Sunday, October 18, 2009

Balloon Boy Hoax: Real Hoax, or Fake Hoax? And Why are People Really So Angry About it?

Gawker paid a man named Robert Thomas for his story about how he helped Richard Heene, the father of the Balloon Boy Falcon Heene, plan the Balloon Boy hoax. Mr. Thomas claims to have worked for Mr. Heene as an assistant/stenographer, keeping notes of Mr. Heene's crackpot theories and cockamamie television show ideas in the hopes of one day becoming a researcher on a show that would feature either Mr. Heene, or Mr. Heene and his family.

Of course, this raises the question that the story about the planning of the hoax is a hoax itself. Mr. Thomas is described as a "25 year-old researcher" in the Gawker article, yet another website has some information on him that suggests he's more than just that.

The story could become like Koch's snowflake, so I will drop that aspect. It's all a hoax. Life is a hoax!

The real question is, Why are people so angry about this?

The most important item from the Gawker story is the screenshot from MSNBC:

"The Place for Politics," it reads across the top of the screen. It also says, quite plainly, "6 YR-OLD BOY ALONE IN HOT AIR BALLOON OVER COLORADO". The word "allegedly" is not to be found in that caption. Something patently absurd is presented as fact by "The Place for Politics."

Where was the six year old boy to be hidden in that balloon? How did it achieve the lift necessary? I have no idea of what the "experts" were talking about while that image was displayed, but someone at MSNBC, "The Place for Politics," made the decision to announce to the world, unequivocally and in capital letters that a six year-old boy was trapped, alone and defenseless, in a runaway hot air balloon.

The Gawker article paints a rather unflattering portrait of the Balloon Boy, Falcon Heene's father, Richard Heene.

Richard ... was often driven by ego and fame. He was all about controversy, hoping to whip up something significant enough to eliminate our reality TV competitors. He wanted episodes that would shock people and maximize his exposure.

That, of course, is not unflattering. Who doesn't want to get a reality show? Who doesn't want to maximize his exposure?

The crackpot bulls hit stuff, on the other hand, is most unflattering:

But he was motivated by theories I thought were far-fetched. Like Reptilians — the idea there are alien beings that walk among us and are shape shifters, able to resemble human beings and running the upper echelon of our government. Somehow a secret government has covered all this up since the U.S. was established, and the only way to get the truth out there was to use the mainstream media to raise Richard to a status of celebrity, so he could communicate with the masses.

As the weeks progressed, his theories got more and more extreme and paranoid. A lot of it surrounded 2012, and the possibility of there being an apocalyptic moment. Richard likes to talk a lot about the possibility of the Sun erupting in a large-scale solar flare that wipes out the Earth.

Of course we need to keep in mind that the Gawker piece could be a hoax in itself. But, as one of the Gawker posters points out, Mr. Heene did have enough of an interest in "Reptilians" that he solicited information about them through a YouTube video:

(This is something that's always bothered me about conspiracy theorists. If you're genuinely worried about some secret all-powerful organization, is it really smart to go onto YouTube, or to write books about it? Aren't you just exposing yourself to their mind control-- or whatever it is they're capable of?)

Mr. Thomas claims he had the whole thing figured out by the time of the Balloon Boy's infamous "you said we did this for the show" bean spilling to "Celebrity Jeopardy" loser Wolf Blitzer:

And Falcon said, "you guys said we did this for the show." Lights went off in my head. Bells were ringing; whistles were whistling. I said, "Wow, Richard is using his children as pawns to facilitate a global media hoax that's going to give him enough publicity to temporarily attract A-list celebrity status and hopefully attract a network."

The use of the word "pawns" indicates some level of disapproval. But children are, by their very natures, "pawns." Parents provide children with guidance and orders; that's part of what raising them is all about (full disclosure: I have no human children). Is Mr. Heene's use of his children in this case (assuming everything in the Gawker story is true) any worse than the actions of Kate and Jon Gosselin? Or the parents depicted on "Toddlers & Tiaras"?

Alright, so maybe using your child as a "pawn" isn't so bad, but others were "inconvenienced":

[Richard Heene] certainly didn't consider the people that were praying for his child, and the hundreds, maybe thousands of people that were inconvenienced in pursuit of this balloon. The thousands of dollars of taxpayer money spent on things that weren't necessary.

I'm no expert on prayer-- were those prayers spent on the Balloon Boy somehow wasted? Will God later come to these people, in their hour of need, and say, "Sorry, you used up your last prayer on the Balloon Boy-- you're going to have to keep the cancer"?

As for those inconvenienced by the pursuit of the balloon; I have sympathy for the people whose crops were damaged in the landing, as noted by TMZ. For the police and rescue officials, not so much. How many "false alarms" do police respond to every year? If someone calls 911 and says, "Bigfoot just abducted my child, send help!," how many police do they send? In this case, the "false alarm" was on television-- someone should have been able to see the total absurdity of the situation, and call off the "rescue" accordingly. They did not.

And the taxpayer money? That sh*t is wasted every single day. Taxpayer money practically grows on trees.

In today's world, the desire for celebrity is hardly uncommon, and its pursuit is not all that unusual. Richard Heene-- a guy who might believe the world will end in 2012, or that Reptilians have taken over the US-- was able to exploit weaknesses in both human nature, and the 24-hour cable news channels, to create a shockingly successful hoax. At any point during the two hours they were covering the Balloon Boy story live, the news organizations could have put the brakes on it. They could have devoted more time to explaining, from a scientific perspective, just why it was totally improbable that a small piece of silver foil could not have carried a six year-old boy. No, the story needed to be run as it unfolded-- no time for questions!

To be fair, there apparently was some skepticism expressed by some individuals. But then again, there is this:

People are angry not because Richard Heene played them. They're angry because he was so damned successful.

Richard Heene and Falcon Heene, the Balloon Boy. A heroic crackpot who exposed the fatuity of cable news, and the boy who reached for the sky... from his attic.

Richard and Falcon Heene pic source.

1 comment:

shampoo said...

isn't that exactly what david icke did (sans balloon hoax, etc.). note to crazy dad: no amount of fame is ever going to make people believe there are reptiles running around disguised as humans. a televised reveal where they all morphed into alligators (imagine them wearing ties and/or tiaras) wouldn't convince most people.

hasn't he seen the movie where the lady proves werewolves are real by wolfing out on live tv AND being shot by her friend (per prior agreement)? before the anchorman beside her has finished soiling himself, the viewers at home have decided it was all special effects.