I didn’t want to believe that Thursday’s helium balloon TV drama was fake when all the signs pointed that way last week. But now the evidence of a balloon boy hoax has been confirmed by the sheriff who stuck up for Richard and Mayumi Heenes’ story that their son Falcon was trapped inside the balloon so many of us watched race terrifingly across the sky. Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden says now that the Heenes planned the stunt in a bid for a reality show of their own.
This is such dumbfounding, twisted exhibitionism, so much an indictment of reality TV and the bizarre pandering-filled dreams it inspires that I feel like I’m writing about a cheesy plot synopsis. Truth isn’t just crazier than fiction; it’s also more didactic and obviously a morality play. But what I keep thinking about is the moment in which 6-year-old Falcon Heene outed his crazy parents, unwittingly, it seems, and on TV, of course. “You guys said that, um, we did this for the show,” he said on CNN. It’s the kind of childish truth that has the appeal of The Emperor Has No Clothes. Only Falcon turned his candor against his mother and father. I’m trying to think of the right parallel, from history or literature or the movies. Who’s got it? Whatever it is, it doesn’t bode well for Falcon. He has to contend with letting his parents down, in their twisted universe, or with recognizing how wrong and nutty they are, in the world the rest of us live in. Neither is an uneasiness a 6-year-old should have to live with.