I missed out on most of the fun surrounding Bubble Boy last week. When the balloon supposedly containing six-year-old Falcon Heene was soaring over Colorado, I was in the midst of rehearsals with the cast of Twelve Angry People with no internet access to fill me in. I learned about it only when I got home and saw a ton of tweets providing a nearly blow-by-blow account of what had been going on all afternoon. The whole thing seemed too fantastic to be true, and it turns out that that is probably the case. The local sheriff investigating the whole situation has reportedly found that the whole thing was a hoax, cooked up by dad Richard Heene (a veteran of that reality-tv gem Wife Swap) to facilitate getting his own extraterrestrial-themed reality show.
In theory, Heene had a great idea. How many times have we seen people turn a media frenzy into reality fame? Pop out a couple dozen babies, and it's a matter of time before TLC is knocking at your door, right? Be stupid enough to make (AND KEEP) a sex tape, and E! will fall all over itself to help keep your fame alive. So who can blame Heene for thinking that creating his own media frenzy would be his path to superstardom?
Heene made a couple crucial mistakes that may ultimately land him in jail if the felony charges the sheriff is seeking stick.
1. He should have put the kid in the balloon. First of all, it would have made for a better story -- the kid who survived the balloon journey and lived to tell the tale. Once word got out that little Falcon was never in the balloon, the talk began that the whole thing had been a hoax.
2. He trusted in the media's willingness to be duped. Heene was right in thinking that the media would jump all over the tale of the little boy stuck inside the balloon and the heroic efforts to rescue him. Hours of cable news coverage was devoted to Falcon's flight over Colorado. Once it was revealed to have all been for naught, that little Falcon had been safely at home the entire time, the media turned vicious. They had been betrayed, deceived, and, worst of all, made to look foolish. As they fed on each other in accusation, they turned on the person responsible, Heene, and became determined to prove their innocence at his devious hands. They gunned for Heene and now seem to be reveling in dancing their victory dance at his fall.
3. He entrusted an essential part of the plan to a six-year-old child. As angry as the media was over their betrayal, they may have had no choice but to sit and pout for a few weeks and put together self-flagellating stories about themselves had it not been for one little boy. Thursday night, little Falcon Heene joined his family on CNN's Larry King Live. When asked about the whole ordeal and why he had hid and not responded to his parents' frantic cries, Falcon responded, “You guys said that, um, we did this for the show.” You could almost hear the collective "d'ohs" across the country. What parent didn't empathize, thinking of their own tales of secrets revealed by a confused child? Of course, most parents aren't engaged in a huge media scam, and so those moment of empathy quickly gave way to smug moments of triumph as everyone became convinced that Falcon's story was a hoax, and the charge was led by the media. Falcon's throwing up on two morning shows the next day only added fuel to the fire as it became sure "evidence" of his nervousness and guilt. Heene's fatal flaw was that he trusted a child to keep silent and keep a secret. Tsk, tsk, tsk.