The world was recently captivated by the story of a six-year-old American boy allegedly trapped in a runaway hot-air balloon.
The event was especially interesting to television viewers as it appeared to have been captured on camera and broadcast as it happened.
Now, fortunately or unfortunately, the whole thing appears to be a hoax.
The boy, apparently, was never in any danger, and the entire stunt seems to have been staged by his parents in an effort to land a contract for a reality TV series.
It all sounds so underhanded, doesn’t it?
Well, in a way, it does.
On the other hand, who wouldn’t want to make money from people watching his or her life?
And is it any wonder that there are people out there trying to invent lives so interesting that someone would want to watch them on TV?
The seemingly miraculous survival of Falcon Heene, six, is arguably the feel-good story of the year. Sure, it now appears to be fake, but for a while — didn’t it make you feel good?
The event shed new light on the entire subject of reality TV.
Perhaps, in this case and others, truth doesn’t matter as much as verisimilitude (the appearance of being true or real).
The only really ugly part of the story is that the parents — Richard and Mayumi Heene — apparently forced their children to lie in order to secure a financial windfall. If that’s the case, then surely the couple deserves a slap on the wrist — at the very least.
The parents are expected to face misdemeanor charges for filing a false police report.
But the Heene couple could also face felony charges for conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and attempting to influence a public servant.
Amazingly, until very recently, county sheriffs had fallen for the ruse.
Unfortunately, their early admission to the media that they considered the Heene family’s story to be credible gave the story a long shelf life.
Not surprisingly, a Larimer County sheriff is now trying to blame the media for the fiasco.
“We do understand, looking at some of the documents already, that at least one of the media outlets has agreed to pay them some money with regards to this particular incident,” says Sheriff Jim Alderden.
As the media has reported in recent days, the Heene family has been involved in reality television shows in the past, and the parents met at acting school.
The Heenes have appeared on the TV show Wife Swap and made no secret of their television aspirations.
If anyone is guilty, it’s the sheriffs who have demonstrated themselves to be naive and stupid.
As for the television-viewing public, sure the story sounded ridiculous from the beginning, but stranger things have happened.
Besides, in a world fuelled by reality TV shows, there’s no saying that this entire event — unlikely as it might seem now — could not have occurred.
The ordinary person likely finds a little joy in such silly, feel-good stories.
Admit it or not, we all need a little silliness in our lives.
Lee Giles is an Advocate editor.