Reality TV and children – the case of the Balloon-kid
October 16, 2009, 11:15 am
Filed under: Media | Tags: , , , ,

So here’s an interesting thought coming out of yesterday’s whole balloon-kid fiasco. And I’m going to keep this short because this story is getting really old really fast.

But I’m interested in the speculation over whether or not this whole thing was a hoax, fomented by the balloon-kid’s statement on Larry King that he didn’t come out of hiding when he heard his parents calling him because they “had said that we did this for a show”. At first I thought that this was just a case of a bad publicity stunt, perpetuated by attention whores of the worst ilk, being accidentally (and hilariously) debunked by a kid saying the darndest thing.

But now I’m starting to wonder about the kid’s grasp of reality. After all, this was not his first time on television, the family having made two appearances on ABC’s reality show Wife Swap. And it poses the question – does a six-year-old child have a firm enough grasp on the difference between TV and reality to know where one stops and the other starts? Especially when, during his formative years, he was at the centre of a spectacle that purposely blurs the lines between the two?

Maybe he just thinks that whenever your personal life receives attention from the outside, it’s for TV? (Which, now that I think about it, is not that far fetched.)

Or is it possible that, having grown up in an environment where the most important part of “reality” is creating a spectacle for the camera, that he behaved in the way that would prolong the spectacle because he thinks that’s just what people do? Maybe his parents didn’t put him up to it at all – maybe he did it “for the show” all by himself.

I sometimes wonder what effects reality shows featuring young kids – Supernanny, Wife Swap, or John and Kate Plus 8, for example – have on those kids and their perception of how the world works. I wonder if the balloon-kid fiasco is going to shed some light on this question. I always figured that reality TV would spell the end of humanity – but this is a wrinkle even I didn’t anticipate.