Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Heene Story: Has Crying "Wolf!" Gone Hi-Tech?

By now you must have all heard of the story of the boy who was thought to be flying thousands of feet above the ground in a fly-away balloon. Alone, cold, scared and in mortal danger. As an entire nation (and probably a good portion of the rest of the world) followed every twist and turn in this improbable tale, we were sick with fear for the boy, we felt sorry for the parents and, finally and happily, we were relieved when we were told that the young boy was safe and sound and on solid ground.

Little did we know that the tale had yet another incredible twist left in it - turns out, if what the police say is true, the entire story is a hoax. We were set up, we were suckered in, and our emotions played on, just so the parents, allegedly, could attain their ultimate goal of appearing on a television reality show. The Larry King Interview where the six-year-old Falcon Heene suggested that he was told to hide in the attic of their home (fully stocked with snacks) "for the show", more television interviews where the boy threw up on camera, the subsequent police investigations, and now news that the parents had hired lawyers to defend them and were ready to surrender to the police - each one of them leading to stratospheric levels of disbelief and leaving a bad taste in the mouth.

The daily news and the internet are chock full of reactions to this story, all, as you can imagine, expressing shock, disgust and anger, even a feeling of being betrayed.

It also left in me a sense of wonder. The act of crying "wolf!" had undergone a seismic shift in tone. No longer was a lone boy yelling from the top of a mountain to the people in the village below. If the story does turn out to be a hoax, what we saw was grown people - a mother and father to boot - calling news stations directly with desperate appeals for news helicopters to chase the errant balloon, calling the police, imploring them for emergency help, giving hysterical television interviews over the telephone, and appearing on camera to perpetuate sympathy for an ordeal they had not suffered.

How we - the villagers in the ancient fable but in the twenty-first century a nation punk'd - behave the next time around may not be apparent right now but might become all too clear when we turn on the television and come upon another father crying inconsolably on camera at the disappearance of his child, begging for help.

What will we do then? Will we watch, riveted to our seats, and pray for the safe return of the child? Or did Aesop already give us the answer all those centuries ago? Will we roll our eyes, click the remote and move on to the next channel?

Updated to add a link to Wikipedia's page on Aesop's The Boy Who Cried Wolf and to the latest development in the story.


Ugich Konitari said...

When basic necessities of humans are no longer the problem issue, and the society is heavily consumerist, everything, including sensationalism can be bought/paid for. I am reading about this astounding thing for the first time in your blog, and am totally amazed as to what made the parents plan such a thing. Quick money from TV channel interviews and maybe publishers ? And what did the child learn ? I shudder.

It has started happening here in India too. People staging their own kidnappings. And so on.

One worries.

Cantaloupes.Amma (CA) said...

It breaks my heart that parents suck in their kids as young as 6 yr into this ... what are they trying to teach the child???
It bothers me so much.

Sylvia K said...

This whole thing sickens me and makes me wonder just what we, adults???, parents etc. are becoming! I've always had a problem with women who keep entering their daughters in beauty contests starting as early as five or six -- the make-up, hair styles and for what??? Those little girls are robbed of some of the most precious years of their childhood and is it for them? No, it's for a sick parent. Sorry, get a little carried away when it comes to kids.

This is just one more horror story, if it is indeed true! And, yes, one worries, definitely!


Midlife Roadtripper said...

At first, I could only imagine the two brothers talking the youngest into climbing into the balloon. I dare ya.

Was happy he was alive as I couldn't think of him falling out. Am not all that shocked that it was staged by the parents. Perhaps I became a cynic long ago. That scares me.

Kavi said...

The balloon story appeared on my FB account first. Some one had posted calculations as to why, scientifically, it was not possible for the balloon to have flown off with the boy.

Somehow, the entire story didn't fit the scheme of logic. Nevertheless, it was a story that absorbed so much of space on twitter & such else..

We have our own stories here. Of small children falling into small wells. And three four days of panting TV coverage later, being rescued. Sometimes, ending up unfortunately otherwise too.

I think the next time something happens like this, not an eyebrow would move.

mdeals said...

Excellent observation..

Choxbox said...


Sniffles and Smiles said...

Sujatha, Your wisdom is profound!!! And your post is extraordinarily thought-provoking!!! It is heart-breaking that the "wolf" criers shape our perceptions, and we find ourselves calloused to those who might truly need our help!! Ah, what a conundrum! Your posts are always so terrific! But thank you especially for this one!!! Much love, Janine XO

shoba said...

There was a talk about this yesterday on NPR and other similar hoaxes. All for attention.A pity , really.
It happens everywhere in the world, I guess. In India, people do it to meet their basic necessities, in the name of child labour.

sujata sengupta said...

I didnt know that this was a hoax. What a level of consumerism is the world taking on!! If all this is true, I am really upset, because, I felt for the kid! Thanks for sharing this Sujatha

Minal said...

Not relevant to this post but tagged you here. Looking forward to your limerick

Hilary said...

I felt so badly for the child. What values will he learn? The poor thing was ill on camera a couple of times. What kind of parent allows.. no, introduces this kind of stress into their child's life?

Sujatha Bagal said...

Janine, hope you're doing well. Going over to your blog. Take care.

Julie, that was my first reaction too.

Sujata, apparently it is. CNN obtained a copy of an affidavit from the mother admitting it was a hoax.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Suranga, that thought occurred to me too - that this was definitely a problem of excess.

Uma said...

The lure of Fame! The proportions it can take! At the end of it all, we would become so cynical that even the deserving wouldn't get their share of sympathy!