In the aftermath of the Balloon Boy story, there are some questions to be answered. Not just the obvious questions like “What the heck is wrong with this boy’s father, Richard Heene?” but also the question: “Why is the media fascinated with stories like this?”
For six hours Thursday, the world stopped as people were riveted to their television sets, watching a runaway balloon that possibly had a little boy inside it. While that balloon was afloat, millions of people were terrified. And just as many people were cynical, making jokes about it and calling Heene a publicity whore.
Who can blame the cynics? The Balloon Boy saga is a classic case of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Or, in this case, The Man Who Cried “Look at Me!” The minute this saga hit the airwaves, people Googled the Heene name and realized what they were dealing with, leading them to disbelieve the idea that there actually was a six-year-old boy in that balloon and lean more toward the theory that Richard Heene was looking for more attention.
By now, we all know the background of the Heene family. Two appearances on Wife Swap, extreme weather chasers, UFO watchers, a failed pitch to TLC for a Heene family reality show, YouTube videos, and dangerous stunts.
Eventually the story of Balloon Boy became a non-story, as the kid was found hiding in an attic. But then a new and more troublesome story took hold. Everyone wanted to know about this quirky family and their daredevil, obnoxious father. Which means Richard Heene, at the expense of his family’s privacy, is living out his dream. He’s a star. Even if for a short time, he’s a media moment, a name that everyone now knows and he’s going to do his best to parlay that into a television show.
After the sensation died down, in the aftermath of all the headlines and special reports and people transfixed to their televisions, the armchair experts come out of the woodwork and ask, “Why?” Why is the media obsessed with this story? Why did they devote six hours to a runaway UFO when there are so many more important things going on in the world?