A Heen-ious Crime: Hot Air, Hot Water
by Michele Paiva
The unoffical story behind Richard Heene and the wave of exploiting children on reality television, or why I think parents who exploit their children need therapy.
As someone who is not that interested in reality television, I had no idea who Richard Heene was, other than a father of a young boy who was apparently, floating across the sky in a home-built contraption made of mylar, filled with helium.
October 15, I get an email from my friend, she is somewhat frantic in her writing style, stating that I need to turn on the news as there is a boy stuck in a balloon, flying fast across the sky.
In disbelief, I couldn’t resist the tempation so I did in fact, turn on MSNBC where sure enough, a flying saucer like balloon is flying across the sky over Colorado. News reporters speculating on whatever they can, as they try to decipher the story as it unfolds before our eyes and, before their own eyes.
During which time, driblits of information fly in (no pun intended), such as the father and mother were on a reality show called “Wife Swap” then, we find out that it was not once but twice.
In case you don’t know what Wife Swap is all about, let me fill you in. Two wives trade places for a few weeks; usually and I think in all cases thus far, they are mothers. So, producers it appears try to match families that are very different in many ways to create and instigate turmoil. Not sure why anyone would want to subject their child to anyone to this but apparently reality television is hot and people see money signs and people at home love turmoil, so it exists and exists quite well. It’s my gut feeling that more people know about “Jon and Kate” (I am not even sure of the name of the show as it apparently keeps changing names for some publicity-starved reason) than they do about politics, health, their own children or relationships.
I have realized that more people follow “TMZ” than any credible news source. Wait, let me take that back. I should preface with the reporters for TMZ seem to take more serious approaches to getting their story and reporting than other mainstream media; and without as much bias, so perhaps this is a sign of our times. Sadly.
Anyway, as October 15th unfolds, I shove off work and in the rainy day in suburban Philadelphia I stay glued to my television set hoping for the best; meanwhile as more and more facts come out, I begin to research and feel an unsettling feeling that this is all a hoax (as many also did) and, though thrilled that the boy was OK in the long run, I was upset at the severity of the issue, or shall I say, many issues that surround this story.
This story was meant as a publicity stunt and in a way, I’m glad it happened. Though resources were lost on many levels; it brought to light a serious problem. Exploiting children and families on television.
Back to Richard Heene, the mastermind if you will, who thought up this stunt. Now, note that I do not use mastermind as a compliment. I use it in sarcasm as anyone can exploit, a true genius publicity stunt should not harm or hurt; where this did.
Although at the time of this writing, there are not specific charges, it is thought that some charges at minimum will be sought. Investigators are still looking at the family “accused” of carrying out this national, no- international, plot.
The plot is something out of a child services “you won’t believe this story” saga. It included a call to the news, local and then national authorities to track a helium balloon, thought to have Falcon Heene within it or, “on board”.
There were military helicopters, the FAA and NORAD all on different levels; in addtion to news crews from everywhere. There were reporters heard on broadcast in tears and choked up, because they thought the boy may have fallen out of the contraption.
An air port (Denver) was shut down; do you know how many people had to alter their entire life; some perhaps missing funerals or weddings or other huge events, all because of a man’s greed and need for attention?
Farm fields were ruined and a family (farm) income grossly compromised. Additionally, lest not forget the real issues happening in our society where these resources and money used for these resources were needed and instead, a call of priorities was to save a boy; a boy who never even left home, all in a hoax by the father, a sick man with a sick need for attention.
What unfurled on the news appeared to be interviews with neighbors, all of whom were hesitant at best to porty the Heene’s as anything but a wacky family. All of the neighbors interviewed that I actually viewed would hem and haw, sigh, and be vague in comments requested from reporters.
You see shots of this ridiculous balloon and wonder what the hell the parent was thinking. You hear conflicting stories even in the beginning stages of this saga.
In whole though, the nation was on edge – though some immediately knew it was a hoax; I admit I was unsure. I felt incredibly shaken up and was on the phone with friends saying “can you imagine the guilt the parent must feel; the fear?”
Meanwhile, Heene was probably in his home laughing it up.
My initial questions, which I wondered why other reporters did not ask though, perhaps they did and I just wasn’t privy to them in the hours of air-time this story has gleaned are many.
Why would someone have a hot air balloon in their backyard filled with helium?
Why would your kids be home from school if this was a scheduled school day? *Perhaps it was? No one asked?
Why would you spend money on a helium balloon and have a big “take off” count down and video tape it and then be theatrical when it lifted off?
Why would you call the news before 911?
Why wouldn’t you be chasing that balloon if you thought your child was in it?
Why would you even allow your child near that much helium when it could pose a danger, if you are an alleged scientist who should know better?
I mean, helium is not air; thus being in a situation where your young child is near large quantities could substantially lower the amount of air in their lungs and brain. It is an inert gas; sames as carbon monoxide. If a balloon filled with an inert gas where carrying your child, wouldn’t you be concerned about a LOT including their air supply if a leak happened in the wrong place????
Helium huffing can cause stroke and even death; so though fun for some, even in small doses it is dangerous. A “scientist” even an amateur, should know this and keep his young children away from this toxic gas. Why didn’t a reporter ask about this????
Why didn’t anyone ask Heene if when he looked at the balloon that was on television for at least two hours, he didn’t say “oh wait, the other part is not there, stop the chase” but, he didn’t – why????
It seems that when this antic began, a child stated his brother was in the box. Then the story was that the balloon had another part of the box and it was missing. THEN it was that the boy was just hiding; in an attic which was the only place no searched.
People are wondering why the older boy would lie. Well, if you were raised your entire life to think that lies and attention seeking where normal, a lie would not be that hard to convey. If you are a child manipulated or even fearful of a parent who is now being uncovered to be an abusive man, it stands clear that right and wrong are just not clear lines.
The innocense of childhood however took hold when I reporter asked Falcon a question and his answer was something akin to “for the show”; and after this, the story unfolds into a sick, attention seeking scheme.
Even in this, the child was vomiting and ill and the parents instead opted for interviews on television rather than to take care of this child that they allegedly almost lost? If you really think about it; if you really felt your son or daughter almost died a horrific death or was scared and lost, would you compromise them or feel grateful that they were fine? You’d feel grateful and you’d tell the media to kis your ass you were a parent first and “media personality” second. Not Heene.
I won’t even get into the many ways and many people who are coming to fruition about his instability. In part because, it would be too lengthy. In part, because not everyone on in an acting class or reality show is a nut. However, this brings me to the purpose of this book; it is not about Richard Heene or his wife or kids. It is about reality television and the exploits of such. Although much can be said about child actors the same can be said about child pageant competitors or child athletes; yet, in all of the latter cases, the child is often very taken care of and not exploited. The child is not portraying themselves as entertainment in whole but a facet of a hobby. In reality television there is a sadness to the person themselves being entertainment; their laughter and also tears – real tears, real anger, real upheaval. This is entertainment?
Our society is thriving on gossip, and reality television is becoming a joke of human existance. More importantly, it is one thing if you want to exploit yourself but to exploit a child is another.
It is said that the idea of reality TV was to bring real life to screen; however, most of what we are seeing in reality TV is not only still faked but, it is also unhealthy people being exploited by producers.
If you think that reality TV is real life, then it makes your life seen mundane perhaps, if you are an unhealthy person. If you are a child, then you see the reality television antics as perhaps a role model to live up to; as children are taught “acting is fake” then that means in their mind that reality television stars are very much real.
Reality television attracts shallow individuals many times; not all times, as I don’t like to generalize. I interviewed someone who I feel is using her reality show stardom to benefit herself in a healthy way; Bethenny Frankel. Other than her, I really haven’t heard of anyone who has it together on reality television but then again, I’m not a chaser of pop culture celebs either; so I admit my ignorance on the matter.
I do not have ignorance however, in ethics.
In quick research, check out “Super Nanny” and “Real Housewives” and “Jon and Kate”….to name a few.
Producers don’t want mundane. So they look for the most sensationalized situations and amp it up. They look for people starved for attention. They look for people who want nonstop media attention for whatever reason. Some people I suppose want the money they think they may get (and they may) and some just want to feel important. I have yet to see any of them, barring one as mentioned, do much for outreach or to better themselves or to help others.
People who seek reality shows often go into this realm without any true media background barring amatuer gigs, like their own youtube TV show and such –if that.
Everyone knows that child actors have it hard; why would anyone think that a child who is being shamed in front of national and now, global view, would fare any better? Think back to the shows of the 60’s and 70’s and at how many of those child stars even if they were costars or supporting cast, ended down a very bad road. Barring a small handful, most ended up with developmental issues of emotional, mental and even physical genre’ as well as being brought up too soon with mature situations happening at an alarming rate; their childhood raped.
Now, take a look at todays children; do you think these kids will fare better when their visions on screen are not even acting but actually their own behaviors to feel possibly ashamed of?
What about the many issues such as being scrutinized endlessly by the media. Unlike the 60’s and 70’s and even the 80’s, the media is much larger and much more global, and much more greedy. The story is now not just on the news but on the internet. Even if it is not the child, it is the parent made as a fool in their own antics. This is also harmful to the children or child.
In whole the way media works is simple but people don’t seem to get it. Advertisers foot the bill. They pay for popular shows. Do not say you hate Jon and Kate then tune in and then complain about them and the world. Just refrain. If everyone stopped tuning in to these freaks and spending more money on National Geographic and the History Channel, we would have less to complain about. Our kids would be watching more sensible television and learning and growing instead of being broken.
You turn the channel off and don’t let your children watch them either. Stop advertisers from seeing these shows as alluring places to put their budget; then when there is less budget the producers look for something else, and the antics of these people fall by the wayside.
We can’t stop parents from being abusive and it is my guess if they did not have this platform of reality television or attention seeking, that they would still do whatever they could to live through their child or use their child for their own unethical greed.
Long term pain is the result here. Richard Heene is probably basking in his glory, in his sick way, he has gleaned what he wanted; but in the end, in ten or twenty years, Falcon and the other children may very well hold considerable shame and for this entire action. Or, worse, they will feel nothing and be worse than their father through lack of solid role model and lack of knowing right from wrong.
In whole, when do we start to see the damage not only for the kids in the reality programs but for our children, toddlers to teens, growing up thinking that reality TV is “normal”?
I don’t claim to have answers. I just hope someone does.