The XX Factor

We Are All Heenes Now

America is caught up in a frenzy of Heene-Hatred. So angry are we at the perpetrator of last week’s balloon-boy hoax, we pour out our wrath on him , his wife , cable news , reality shows , and every aspect of our celebrity-worshipping culture that rewards parents for exploiting their kids . We pledge to clean up the reality-show kid frenzy. To better regulate the exploitation of children on TV. To avoid speaking the name Heene out loud. To shun Kate and Jon and Octomom (at least until next season). And how do we express all of this outrage and contempt and disgust? In our Facebook posts, tweets, angry blog entries, and media appearances.

I am not here to defend Richard Heene, who clearly feels that reality television represents the very pinnacle of all human achievement. (Watch him here on his second run at ABC’s Wife Swap where , at 2:52, he calls being voted back onto Wife Swap “the best thing that has ever happened in our lives. Seriously.”) This man has a problem, and his willingness to co-opt his entire family into his quest for TV fame is tragic

But we also live in a time in which virtually everybody is willing to sell a piece of herself to be heard and seen in the media. It’s not really enough anymore just to wake up, eat breakfast, feed the cats, and go to work. We are all of us reporting our every thought and action in real time, and many, if not most of us, are as hungry as the Heenes to be acknowledged and heard. Given that 74 percent of Americans between the ages of 17-34 have a Facebook or MySpace page and 47 percent of us between 35-44 do as well, are we really being completely honest when we condemn the Heenes or the Octomoms for believing that the un-tweeted life is not worth living? We are different from them in degree, but not in kind, and it’s got to be a uniquely American phenomenon that in our weird self-obsessed way, we are all vying for scarce airspace so we can condemn the Heene family for their self obsession.