It is 2009. MTV has signed “The Real World” for 4 more seasons, which will be a total of 26 seasons. A group of 20-somethings in Southern California have grown up and been shot to “stardom” by living their “lives” on camera. Jon and Kate are tabloid gold. The parents of Falcon Heene have fostered a new nickname for their youngest son – “Balloon Boy”.
MTV began airing “The Real World” in 1992. It’s a show about “seven strangers, picked to live in a [house/mansion/apartment/loft], and have their lives taped”. These seven strangers are literally moved into a house, and followed with cameras as they go about their lives, that’s it – no script, no special effects. However, MTV intentionally casts people of different socio-economic backgrounds and lifestyles, in an effort to have “drama” create itself, and it does. Watching the show growing up, I remember thinking “are these people CRAZY? Why would anyone ever want to have a camera following them around 24/7?”
And then in 2004, “Laguna Beach” happened, followed by “The Hills”. Now, MTV was following around teenagers and 20-somethings in Southern California. I was entranced. I wanted to BE a reality-TV star… but how? Perhaps I could learn from these two examples, although neither really has the desired outcome.
Enter Jon and Kate Gosselin. Jon and Kate had 8 kids. EIGHT! That’s crazy, and expensive. And the producers at TLC thought so too. In an effort to make sure their children wouldn’t have to go without, the Gosselins decided to let their lives be taped and sponsored. As a result, not only do their children have everything they may need in life – but they’ve gotten to experience some amazing things (vacations to Hawaii and Colorado, appearances on national news outlets, birthday cakes made by famous chefs – also with their own TV shows). Their TV show has been on the air for five seasons and they’re creating a mini-empire. In the wake of a divorce announcement, Kate has been approached about hosting her own talk show and has guest hosted on “The View” while Jon is … desperately clinging to fame, but that’s another blog all together.
And now let’s invite Richard Heene and his clan to “fly” on over. A meteorologist from Colorado, he has approached numerous TV channels (including TLC) pitching a reality show about his storm-chasing family. His family appeared on ABC’s “Wife Swap”, and he regularly submitted video to CNN’s “iReport”. After none of those avenues resulted in fame and notoriety, he took his quest to a ridiculous level. On October 15, 2009 a 911 call was placed by the Heene family (after they called a news station!) saying their son had climbed into a home-made weather balloon and was now flying across the Colorado sky. As the nation stopped what it was doing and devoted the better part of a Thursday afternoon to watching the balloon (to be honest, I didn’t stop and watch – but I did let the audio stream in the background while I did work), Richard Heene got what he wanted – undivided attention. When his son Falcon was found, safe and sound, the search stop and the cameras got ready to turn off – but Richard Heene made sure to take full advantage of his 15-minutes, hitting the talk show circuit later that evening and making the rounds of the morning shows the next day. On “Larry King Live” (with Wolf Blitzer filling in) Falcon said “we did it for the show” and the entire nation was pretty much in the same balloon – it had to be a hoax. Richard tried to play it off by saying his son was confused, that he was referring to all the media’s attention and interviews, and not an actual show but it was too late.
His attention-seeking nature will now be his downfall. By keeping his family in the spotlight, Richard Heene was opening his family up to scrutiny, something I’m sure all reality stars could have warned him about. Sure – he was getting attention, he was being interviewed on some of the most-watched programs in the country and I’m sure he believed that a Heene-focused reality show, or at least a docu-drama, was within reach. What he didn’t count on, is that NO ONE believes that “reality-TV” is actually “reality” anymore.
Richard Heene and Jon Gosselin have learned a thing or two about being “reality-TV” stars. Reality-TV is not an actual representation of reality. Every single cast member (and they are called cast members) on “The Real World” and “The Hills” are perpetuating a pre-designed image. They were chosen to be on the show by producers for the drama they could bring, and they know that. They are acting – for the most part – even if they don’t actually have a script to read off of. The decisions they make when those cameras are rolling are directly related to the role they are being paid ridiculous amounts of money to play.
While Jon was filming the show with his family, his role seemed to be the husband who took a lot of flak from his wife for wanting to play with the kids and relax rather than neurotically clean their house. America felt bad for him. But as their life post-marriage has become tabloid fodder, it appears that Jon’s actual lifestyle is nothing less than disgraceful. Drinking, smoking and [attempting] to cash in on his family’s fame, he has quickly ruined the good guy image he had going for him.
Richard Heene has turned his quest for stardom into criminal charges and possible jail time. He and his wife look like a bunch of crazies, and his family’s dirty little secrets are being dredged up. His children are most likely going to be scarred for life. He obviously got the memo that reality-TV is less reality and more fantasy and he tried to create his own “reality”. What he didn’t account for was that at the first teeny, tiny hint of a tall-tale, the country would see right through him.
A piece of paper is now posted on the Heene family’s front door, stating “we are tired”. Apparently Richard Heene forgot that in the world of reality-TV stardom you don’t get to just go home from a regular day at work. Your entire life is fodder for everyone else’s entertainment.
Posted by Courtney | Follow me on Twitter