Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation
By now, most of the hoax-generated hullabaloo over the Balloon Boy has taken flight, bobbed around and been deflated, so here's a fresh story:
I was once a guest at a wedding of a TV and film star. I found myself en route to the wedding reception in a limo with her hypoglycemic, equally famous bridesmaid, as well as her hair, makeup and stylist team. Once inside the limo, the stylist started banging on the window to communicate something to the driver—perhaps he desperately needed a cigarette? When the driver, busy shepherding folks into the limo, didn't respond with alacrity, the stylist barked in a terrifying rasp, "Acknowledge me!" His demand has always stuck in my mind, and not just because my date and I laughingly quoted him for years. There's something about his primal plea that seems to sum up our times.
The Heenes sure wanted to be acknowledged when they pretended (with some very, very bad acting indeed) that their 6-year-old son, Falcon, was joyriding in a Mylar-mobile. What's particularly bemusing about their con is that they'd already enjoyed their allotted 15 minutes of fame: They'd appeared on Wife Swap—twice. So, really, they got waaaaaay more than their 15 minutes—an "hour-long" TV show is actually 44 minutes, so if you do the math, that's about six times more Heene than we ever needed.
So why are Heenes so insatiable? Why would they go to such lengths to be famous? Why do so many people want to be reality stars?
Well, okay, duh: There are some major perks to fame. Money, US Weekly covers, guest hosting on The View, having people glue fake eyelashes on you. Plus, as never before, fame seems democratically accessible. The opportunities to broadcast yourself are preposterously available. You can blog, graffiti your life on your Facebook wall and YouTube yourself to anyone who will stop tweeting her own thoughts long enough to pay attention to yours. Round-the-clock cable news coverage combined with major networks making dubious decisions to commit themselves to reality programming makes for a ravenous maw that demands to be fed. So being famous seems plausibly achievable.
But. Do you actually remember the name of the third Bachelor? How about the winner of Big Brother 5? What's Joe Millionaire up to? Martha Stewart's Apprentice—has she stenciled, brined and grommeted her way into your permanent "acknowledgment"?
Doing important things versus feeling important