First, let’s celebrate the fact that six-year-old Falcon Heene is alive and unharmed. Turned out the runaway balloon boy was in the attic, hiding in a box, the whole time. But let’s also take a moment to congratulate the junior aviator on perpetrating the greatest practical joke played on cable news since Glenn Beck got his own show. Ashton Kutcher couldn’t have punk’d the media any better. Whether it was all part of an elaborate publicity stunt (Falcon’s family were once contestants on Wife Swap, which has raised some commentators’ eyebrows), or whether the little boy was merely lost on his own Where the Wild Things Are imaginary adventure, it doesn’t matter. Today’s coverage of the unplanned lift off—live news feed showing a tin foil balloon drifting in the sky above Colorado, looking like a giant flying Jiffy Pop, supposedly with a six-year-old trapped inside, was broadcast on all three cable networks through most of mid-day—proves that the news is still the best damn drama on the air, if not always the most informing or enlightening. Sure, we could point out that there were actual news stories to cover (attacks in Pakistan kill 40, the Hague sets a date for Radovan Karadzic’s war crimes trial) but Falcon’s “flight” was just too riveting. It was the 21st Century update of a child caught in a well (see Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, or Google the real-life story of Jessica McClure), amplified by the omniscient 24-hour cable and Internet news cycle. Personally, we enjoyed this real-life version of Up, especially since it ended so happily.
Here’s a refresher if you missed the action — this clip covers the balloon landing before the boy was found obviously! What did you think, Pop Watchers?