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Why Did We Care About Balloon Boy?

October 19, 2009

Balloon Boy held the nation captive earlier this week.

Last Thursday, the nation sat captivated as a silver object floated through the Colorado sky, supposedly carrying a 6-year-old boy as its passenger. Authorities couldn’t figure out a way to free the boy from his shiny cage, so they sat helpless on the ground, waiting for the balloon to fall and hoping the boy would survive.

Once the balloon came down, though, it proved to be empty and the search began anew, as police believed that the boy had fallen out at some point during his flight. It was, therefore, much to the relief (and now anger) of everyone when Falcon Henne was found hiding in a box in his family’s attic’s garage the entire time.

The story wasn’t one that we should have cared about, though, during a time when developments overseas could affect foreign policy, health care legislation is still developing and the economy is just beginning to peek out from the blanket of recession. So why has this story dominated our news cycles all weekend?

The answer is actually fairly simple. Originally, the story seemed interesting because a small child was in danger in large part due to the fact that his family was building an absurd-looking aircraft. Children in danger always capture the interest of the public, but we are even more fascinated by UFOs and crazy inventors than we are by kids. This account, therefore, was a huge story waiting to happen.

Then, once the story proved hoax-y and had a “happy ending,” America began to wonder how it had been fooled, going from interested to angry. The United States is a country fascinated by news and by news cycles, so when something fools us as bad as this story did, we immediately want to know how and why it got past us. The next week or so will be followed by allegations and denials, but, ultimately, this story will be completely unimportant, just like it was from the very beginning.

Originally posted at On Popular Culture

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