Besides actually doing the jail time, the Balloon Boy Hoax story has reached its inevitable end — with the sentencing of Richard and Mayumi Heene in a Fort Collins, Colorado, courthouse. The Balloon Boy Hoax might possibly become known as one of the most ridiculous stories of 2009, but while it was ongoing, Richard and Mayumi Heene led the nation on a wild balloon chase by conning the world — via CNN, Fox News, and every other news outlet — into believing that their 6-year-old son, Falcon, was aboard an experimental balloon that had escaped its mooring. After admitting that they had concocted the entire hoax to further their careers in reality television, it became just a matter of time before public outrage and legal prosecution met in a courtroom.
Richard Heene, who also faces stiff fines for wasting local and state resources in the fruitless chase of the “balloon boy,” repeatedly apologized to the judge. The judge was unmoved, stating that the Heene’s motive for perpetrating the hoax had been to make money. He sentenced Richard Heene to 90 days in jail. He then turned to Mayumi Heene and gave her 20 days.
The Heene’s Balloon Boy Hoax began when they called the police and told them that their son had somehow untethered an experimental balloon in the back yard — and they believed he was still on board. Minutes later, chasing the balloon across the Colorado countryside became breaking news. CNN followed the drama almost from its onset, devoting hours of programming to following the balloon and the family. A drama that did not end when the balloon crashed to the ground and no balloon boy was found. The frantic search ended when the boy came down out of the garage attic, revealing himself.
Although a bit exasperating, the Balloon Boy story was just a story that ended well until, in an interview on CNN, the entire hoax began to unravel. Little Falcon Heene told the national audience that his parents had told him to hide “for the show.” Heene and his wife, Mayumi, later admitted that the boy had been hiding in the garage attic the entire time.
But, in the end, it was great fun for everyone. It was exciting. There were the anxious feelings of dread as the helium balloon rocketed through the sky, the sinking feeling that the little boy could have fallen, could have actually been hurt in the ride. There was the elation when little Falcon was found and the frustration and disappointment in the entire Heene family when the entire Balloon Boy incident turned out to be nothing more than a promotional hoax for a reality television program.
But wasn’t it entertaining?
For a few hours, Richard Heene had his reality show. On national and international television, people followed the balloon boy and his parents. Then, for days afterward, people followed the antics of the Heene’s as they attempted to squirm out of situation that only got increasingly worse.
But wasn’t it entertaining?
Zennie Abraham at the San Francisco Chronicle maintains that the sentencing is all wrong, even wasteful. He suggests that Richard Heene’s talents be put to use doing something socially relevant and useful, like filming a reality show covering a non-profit organization like one devoted to battered women.
Unfortunately, Abraham is correct. Richard Heene, who has shown he has a knack for getting noticed (besides the Balloon Boy Hoax, he’s been on several reality shows, including “Wife Swap”). Put his talents to use for something socially relevant to repay society for his reprehensible con-job.
Because in the end, everyone is just a little bit annoyed with Richard and Mayumi Heene because they scammed everyone. But putting them in jail, where they will simply do nothing, is a waste of time. Literally. Just as much a waste of time as sitting and watching a balloon that might have a wayward child in it cross the Colorado sky.
And that waste of time, which could be turned into doing something of note and socially beneficial to repay their debt to society, will not be entertaining at all.