In the Age of Obama, all dramatic developments connect somehow to the Dear Leader himself even a seemingly frivolous distraction like Balloon Boy. In fact, the strange but thoroughly publicized non-flight of young Falcon Heene offers unexpected illumination on the essential appeal of Obamanism.
For three hours on Thursday, October 15, the cable networks dropped all other stories (ironically including the presidents visit to New Orleans) to provide wall-to-wall coverage of a homemade Mylar weather balloon blowing at random across the Colorado skies. In every corner of the country, people turned aside from their normal routines and gathered around any available TV screens to watch the crude, silvery, windblown sack of helium; in many cases, they prayed, either silently or openly, for a safe landing of the odd craft with its supposedly precious cargo. When the balloon came to earth with no child aboard, the story seemed to take a dark and perhaps tragic turn as authorities began searching a fifty mile radius to find the remains of an adorable six-year old who had either fallen or jumped in the midst of his airborne adventure.
The belated discovery of the missing kid, and the revelation that Falcon had never taken flight in the first place, brought relief and joy on the one hand, but also an unmistakable sense that the unfolding events had cheated the public. Not only had the networks failed to deliver on an implicit promise to locate and exploit some gruesome splat of blood and bone that might have elevated a diverting but meaningless tale to the level of heart-breaking disaster, but the sudden reappearance of the purportedly imperiled protagonist exposed all the breathless viewers as so many suckers.
After all, we had spent hours riveted by images of an empty, aimlessly drifting balloon, with nothing at risk beyond the colossal waste of time and money on the part of gullible millions. Even before the suspicions and ultimate exposure of the Heene hoax, the lack of any satisfying denouement --- either miraculous rescue or tragic accident left a sour taste about this short-lived national craze. The likelihood that the family deliberately staged the entire episode certainly intensified, but didnt initiate, the underlying sense that wed been had by the whole sorry spectacle: taken in by some utterly meaningless stunt, whether or not the Heenes knowingly deceived the authorities.