Historical and Contemporary Romance Author

WTF Wednesday: Enough Rubbernecking, Already!

This is one of those posts in which I’m going to rail against a phenomenon while engaging in said phenomenon. Yeah, I know, hypocritical, but I don’t know how to express my annoyance with this cultural trend without mentioning the most recent incident that has sparked my irritation.

If you haven’t guessed already, I’m talking about the attention the media has been giving to the “Balloon Boy” family. For the past three days, there has been at least one article and/or cartoon in both the local papers to which I subscribe about the Heenes and their (insert outraged adjective of your choice here) attempt to gain fame and fortune by claiming their young son had been carried away by an experimental balloon they were building in their backyard. The story gained national media attention when the situation was in progress, so much so that it became a trending topic on Twitter (and was still one yesterday, though I’m not sure it still is today).1

Any way you slice it, the Heenes’ behavior was reprehensible. But the constant hashing and rehashing of what they did and why and how horrible/misguided/stupid/self-centered they are makes me want to tear my hair out. It’s a trainwreck, but people, it’s WORKING for them. They wanted to famous. And now, they are. And they will be as long as the media and the public succumb to the fascination to rubberneck and dissect and criticize their actions.

In other words, we have to STOP LOOKING at behaviors we don’t, as a society, want to encourage. Just as we have to stop looking at Octomom, whose crushingly selfish and stupid decision to get pregnant via IVF when she already had six kids she couldn’t support has a resulted in her being rewarded with a her own reality TV show. Yeah, that’s the way to demonstrate our disapproval. (And I would put money on the theory that when she found out she was carrying 8 embryos, Octomom saw a large payday in her future. Just as the Heenes do now.)

I have never been a fan of reality TV. Oh, I like some shows that I suppose fall vaguely into the category of reality TV (Mythbusters, Man vs. Wild, Man vs. Food) , but these are shows with defined “stars” who have a particular expertise. By contrast, shows like Wife Swap (which I gather the Heenes have been on twice), Jon and Kate Plus 8 (shudder; a trainwreck I truly have NO interest in whatsoever), and the like seem to me to prey on people’s desire for celebrity at any cost. And it’s the fact that we as a culture are so fascinated by this stuff that causes people like the Heenes to bother staging a hoax in the first place.

So before we judge the Heenes too harshly, I think we should all take a good look in the mirror. Because we’re all complicit.

1I have to admit, I paid very little attention to the balloon boy story as it unfolded. I saw a few tweets in my feed, but once I heard no one could actually confirm that the boy was in the balloon, I was 99% sure it was a hoax. Why? Because no parent would leave a young child unattended in the vicinity of a balloon with enough lift to actually carry him/her away. (I suppose one should never say never, because there might actually be parents that stupid/careless, but people who would spend the time and energy to BUILD a balloon of that nature seem to me, by definition, to be a little too smart for that.)

When the kid was found FIVE HOURS LATER in the garage, I was SURE it was a hoax. I’m a parent, and there is NO WAY IN HELL any of my kids could/would hide from me for that long anywhere on my premises. When the authorities initially claimed there was no evidence it was a hoax, I thought they must be the most gullible law enforcement officials on the planet.


  • Elise Logan October 21, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    I have to say – and this is not a defense of this situation, more a general comment – that I can see a situation in which a child could be on premises and not respond to calls and not be found.

    We had a situation when I was young – oh, about 10? – when my brother, then 6 or 7, went missing. My dad (who has a voice like booming thunder and can be heard, no kidding over 1/4 mile away) called for him. We looked for him. I rode around looking for him on my bike. Mom and I went in the car. We searched the house and everything. No Bro. We called the cops. The cops looked. The cops called. Neighbors looked. Neighbors called.

    Four hours later he woke up. He’d fallen asleep in a tent in the back yard, pressed up against the side and under a sleeping bag so no one saw him. He slept through the whole thing. Did I mention he slept like the dead? I don’t think nuclear explosions would have woken that kid.

    Neither my parents nor Bro did anything wrong, and we were FRANTIC.

    So I can see how it COULD happen that a child would be in the house or vicinity. But awake and alert and not responding to people? That is a far stretch, especially for a young kid. And in this particular case… I’m not buying.

  • Clisby October 22, 2009 at 11:32 am

    Something like Elise describes happened in my parents’ neighborhood once. The kid next door (maybe 3?) was missing. The parents looked all over for him, called him, checked with neighbors, etc. The neighborhood is a subdivision, but it borders a swamp (alligators! snakes! who knows what else?) so they called the police. The sheriff’s department and about a dozen neighbors were out combing the place for him. A couple of hours later, the kid wakes up from his nap in the cabinet under the upstairs bathroom sink (he had crawled in there to play and fell asleep.) Happy ending.

  • admin October 22, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    I know it’s possible for small children to go missing as you both describe for long periods of time and wind up being perfectly safe. It was more the order of business that made me pretty darn sure it was a hoax. The boy had reportedly been seen in the balloon by the brother only MINUTES before lift off. It just seems highly implausible that a 6yo (who is well past prime nap age) would fall asleep THAT quickly. I just didn’t buy it for a second because the confluence of events seemed too convenient–brother sees kid in balloon, balloon lifts off, family frantically searches for kid but only find him AFTER the balloon is brought down and we know he’s not in it. Sorry, that’s just too many coincidences for credulity :).

  • Ericka Scott October 23, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    Here here!

    I know I felt absolutely horrible for the parents while the event was happening…all I could picture was one of my little ‘uns doing something like that and…well, losing them. A parent’s nightmare. But, when I found out that he’d been hiding while his parents looked for him for 5 hours, that was too much. My boys can’t sit still for 5 minutes, let alone that long unless they were scared to death of the punishment (which I initially flirted with)…but as it unfolded more, I figured it was a hoax and felt bad for the child who was manipulated and for his parents, who were sure to get caught.


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