Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Way up in a Balloon

To say that someone has gone up in a balloon, except when that person actually has gone up in a balloon, is to say that someone has gotten intellectually (defined here as the act of thinking, not the quality thereof) or emotionally carried away. So it was with Richard Heene, who was so up in a balloon about maintaining unworthy fame, or with the money that attends it, that he contrived the now-famous hoax that, perversely, references in the name given it by History his impressed son, and not the man. Heene the Younger, whatever he owes his father, certainly has cause to be sore about the use to which he was put, and about the fact that his name answers a Google search, and so always will, of "Balloon Boy". Such are the wages of a father's strange grasping, here to be paid by the son.

It is with some pride that I admit I missed Richard Heene's performance on the reality show Wife Swap, and also that I don't know on what station, or at what time, to find Wife Swap. People have told me he was a standout oddball on the show, which surely must be peopled with folks more odd than the average person in society. And that observation brings this brief essay to its point. It seems that "reality TV" has become a sort of Orwellian label. What the shows that answer that description really show are people acting as they would when they know people are watching, which tends to exaggerate in both directions what people do when they assume no one is watching.

In Heene's case, when he knew people were watching, he, according to the Wife Swap reviews, was an oddball but pedestrian control freak. When no one was watching, he exerted control over his family to follow along with his super oddball scheme, which counted among its foreseeable consequences co-opted helicopters, the expenditure of thousands of dollars, and the wasted good will of his fellow citizens. So it seems the reality show cameras exaggerate Mr. Heene in a flattering direction. Objects in your TV may appear less nuts than they actually are.

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