Richard Heene’s Balloon Boy and the Evolution of Man
If you tuned your television, radio or hand-held device to the Balloon Boy live hoax, you have truly witnessed the evolution of man. Now I know that there are those of you that don’t believe in evolution, but in this case, the facts are clear.
It all started with E.T. No, I am not talking about extraterrestrials; I’m talking about Entertainment Tonight. When it first hit the television in 1981, it sensationalized the news and the public loved it. You might call it a gateway drug.
Immediately after the birth of E.T., alerts from news anchors from around the world quickly appeared in print and media warning of the slippery slope that news was heading. They always referenced the movie “Network” as the final chapter of news if these “tabloid style” reports and reporters were allowed to co-exist in ”real journalism primetime.”
It wasn’t long before “paid” news was appearing on the show and copycat shows were added by other networks. The public wanted it and the networks could not deny them. An edgier format was added and “Hard Copy” was born. The public was addicted.
This type of soft news was quickly given the name Infotainment. There was no turning back now. The public demanded skin and dirty words. Shows like Access Hollywood and Extra were added.
Soon names like Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan and Joey Buttafuco were mainstream names. Images of Nancy holding her knee and crying, “My Knee” was indelibly etched in our minds. The public had given up reading for just one more fix.
Then along came the “White Bronco Show” staring O.J. Simpson. It was the first real two hour plus “breaking news” show which captivated millions. It could not have been better had it been scripted. It included a football icon along with a passenger driving along the longest stretch of highway in the state of California, holding a gun and threatening suicide. And everything is caught on video live while police lights blinked and news helicopters kept filming. Oh the euphoria of a sensation touching the public in places they had no idea existed.
The only way to get higher than the “Bronco” feeling was to live it yourself. But, no matter what news happened, the general public was limited to its 15 minutes of fame.
Everyone was unsure what would happen if they were given more.
The rich and famous still dominated the coverage and thus became richer. Now just showing a nipple could add six figures to ones income. The public was becoming restless.
The next real change in news occurred when the Internet came along. Finally, anyone with a camera or microphone could develop a story. The public was unleashed and mainlining. A large hole appeared in the dike and no one gave it the finger. News and stardom became blurrier than ever. Every once in a while someone would be plucked from obscurity into Internet stardom.
To give the public more of what they wanted, reality television was developed. And it was cheap to produce. Ordinary people could actually become part of a real show. Now dozens at a time could feel that once-in-a-lifetime moment. They were closing in on a overdose.
Winners would not only become overnight millionaires but water cooler and household names. By watching Survivor, Big Brother and even American Idol, the public (like mice in a maze) began to figure out what buttons and bells to push in order to become rich and famous. Peasants could not have felt any better after battering down the castle doors.
YouTube and TMZ fed the public like crack to a junky. Posting your own “news” story in seconds could draw thousands of eyes. The public was becoming unsettled and more creative. They were now cooking their own.
In order to get a piece of the action, CNN (a previously legitimate news agency) added IREPORT.com to allow the general public to post (unpaid) “news.” The public now knew that “they” had become the news.
Now thirty years later, E.T. is still in the top ten highest-rated syndicated shows in the country. And, television viewing has reached an all-time high. Each television viewer watches over 151 hours of television per month. If this isn’t a epidemic then what is?
This brings us to “balloon boy” creator Richard Heene. Shouldn’t we be showering him with accolades for developing into the first not-famous human who has found the cheese? Who are we kidding; we all knew this day would come. Richard Keene may not have proved Darwin right but he does lend credence to the Evolution of Man.
When he pulled the climatic “kid from a box in the attic” trick at the end of the balloon ride, he had reached nirvana. This is the part that tricked him up. He was so high on publicity that all reason had left his mind. What he hoped would be a local story picked up by a national affiliate had instead captivated the public internationally in moments. We can only imagine the feeling. A day later and he was still overdosing on publicity in front of live television. He could not hear the public yelling, “Shut Up fool!” at their televisions.
Now the euphoric feeling is gone and the sounds of handcuffs and jail doors closing are clearly heard.
Will Richard Heene be left destitute rotting in jail? I don’t think so. He will do his time (like remember when Martha Stewart was in jail) then write his book, make his television show, produce his movie and live on the beach in Malibu next to John Travolta. Then and only then will he understand why celebrities hate stardom and E.T.
Orson Welles is looking down from the heavens and saying, “After 70 years, finally another one got it.”
If Richard Heene had waited until October 30, 2009, to execute his hoax, it would have been the 71st anniversary of Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” radio show that sky-rocketed him into stardom.
Here is a new definition for you: Heene: (n.) a massive lie resulting in no deaths, covered live by the national media for over two consecutive hours and played out as a drama using your own children as actors in order to become rich and famous.
For over thirty years, Joseph Miller has been a computer consultant advising business owners in ways to improve their companies. A local South Jacksonvillle Rotarian, he recently completed a book on the founder of the national organization, Paul P. Harris. In 2002, he developed and founded the Rotary Gingerbread House Extravaganza, which has distributed over $500,000 to charity and has entertained thousands of spectators in three cities (Jacksonville, Daytona Beach and Tulsa).