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Monday, October 19, 2009

The Balloon Boy Never Left the Ground

 Up, Up and Away?

Fame may be defined as "Report or opinion generally diffused; renown; public estimation; celebrity, either favorable or unfavorable." What is the price attributed by most to fame? It is common knowledge that fame is often both intoxicating and toxic. People who do not fully understand the antonyms sometimes use the terms fame and infamy interchangeably.

In fact, while both suggest widespread knowledge of a person or deed, one (infamy) has a negative connotation, while the other (famous) has a positive one . In this society, where terrible infamous deeds are often rewarded with copious public attention, discerning between fame and infamy should help people retain a proper perspective of achievement. In fact, the populace must demand that fame be awarded to those who deserve such favor.

One Internet site claims most people associate fame with "visions of beautiful famous people, red carpet, limos, expensive smiles, tuxedos, flashes of cameras… This is a dream, a paradise for each of us because fame, recognition are the most powerful narcotics and aphrodisiacs for all times! ... Eternal fame and glory – that is the secret dream of every person on this planet!" (  Pricefame encourages everyone to become a famous, topline, recognizable person while influencing the minds of others and finding fans. The site begs people to upload materials that can make them famous and "reserve their place at the history's walk of fame."

How does this quick scheme of creation cheapen most people's conception of those who truly deserve to be famous? Does it possibly encourage those who wish to be infamous? Money and power contort the definition of admiration until many cannot recognize important traits of good character. Are fame and infamy new gods of the masses?

"Fifteen minutes of fame" is an expression coined by American artist Andy Warhol which refers to the fleeting condition of celebrity that grabs onto an object of media, then passes to some new object as soon as people's attention spans are exhausted. It is often used in reference to figures in the entertainment industry and other areas of popular culture. As things have turned out, the rise of celebrity culture and reality television in the Western world since the time of Warhol's expression have shown him to be quite prophetic. ( However, this expression may read more truthfully today as "fifteen minutes of infamy or fame."

 Heene Brothers- Brad 10, Falcon 6, Ryo 8

CNN News announced, "Three days after (October 15, 2009) the world watched a giant balloon fly through the air as a tearful (Colorado) family expressed fears that their 6-year-old boy could be inside, authorities announced what millions suspected: The whole thing was staged."  

Father Richard Heene, a storm chaser and inventor whose family had appeared on the reality show "Wife Swap," and his wife Mayumi first said one of the boy's older brothers had seen him inside the compartment of his flying saucer-like helium balloon before it took off and that's why the family had thought young Falcon was in it when the balloon launched. The boy's father had said the family had been tinkering with the balloon Thursday and that he had scolded Falcon for getting inside a compartment on the craft.

The giant silvery helium balloon floated away from the family's yard late lastThursday morning, sparking a frantic rescue operation. Several people reported seeing something fall from the craft while it was in the air, and yellow crime-scene tape was placed around the home.

The flying saucer-like craft, shown live on television nationwide, tipped precariously at times before gliding to the ground in a field.The entire balloon saga captivated people around the country as they stopped to watch the jaw-dropping sight on television of the aircraft gliding through the air, then plummeting to the ground.

Falcon was not found in the compartment of the grounded balloon. With the child nowhere in sight, investigators searched the balloon's path. But, it turns out the boy had fled to the attic in his home at some point after the scolding and was never in the balloon during its two-hour, 50-mile journey through two counties. "I yelled at him. I'm really sorry I yelled at him," Richard Heene said as he hugged his son during a news conference.

Sheriff Jim Alderden of Larimer County said, "The biggest error we made is when we searched the house. Very clearly we didn't search the house as thoroughly as we should." (, October 19 2009) Authorities had assumed a 6-year-old boy could not have reached that attic, so they took the Heenes at their word that Falcon had hidden there the whole time.

 Suspicion that the balloon saga was a hoax arose almost immediately after Falcon was found hiding. And to aid suspicion, the family had a video camera recording as the balloon took off Thursday. Sheriff Alderden said the family had told him they had planned an experiment in which the balloon was to rise a mere 20 feet off the ground. Alderden also confirmed that Richard Heene had called a local news station before dialing 911. Suspicious indeed.

Early clues to the hoax surfaced Thursday night when the family appeared on CNN's Larry King Show. In an interview with Wolf Blitzer, filling in for King, the Heenes asked their son why he had not come out from hiding when they called his name."You guys said we did this for the show," the boy responded.

As Blitzer attempted a follow-up question later in the interview, the newsman was scolded by Falcon's father. "The media had asked the sheriff's department these questions about this publicity stunt crap. And everything that I went through, everything my wife has gone through, I just find that just disgusting," he huffed. (Megan Masters, E Online, October 15 2009)

Falcon got sick during two separate TV interviews Friday when asked again why he hid from his family. Falcon's father was questioned again. Then, after the sheriff spoke to reporters, Richard Heene and his wife walked out of his office after several hours of interrogation. As reporters yelled questions, all Heene said was, "I was talking to the sheriff's department just now." He then walked to his car with his wife and a friend, and they drove away.

Authorities now believe the alleged plot was hatched in an attempt by the Heene family "to better market themselves for a reality show at some point in the future," Alderden said. "They were lying." (, October 19 2009)
The producer of the ABC reality show "Wife Swap" said it had a show in development with the Heenes but the deal is now off. Network TLC also said Heene had pitched a reality show to them months ago, but it passed on the offer. (, October 16 2009)

Robert Thomas told CNN Sunday that as a student at Colorado State University with an interest in electromagnetic studies, he sought out Heene for a job as a possible research assistant. He said he ended up as Heene's "stenographer," taking down his ideas and proposals for reality-show pitches to ABC. 

Low and behold, 25-year-old researcher Robert Thomas, who had worked with Richard Heene for about two months last spring, was paid by -- a popular gossip site -- to write about his experience with Heene for a story published on Saturday.Thomas admitted how earlier this year he and Richard Heene had drawn up a master plan to generate a massive media controversy using a weather balloon. Thomas also reported that he and Heene had pitched this show that would include several pranks, one of which was similar to the high-flying balloon incident. (website "The Business Insider")

Sheriff Jim Alderden said at a press conference on Sunday,“The hoax [was] a planned event for at least two weeks to launch this spacecraft in order to gain media create a situation where it appeared Falcon was in the craft and his life was in danger with an ultimate goal of…obtaining a contract to do a reality show.” (Ann Murray-Yavar,, October 18 2009) 

Reportedly, Heene has a history of strange behavior that also supports the Balloon Boy Hoax theories, and considering the Colorado police have announced they are bringing in Child Services it appears there is more evidence to come.

No charges have been filed yet, and neither Richard or Mayumi Heene are under arrest. Some of the most serious charges each carry a maximum sentence of six years in prison and a $500,000 fine.The Larimer County Sheriff's Office will recommend charges of conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, false reporting to authorities, and attempting to influence a public servant against the Heenes.

Alderden said all three of the Heenes' sons knew of the balloon hoax, but likely won't face charges because of their ages.

What price infamy? Ask the Heenes' but it's better to delay judgment until the media finishes with their "fifteen minutes of fame" coverage. Books, television interviews, articles -- all have the potential for cashing in on the balloon boy story. The media frenzy is not over yet. Only until publicity dies does the interest die. Only until interest dies do the offers of cash die.

What lasts longer: infamy or fame?  Fuel the argument with Hitler, Jesus, Charles Manson and Martin Luther King, Jr. Here's hoping the Heenes' infamous balloon hoax and all their greedy intentions don't live to fly another day.

"Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, and riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is character."  -- Horace Greeley 


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