‘Balloon Boy’ rises above reality TV rules

On Thursday afternoon, Americans got a break from their regular soaps when Richard Heene brought a possible unfolding tragedy to the public’s attention. The Heene family, who have previously appeared on ABC’s “Wife Swap,” were experimenting with a homebuilt balloon when it took off into high altitudes. They were unsure if their 6-year-old boy, Falcon, was inside, and so the public followed the device in real time as it soared above Colorado for hours, waiting for conclusion to the bizarre situation.

I'd rather watch a Lifetime movie actor with a better haircut.

I'd rather watch a Lifetime movie actor with a better haircut.

A happy ending came when Falcon climbed down from the family’s attic. However, public sympathy quickly turned into questioning and anger. Was the entire event a hoax?

In an interview with Wolf Blitzer, the family asked their son why he had not come out from hiding when being searched for. “You guy said we did this for the show,” Falcon responded. This interview immediately sparked a new slew of stories to appear nationally and further cluttered our front pages. Lie detector tests and body language experts were called upon to guess whether or not the ‘balloon boy incident’ was staged.

But why does this have to continue intercepting our more relevant headlines? The public should be letting out a chuckle and turning our cheek – the appropriate behavior after being pranked. We could have guessed from the involved elements: a zany father who films his family on storm chase adventure, a flying saucer device, confused young children? This is simply a case of very clever people finding their way into the spotlight. Don’t give it to them.

The Heenes, who have reportedly been trying to land a reality TV show for years, finally got their break. Daytime television thrives on family drama, and they found a way to make everyone tune in. The issue in question is this: Should news networks play along in these cases or use thicker judgment when being approached with strange situations?

It is the journalist’s job to filter our news, but they might have a new opponent. Attention-craved individuals everywhere are sure to be inspired by the Heenes. That means there are likely more ‘balloon boys’ to come, and who can stop them if we are convinced of their story? People are naturally drawn to both dramatic news breaks and the emotional entertainment of daytime television, but we like to feel that we are in control of separating the two. 

Hopefully, the Heenes can simply serve as a reminder that we shouldn’t completely trust everything we see. People know what we want, news networks know what will grab attention, and we are left wasting a couple hours watching a balloon. As the World Turns surely would have been more interesting.

Need further proof that we should get over it? Read this.


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