Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ballooning into The Apocalypse

“I think what we're seeing here is an example of a culture for whom daytime talk shows and tabloid headlines have become a reality against which they measure their lives. A culture so obsessed by the media and a chance for self-dramatization that they'll do anything in order to gain a spotlight.”1

It’s easy to dismiss Richard Heene—the alleged mastermind behind last week’s alleged “balloon boy” hoax that bamboozled hundreds of alleged journalists and fascinated tens of millions of alleged Americans—as the personification of a perfect storm of narcissism and stupidity, the evolutionary endpoint of an American obsession with television self-promotion, working madly to cobble together a harebrained publicity scheme without giving a second’s thought to just how quickly, how easily, or how spectacularly it could go wrong.

And it’s far too early to say that this isn’t the case—the facts wiggling gradually to light about Heene do plenty to support that argument. He and his family/co-conspirators have already made two appearances on the reality show Wife Swap,2 and apparently had pitched his own reality television show to the TLC network. Whether or not that show was the same as the “Science Detectives” concept he and a couple of associates have been promoting, the description of Heene as “unapologetic self-promoter who would pursue all sorts of off-the-wall stunts to get media attention” doesn’t seem too far off base.3

But what people are overlooking is the possibility that not all of Richard Heene’s dogs are barking. According to the lawyer of Robert Thomas, one of Heene’s associates, Heene
“believes the world is going to end in 2012, [and because] of that, he wanted to make money quickly, become rich enough to build a bunker or something underground, where he can be safe from the sun exploding.”4
Yes, you read that right. This isn’t your standard garden-variety narcissism or TV obsession. This is what Mr. Heene’s legal team is likely to describe as the “crazy batshit bananas” defense. And it’s likely to get a lot of traction.

First of all, I’m not a physicist, but based on my rudimentary science education, (1) the sun is already exploding, because that’s more or less what the sun is,5 (2) it’s been exploding just like this, and will continue to do so, for billions of years. And if it turns out that I’m wrong about this, and the sun does turn into a supernova in just over three years, a bunker will not help. Even hiding a very deep bunker would be about as effective as holding tiny cartoon umbrella over one’s head, a la Wile E. Coyote.

I probably shouldn’t even get started in on the 2012 business. To put it briefly, several nutters—you can find them on the internet with a minimum of effort—have latched onto the belief that the end of the Maya calendar, on December 21, 2012, will be the beginning of the apocalypse. That Henne has heard of these theories about the 2012 Maya apocalypse is not a surprise; that he actually seems to believe them, despite a lack of any credible supporting evidence, suggest that he may well be one wave short of a shipwreck.6

It’s too early to be sure, of course. But it’s nowhere near too early for random strangers to post their poorly-informed opinions online. I’m throwing my hat into the ring right here. Hell, maybe I’ll get a TV show out of it.

1. Agent Dana Scully, “The Post-Modern Prometheus,” The X-Files season five, episode five. By coincidence, Netflix shipped this episode to me two days ago.
2. I’m going to trust my sources on this one. On my third birthday I promised myself I’d never watch any show called “Wife Swap,” and so far I’ve stayed true to that.
3. I know, it’s lame, I’m basically just quoting hearsay that appeared online. Once I hire a staff of underpaid researchers, I’ll fire them for this sort of poor journalism.
4. At least I’m referring to an actual newspaper this time—that counts for something, doesn’t it?
5. I have a very rudimentary science education.
6. Queen, “I’m Going Slightly Mad.”

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