Balloon Boy Saga

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October 20, 2009 | Comments

I am no fan of reality TV. Wait. Strike that. I do watch the Food Network’s cooking competitions and I admit to following Dancing with the Stars with my daughter. But I steer clear of anything that follows subjects into bathrooms, promotes vicious mind games, or records intimate and embarrassing moments, all designed not only to titillate a voyeuristic public, but also to dangle the possibility that a participant’s bathroom performance will lead to superstardom.

Despite my attempts at isolation, I remember the night I first spotted a commercial for one of those “traditional” bathroom-wallowing-type reality shows, that indicated children were now being trotted out in front of the cameras to cry, eat bugs and entrails, and/or have tantrums for the entertainment of the entire population of the United States.

Thus was born my rant that has since become all too familiar to those who know me: My hope is that someday when these kids come of age, they will sue the daylights out of their parents, the networks and the production companies that exploited them on television without their consent.

Well, last Friday, reality TV collided with publicity stunt collided with child exploitation, when a hysterical media reported that a 6-year-old was thought to be flying thousands of feet above Colorado in an experimental helium balloon. Emergency personnel rose to full alert, the military was called in, Denver Airport suspended full operation, and America watched and waited.

Hours later, the balloon floated back to earth, empty. Hours after that, the boy was found hiding in his home, allegedly terrified of punishment for setting the balloon free. Hours after that, the boy stated on national television that it was all done “for the show.” Minutes later, law enforcement kicked in. Hours after that, we learned that mom and dad, veterans of reality TV, were seeking a new gig. And, well, now with such words as “hoax” and “child protective services” flying about, things aren’t looking all that rosy for mom and dad.

Those who spent that afternoon worrying about this boy have since learned that the child apparently cut his teeth on reality TV. He was paraded repeatedly by media-hungry parents before the cameras of “Wife Swap,” YouTube, and now virtually every media outlet in the country, all “for the show,” all for an alleged parental stab at a reality show. In an odd karmic twist — and much to dad’s shock, I’m sure – the boy has now emerged the poster child for reality-TV child exploitation.

And I say, let the lawsuits begin.

Betsy Siino | Comments