Balloon Boy is your fault

balloon-boyThis is your fault.

Certainly, there’s a lot of blame to go around, but most of the people who are pointing fingers at the Henne family tonight should turn off their TV and look at the screen’s reflection, because that’s where the real blame lies.

Oh, sure, you feel duped. You prayed for the boy. You prayed for his family. You invested your emotions in hoping for smooth landing. I was right there with you. I climbed off the gym machine and stared at the TV and asked myself, “How could such a horrible thing happen?” Within three hours, it was easy to determine how it happened, and it occurred to most right thinking people that it is mostly your fault.

And so, I’ve come up with a list of people who are not allowed to be appalled that Richard Heene allegedly pulled off one of the most disturbing and heartless hoaxes America has seen in ages. That list includes:

  • Anyone who has ever watched reality TV programs like Survivor, Super Nanny, Wife Swap, and Big Brother and then watched them again
  • Anyone who has ever actively participated in the exploitation of a person because they seek television celebrity
  • Anyone who spends more time reading TMZ than CNN
  • It’s these people who create a market for Richard Heene. The nation’s garbage-consumers create incentive for people who want to be famous. The people who TiVo reality television encourage a brand of entertainment that 20 years ago would have been reserved for the final 30 seconds of a local news broadcast. Instead of the water skiing squirrel kicking the D-block, Jon and Kate are sitting in the A-block like real news. These are people who are only famous because they had eight kids and were willing to exploit them on national TV networks. No longer do we have to wait for someone with talent, ingenuity, or creativity to inspire us. Now, we only wait until the next fall season. Then we can look at our televisions and revel in collective shadenfreude.

    Let”s be clear. You don’t care about the people you watch. You call it mindless entertainment, and you conveniently ignore the exploitation. Jon and Kate, like Henne, Octomom, and even Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, are freaks. They are people who 20 years ago we would’ve pitied, belittled, or jailed. Now, we give them attention, fame, money, celebrity, and moral justification for their personal brand of social dysfunction.

    And you eat it up.

    Oh, sure, maybe some of you don’t. I’d like to think the people who read here are above spending more than a couple of minutes devoted to the lives of people who are only on TV because they lack the requisite shame to eschew money and celebrity in favor of pride. And don’t get me wrong. It’s not as if there is no such thing as good reality TV. Look at the wildly successful Fantasy Factory (which, I have to point out, I pimp here because I know the EP on the show). There’s Mythbusters. There’s Top Chef. It’s all decent entertainment. It’s reality TV. But it’s not the type of thing that is encouraging grown men to commit heinous acts against their family and a nation full of sympathetic parents.

    Let’s just be honest with each other. How would you look at me if I cared so much about getting famous and getting on TV that I exploited my children, encouraged them to lie, woke them up at the crack of dawn to throw up on TV? How would you feel about me if you learned I actively sought out vulnerable people with the goal of making them look horrible just for ad revenue?

    Agreed, both of the above are disgusting. Now, ask yourself this: How would you feel if you found out you were the reason I was doing these things? How would you feel if you knew these horrible things wouldn’t happen if it weren’t for decisions you made–decisions to watch the shows, to let your family watch the shows, and to support news outlets that treat the reality TV productions like news.

    A couple of months ago, my buddy Colin recommended I watch American Cannibal (you can find it easily on Netflix). I now make the same recommendation to you. Here’s why. The documentary initially set out to follow two TV writers as they went from pitching their ideas to a having finished product. Along the way, the writers got desperate and started pitching reality TV ideas. The bite they got was not the one they wanted, but because people eat up reality TV, the writers and producers went forward, no matter the cost.

    I never had much love for reality TV before, but the past year or two have helped me understand reality TV is not just an inane and mindless bit of entertainment. It isn’t neutral. It actually hurts. It hurts our culture, our country, and our neighbors.

    So, today as you sit back and point fingers at Richard Henne and berate him for being so heartless, take a moment to remember that you told him it was okay.

    That is…you told him if he managed to get on TV…you’d watch.