October 18, 2009

Hell Hath No Fury Like A Media-Obsessed Society Scorned

From BBC NEWS | Americas: US balloon boy case 'was a hoax'

The latest shocking news in the ongoing Balloongate saga is that authorities have decided to charge Colorado parents Richard and Mayumi Heene with a number of different crimes, including conspiracy and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, all based on the accusation that the entire incident was a deliberately staged hoax.

So, let me get this straight.

This family released a weather balloon, then told the authorities their son might be inside said weather balloon, and now the police are threatening them with jail because everybody so thoroughly bought it? Sorry, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this whole "hoax" would have been fairly innocuous if the media hadn't made such a retarded circus about it.

Okay, so I'm being a little facetious, but it seems to me that it's pretty disingenuous to blame the family for trying to create a publicity stunt when the only reason such a stunt is even possible is that we're all living in a culture that gets so unreasonably excited about stuff like this; if all the TV news outlets weren't so ecstatically shitting themselves immediately about the prospect of filling two hours of airtime, then what reason would the Heenes have had for doing anything in the first place?

I mean, even supposing that the entire thing was deliberately planned by the Heenes, just try and imagine it happening without the existence of CNN et al. TRY IT. Do you really think the Heenes would be getting charged with anything if a couple of cops had wasted their time with absolutely no media attention? Of course not! They'd probably get a slap on the wrists and a withering look and an admonition to check the attic first, next time. "Contributing to the delinquency of a minor", though? Give me a break.

And what about this supposedly damning piece of evidence that the kid thought he was "putting on a show"? A show for whom, huh? The cops? The neighbourhood? No! For the same freakin' people who already paid them oodles of money to make a spectacle of themselves on FOX; give them attention for doing stupid shit, and OF COURSE they'll go and do some even stupider shit to try and hold it for a little longer. THE MEDIA IS MAKING TODDLERS OF US ALL.

I hate to get all academic on you, but can we just talk for a moment about how on the money Jean Baudrillard was? (Sorry, but it cost $100,000 for me to learn this stuff — I'm not going to pass up a perfect opportunity to show it off.)


Amy said...

If this was a hoax, the parents are insane.

Dye! said...

It is a criminal offence in many places to make false declarations to police. In Canada, it's only criminal if you report a crime or a death that didn't actually take place, but it's unsurprising that in some jurisdictions falsely reporting any sort of emergency would be criminal. It endangers the public by distracting rescue personnel from real emergencies, and costs taxpayers money for no reason. I am quite sure that police would have seriously considered charges even if no media had reported the event at all.

Second, I think it's a bit harsh to blame the media. What society in any era would have been indifferent to hearing that a child was trapped in an out-of-control vehicle at that very moment?

While I'm not old enough to remember an era before television, I am old enough to remember when my news came from a once-daily newspaper and a once-per-evening newscast from a choice of two channels. While the internet and 24-hour news channels sometimes struggle to put something interesting on the air, I actually think they've been wonderful for civil society. Precisely because there are so many people chasing after the same stories, the news is much more verifiable now. Also, we all have access to perspectives now that I never got with only a few local media sources. We are all much better informed now than our contemporaries were 25 years ago; if all of this new information is made profitable for its producers by chasing a few empty balloons, then so be it.

Andrew said...

As usual, Mr. D., an impassioned and well-reasoned rebuttal. Allow me to respond:

I agree that tying up the emergency services for no good reason is worth making a fuss about, but as regards this case, anyway, I remain unconvinced that there was intent to deceive — and a mistaken declaration to the police, while unfortunate, doesn't warrant criminal charges, I don't think. It still seems to me that without the media shitstorm, the family might, perhaps, get sued in civil court to help cover the expense of the operation, but certainly wouldn't be getting threatened with six years in prison.

I also agree that it's harsh to *completely* blame the media, and we all have free will and all that, but let's be honest: they sure didn't help. If somebody these days wants to get their fifteen minutes, it's easier than ever to manipulate the system.

And as for the 24 news channels, well, I think they're at best a double-edged sword. I'm willing to concede that news is more verifiable in theory with so many people trying to report it — but you assume they report it with balance and professionalism, which I would contend is not always (or even often) the case.

Anyway, I feel I have to strongly disagree that, in general, they've been a boon to civil society. Without extremist nutbags getting put into point-counterpoint situations fifty times a day, I doubt the political discourse, in the US, anyway, would have descended into the bipartisan mouth-frothing that it so often is these days; every time I watch Fox News (or CNN, or MSNBC) I'm startled by how much the language of the 24 hour news channels now seems to inform political debate.

Shall we shake hands now, or duel at dawn?

Dye! said...

You are certainly right: if there was no intent to mislead police, but simply a series of misunderstandings, then they shouldn't be guilty of a crime.

I'll also agree with you that a lot of the rhetoric on 24-hour news and opinion stations are uninformative, misleading and unhelpful to the public debate among decision-makers. Even so, before the 24-hour news cycle, the same nonsense circulated from local newspaper editorials, Sunday sermons, etc., but people had fewer other sources of news and opinion with which to balance it. From personal experience, I can say that one's worldview changes tremendously when one's sources of information start to come from areas outside the West Island.

Papa' said...

So are you going to continue this discussion now that they've admitted they staged it?

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