Balloon Boy's Lesson: The New American Dream

Behind the Balloon Boy fiasco was a family in hot pursuit of the new American Dream

Illustration by Francisco Caceres for TIME; Heene: Rick Wilking / Reuters (2)

In the lexicon of clichés to describe characters accused of a despicable act, "He was once on a reality show" is the new "Neighbors say he was quiet and kept to himself."

Today the idea of a mad loner silently avoiding attention seems like a quaint throwback. In August, a VH1 dating-show contestant was charged with the murder of his ex-wife, then committed suicide. And on Oct. 15, America spent an afternoon being literally distracted by a shiny object, watching news choppers chase a silver balloon that we were told carried a presumably terrified 6-year-old boy. When we learned during the...

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