, Balloon Boy. God bless you for doing what kids do so often and telling some part of the truth. Lord knows CNN barely bothers with it anymore. Heck, Wolf Blitzer was so baffled he didn't even have a line of questioning he could follow immediately when the cat was out of the bag and wandering around the table.


J.S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J.S. said...

Having deleted my earlier, more longwinded comment, suffice it to say that I'm just wary of this whole Balloon Boy thing setting a bad precedent (in terms of punishment) for future hoaxers. I don't want my fellow Austinites whipping and hanging me after I embarrass all of them with one of my convincing UFO/ghost/monster hoaxes. Hoaxing is probably significantly less fun when you know they might send you to prison for it.

The League said...

Punishment for a hoax in which people lost time and money (not just the public gaping, which I don't think anybody is actually mad about, but that's the standard storyline, so that's what goes to print) is nothing new. Its why we invent parables like "The Boy Who Cried Wolf", to keep us from rounding everyone up to go hunting for a wolf that doesn't exist.

I guess I absolutely do not feel guilty about caring if some kid was in danger, and am not embarrassed that, given the info I had, I believed that this kid was airborn. And frankly find the internet's insistence on wagging the finger at "us" for being "duped" to be a bit ridiculous. There's such a thing as being a passive observer in these things as well when every website is blasting the status of the incident. We may as well be scolded for knowing about Kanye's outburst at the VMA's.

Rather, its okay to say "WTF?" when it comes to someone doing something stupid which wastes public resources, and, frankly, is that poorly planned. If I had wasted my Sheriff's department's budget and time on a fame-seeking asshole, I'd be lookingf or ways to make sure it didn't happen again, too.

NTT said...

That Gawker article was atrocious. Gawker, of all media outlets, should not be wagging the finger and posting moral indignation at the collapse of modern society. They're the internet equivalent of A Current Affair with a more sardonical bent in their reporting. Hypocrites.

The hand-wringing here is completely ludicrous. Before television and the internet, are people saying no one utilized hoax events or fraud to raise themselves to fame and fortune; that the yellow rag newsapapers of the day didn't wantonly hype untruthful events to manipulate the populace?

Frankly, I think modern society and the internet makes our period better. From the first second, there were skeptics that called to question the whole event. There's an army of people that will use their own time to root out fraud and share information. You can't get away with a national hoax very well in this day and age. Look at the way bloggers shot down Dan Rather's story on Bush's military career. Look at when the bloggers investigated and revealed how an AP photographer manipulated the Lebanon conflict a few years ago. I love how the Y generation thinks things were so great in earlier generations without any clue as to the real events that occurred.

Gawker castigates us for watching the event but then says, well, we acknowledge that the page views for such things are astronomical so we do it. If Gawker is so appalled at such a phenonmenon as reality TV ruining the cultural landscape, their justification for continuing coverage is absurd. Who writes these articles?? Gawker justifies its complicit actions by citing monetary returns yet has the gall to condemn every other viewer who tuned into the story is the epitome of hypocrisy.

There is no way you can blame "reality TV" for this. The event was the work of a unstable mind who worked to manipulate simple human emotions about the concern for another human being in a sensational and dramatic event. I guess we should just turn our backs on any event where a person is in peril based on the off-chance it is a hoax. Give me a break Gawker. And your writer needs to take a rhetoric class. I'm more saddened by the pathetic attempt at an editorial by a writer with no clue on how to construct an accurate argument let alone a thematic proposition.

The League said...

Before I realized my post would run to novel-length, I had originally started by comparing the Balloon Boy to the 2003 movie, "Chicago", which I was watching when I started on the post.

And I like "Chicago". So shut up.

But by 1975 the story of those exploiting ill-fortune for fame and manipulating the mass media was so polished it resulted in "Chicago". As NTT says, not a new idea at all.

Also, Catherine Zeta-Jones in "Chicago" is just a good idea.

Simon MacDonald said...

I don't think this incident is a indication that society as a whole is in danger. Don't blame reality TV or the internet.

I agree with NTT that this was the work of some fame seeking loser. After his kid threw up on a couple of morning shows it sounds like he realized that they'd done something wrong but the idiot father was still trying to sell it.

I really hope they throw the book at this guy. All of those resources wasted on this stunt may have been needed elsewhere so we are lucky there wasn't a real tragedy off camera.

J.S. said...

Couple of things:
First, kind of a tangential point, but I disagree with the assertion that the internet has made media news coverage more reliable. For every flawed media story that bloggers and internet posters help to expose and correct, I think they muddy the waters of fact and fiction in 10 other areas. Think of the literally thousands of blogs and web pages that are filled with flawed, distorted, and erroneous "evidence" supporting 9/11 conspiracy theories and every other nutty conspiracy that's out there. Think of all of the different blog sites (often ones with some political agenda) that report distorted or flawed "news" information and try to pass it off as news without any sort of reliable fact checking or safeguards to help ensure accuracy . Second, the emotional reaction to this balloon boy story can't just be disregarded as only affecting people because they were concerned about the safety of a child. Children suffer abuse, go neglected, and are even killed across this country every hour of every day, but it doesn't become a "breaking news story" that captures everyone's attention until the story involves a shiny balloon and a kid supposedly dangling at 5000 feet. There was genuine concern involved, sure, but this story got the immediate, huge reaciton it got because of sensationalism. If people are really just concerned about the safety of kids, we'd be seeing a lot more coverage about the state of our child protective services programs (which are in pretty bad shape in most places), about the state of our foster care systems, and about children's health care and insurance. We don't see news helicopters and national coverage following the cars of drunk parents who have their kids in the car. This story didn't catch the public's eye (or the media's attention) just because people love kids so much.
I'm not saying that we should all necessarily feel guilty for watching the coverage (it seems that human nature draws us to these spectacles). I'm just saying that, in the end, it doesn't seem like a whole lot of harm was done by this hoax, but that people may be wanting an awful lot of punishment on this thing (multiple felonies)- and I think part of the reason is because people are just embarrassed about having gotten caught up rubbernecking. I'm not saying the Heene family doesn't deserve punishment, but multiple felonies for a case where no one was ever really put in any physical danger? There were some financial damages in this case (which should be repaid), but no one was actually ever in physical jeopardy, and the real damage (and the damages that we seem to want to punish the Heene's for) seems to amount to the fact that people got all worked up. I'm not sure that the Heene's are the only ones responsible for the huge reaction that this story received. If this story had only gottena small amount of coverage on a local affiliate or a small story in a local paper (as opposed to being picked up by a bunch of national networks who couldn't resist the spectacle), would we even be talking about this thing?
(and yes, I'll grant you that Richard Heene is a big ol' jackass. That's not really in question here.)

J.S. said...

Okay, now I've clearly spent too much time thinking about this whole Balloon Boy thing, and I've embarrassed myself.

The League said...

I'm not sure what else one can say about a lying dork flailing for fame at the expense of credibility and his childrens' welfare, and how the media and populace are complicit.

There's a lot of leeway in there for opinion.