Ups and downs of ‘Balloon Boy’

........................................................................................................................................................................................

As far as hoaxes go, “Balloon Boy” will probably go down as pretty tame.

 

It won’t have the lasting impact of the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot or Paul is Dead, but it’ll keep us talking for a couple of weeks anyway.

For a couple hours last Thursday, it seemed like everyone’s worst fears were being realized. It did make for good theater: A 6-year-old boy was thought to be taking a ride in a home-made helium balloon. The Air Force was called out, television helicopters were tracking the balloon and the Larimer County, Colo., Sheriff’s Office was searching in desperation for the child. When the balloon landed, there was no boy and everyone started searching for a body.

High drama indeed. Children in peril makes for good ratings.

We all exhaled a sigh of relief when the boy was found at his home. Folks in the know were suspicious about the boy’s father, Richard Heene, before, but more questions began to pop up when the boy, Falcon Heene, told a television reporter that he was hiding in the attic because “we did this for a show.”

On Friday morning, when asked questions, the boy threw up on camera on the “Today” show. In my years as a journalist, I’ve never had anyone throw up to avoid answering a question, so the kid gets points for originality.

So it’s looking more and more like it was a hoax; that Richard Heene, a veteran of reality television shows, came up with the scheme to try to get a reality show of his own.

The whole incident says a lot about who we are as a society, and it is not all bad.

On the one hand, there seems to be a large segment of the population who believe their lives are only valid if they are on television or are famous. These can be dangerous thoughts, because, as we know, not everyone can be famous. Although with the Internet and an unending cadre of cable television stations, the number of the famous has expanded, so that we have become a nation of the enabled and enablers, it’s a blurry line between the two.

I guess I can’t blame someone for wanting a shot at fame. I was once an actor, and my photo is in the newspaper every week. My ego loves it when someone recognizes me or compliments me for something I wrote. It feels good to have that validation, especially when those close to me see me as just someone who forgot to do the dishes. We all like to feel special, but the truth is that finding validation through the approval of others is as futile as the search for the Holy Grail.

But we can find validation in the Balloon Boy incident. There were people out looking for this kid. There was sincere concern for his well-being, and as nutty as his parents may be, they didn’t actually put him in danger.

I didn’t learn about Balloon Boy until my wife called me when it was all over. She saw the whole thing unfold, and her maternal empathy kicked in — we have a child who might try something as silly as climbing into a homemade balloon and fly away. After it was over, she was angry at Balloon Boy’s parents, and she is still angry. Someone had purposely toyed with her emotions for personal gain.

That someone would stoop to that level for their own selfish reasons is criminal.

But that as a society we could feel empathy illustrates what is best about us.

There still may be hope for us yet.

McClannahan is editor of the Mountain View Telegraph. Contact him at 505- 823-7102 or online at editor@mvtelegraph.