Friday, October 16, 2009

All the World's A Stage

Shakespeare told us that "all the world is a stage and all the men and women merely players". I suppose we can now add "and all the boys and girls are too".

The drama of the Balloon Boy, aka Falcon Heene, has thrown in sharp relief just how reality and make believe can collide. Yesterday, as news organizations breathlessly reported every new (and often not new) development in the story, everyone with any decency surely hoped and prayed for that family and that little boy. How terrible, how tragic, the story could have ended.

As it unfolded, I too prayed for the little boy and his parents. However, when it was reported that the balloon had landed and no one was in it and that Falcon's older brother had been the one to claim his younger brother had gone up in the balloon, I turned to my husband and told him, "That little boy is hiding in his backyard." (OK, I was off by a few feet.)

Why would I say such a cynical thing? Oh, maybe I just know something about human nature in general, and children in particular. It sounded to me like a childish prank gone awry. The story seemed to be resolved fairly quickly after that, as the six year old was found hiding in a box, and everyone was relieved (if chagrined) and that should be the end, right? Wrong.

When questioned, our young would-be adventurer piped up, "It was for the show". Show? What show? Here it becomes important to note that the Heene family are, ahem, a bit quirky. And they've managed to turn that quirkiness into profit by posting You Tube videos and appearing on the ABC reality show, "Wife Swap". (Side note: perhaps reality show ought also to be in quotation marks?)

Uh, oh. Did the Heene family lead the entirety of the U.S. media on a Wild Falcon Chase as a publicity stunt? Or is the young man just confused, and understandably so, about what is and isn't reality?

Whatever the answer may be, our media must share the blame. The lines between reality and make-believe, news and entertainment, have become hopelessly blurred. What did it benefit anyone that the news of October 15, 2009 was wall to wall "Boy Lost in Balloon" coverage? Would the reporting of the story in any way have helped the little boy if the story had been true? What exactly could all those reporters and camera men have done for the Heene family, anyway?

Falcon Heene, in his childish statement, has indicted his parents, the media, and, really, all of us. The media runs after a story for awhile, be it Anna Nicole Smith's death, Michael Jackson, Jaycee Duggard, "Octo-Mom" or really, anything that will sell papers and make interesting news coverage, until we're so saturated with all the sordid details, we just don't, and couldn't possibly, care any more.

Remember the old adage, "If it bleeds, it leads"? "The play's the thing", to quote our old friend Shakespeare again. Maybe we should just substitute "reality show" for "the play" in our time.

For today, the Heene family and the media, all have egg on their faces. We can be relieved that no one was injured, including all those willing to sacrifice themselves to save a little boy. We can be relieved, but we ought to be chastened and sobered by what this story can teach us.

"It was for the show," is exactly right, no matter how young Mr. Heene meant it. And everyone knows, the show must go on.

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