The more implausible elements of the ‘Balloon Boy’ story are deflating fast, but still people are hanging on in there, waiting to see what happens when the balloon crashes finally to earth.
Deprived of the possibility of an injured or dead child to fulminate over, the press are waiting to see what happens to the child’s father and making scathing noises about his “appalling” hoax. Legal action looms on the horizon and the life of a man desperate for attention looks likely to deflate even more drastically than the balloon he claimed had carried off his son.
But why is there all this fuss? The media are furious at being scammed and at appearing gullible, but they have scammed many times before and shrugged it off, admitting they’ve been kippered – such stories make for good entertainment.
Hoaxes have been a part of the American psyche for decades – just think of Orson Welles’ radio version of War of the Worlds in the 1930s. The flying saucer is one of the most recognisable tropes of the modern era of hoaxing; ‘balloon boy’s’ father was just – amateurishly – continuing a theme. On reflection, ‘Balloon Boy’ is one hoax that the media could and should have been able to see through, given that there was no realistic way that the balloon could have held a cat, let alone a six year old boy.
Why are the media so furious about a man who is so patently desperate for fame that he was prepared to try anything? Is it really because he pulled the wool over their eyes? It is the media’s fault that people are doing anything and everything they can to get noticed – all one need do is look at the reports of fabulous nobodies like Kerry Katona, Jordan and Pete and so on, who litter the newspapers daily at the expense of actual news, and at the thousands of wannabes who clutter up the tarmac at X Factor auditions. It’s seen as the last measure of job security, being famous, even if it often pays little.
The media needs to take a long hard look at what it is asking the public to buy into in future, if it is serious about turning on the people it has helped create.
When King of Comedy came out 26 years ago, the character of Rupert Pupkin was a grotesque, an inflated satire. Now that mindset is everywhere – the world is full of Rupert Pupkins, created by the press and public’s endless desire for the next sacrificial lamb in the servant’s quarters of fame. The press are largely culpable for this, using stories such as ‘Balloon Boy’ to bury bad news or carry people away on a soapy ride. To censure someone for trying to play the game by slightly different rules is simply hypocrisy.