I have to say, I’ve got no real feelings for Balloon Boy, his parents or siblings. I was not glued to the television or computer screen watching the `drama’ unfold on live tv. The first I heard about it was on NPR as I was leaving work that afternoon. I was stopped at a red light when the “news” was reported that a giant silver balloon [that everyone had apparently been following for hours] had landed safely in a field and the little boy who was thought to be inside was nowhere to be found. Cut to me, thinking: “What the fuck?” as I turned the radio off.
So, anyway …
* Flash forward: Balloon Boy is safe.
* A little further: everyone’s on television and I hate the Today Show even more.
* Further still: Balloon Boy blows the family’s load on national television with his “did it for the show” comment.
* And still more: wait for it, waiting, hurting, burning a little where you pee aaaannnnnddddd: HOAX.
Amazing. And now I can’t go anywhere, read anything, or watch anything for more than a week without running into the story. One radio host on NPR a few days later, in response to a scathing email from someone bashing the press for spending so much time focusing on the balloon rather than covering stories of actual import, defended such coverage because it gave America a common focus for its hope and because, once he was discovered safe and sound, we could rejoice as one that this innocent little boy was all right. Read: Balloon Boy brought us together.
And once more back to me turning off the radio, thinking: “Get off the air and go write cards for Hallmark.”
Anyway, when I saw the title of this op-ed from Saturday’s Times, “In Defense of Balloon Boy’s Dad,” I wondered not why someone would defend the man, rather how they would go about it. Frank Rich, who wrote the article, focuses attention on a media establishment that is more in the business of infotainment than on actually reporting the news of the day. Rich combines this critique of the media with the grim realities of a down economy and the desperate attempts that people will make to ensure some measure of financial stability.
He writes: “None of this absolves Heene of blame for the damage he may have inflicted on the children he grotesquely used as a supporting cast in his schemes. But stupid he’s not. He knew how easy it would be to float `balloon boy’ when the demarcation between truth and fiction has been obliterated.”
Someone once described Wikipedia to me as a gauge by which to judge what is [currently] important to us as a society — a cultural benchmark against which to measure what we value in terms of knowledge and information. In many ways, we can say the same thing about the press — or at least what they choose to cover. Which begs the question: is the press simply shameless for covering such drivel or are we, the rabid consumers of that drivel, somehow culturally bankrupt for demanding it? I don’t know. But a quick scan tells me that the “Colorado Balloon Incident” already has a Wikipedia entry with almost twice as many footnotes as articles about U.S. Hate Crimes Legislation and a Public Health Insurance Option combined.