Freak show.

You ask me, everything you need to know about Balloon Boy’s family is that they were on “Wife Swap.” Normal families aren’t on “Wife Swap.” (Or its Fox equivalent, “Trading Spouses,” which went out of production a couple years ago.) The premise — two radically different but equally insane kennels of publicity hounds swap their adult female for two weeks — may have started out as entertainment but is basically a freak show. You tell me this family was on “Wife Swap” and it’s a more powerful signifier than learning dad is a heroin addict. Seriously.

I watched this show maybe three times. Once I think I was trapped in a hotel room. (No, that was “The Swan,” lost to the ages, alas.) I don’t forbid myself trash television, although I justify it with bullshit excuses about being large and containing multitudes, and I try to limit my intake. Some bad reality TV is amusing and some just makes you feel dirty. “Wife Swap”/”Trading Spouses” is in the latter group. (So is “Bridezillas.” That’s for another day.)

The breakout, the week that tipped them over into dirty burlesque, was the “Trading Spouses” episode where the hugely obese insane Christian woman flipped out and started shrieking. (Is it on YouTube? Do you even need to ask?) I saw that one. It wasn’t exactly the equivalent of being at Woodstock, but you got a sense that things weren’t going to be the same afterward. And they weren’t. The next time I watched, one of the families was into both raw food and dirt. They lived in the Iowa outback, and had disturbing theories about germs and medicine and the like. They brushed their teeth with butter and baking soda, ate raw chicken and drank some vile milkshake-y substance every four hours, and the mother woke everyone up in the middle of the night for their shot of sludge.

Everyone has a Scorsesean, camera-pulls-back moment from time to time, where you’re suddenly looking at your disgusting self from a high angle, and I had one then. I said, “Either I turn this shit off or I call Child Protective Services.” I opted for the first. (I did stay tuned long enough to marvel at how equable the other family was, for once. They must have selected from the not-insane file, and drew an attractive family of three from San Francisco, who liked to spend their free time at concerts, restaurants and cozy cafés. Not only did the mother endure Iowa with grace — although she refused to eat raw chicken — the father and son wore the Carhartt coveralls the crazy mom put them in with such style, I half expected them to show up on the runway in Bryant Park the following season.)

I gather the gimmick for balloon-boy’s family was that they’re “storm chasers,” only without the boring college degrees and training. The father, who comes across as an unmedicated manic-depressive permanently stuck on the redline, has many interesting theories about extraterrestrials and what happens inside rotational storms. The wife? Dunno about her, except that she’s 100 percent supportive. Well, good. I hope she’s willing to get a second job to pay the bill that I fervently hope the county emergency responders present them with for this freak show. ABC’s not picking up the tab for this one, pal.

Although what do I know? They probably already have.

And another week lurches to its close. I managed to get a 900-word story turned around on a tight deadline, just in time for Kate to come down with something flu-ish. I don’t know if it’s the pig variety, but she was feverish yesterday and somewhat better today, so fingers crossed. I am washing my hands so often I’m wearing away a layer of skin, but it’s surely coming for one of us. I’m hoping it waits until we can all see “Where the Wild Things Are” this weekend. I remember reading that to Kate when she was little; she would make her hands into terrible claws and make little baby roars. Let the wild rumpus start!

Have a good weekend, all.

Posted at 10:16 am in Popculch |

53 responses to “Freak show.”

  1. Peter said on October 16, 2009 at 10:38 am

    “Cheaters” made me feel so dirty I felt I should go to confession, but seeing that Times story this morning on the horny priest, I’m glad I thought better of it.

    Give us a review on Wild Things. I wanted to take my son to the movie, but he gave me that You Must Be Shitting Me look.

    286 chars

  2. LAMary said on October 16, 2009 at 10:46 am

    I really hope Where the Wild Things are isn’t mashed into Disney pulp in the movie. My kids loved the book when they were little. I preferred In the Night Kitchen myself.
    Someone back about 15 years ago or so was critical of Maurice Sendak for making monsters lovable. They threw Jim Henson in there too for the more monstery muppets. I don’t remember who it was but there was a strong feeling that monsters needed to remain terrifying.

    437 chars

  3. Deborah said on October 16, 2009 at 11:12 am

    One of my daughter’s favorite books as a child was “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”. They have a movie out by that name but it in no way has any thing to do with the book. Whatsoever. The book (with great illustrations, scratchboard or etchings) is about a Dad making pancakes for his family telling a tall tale about the weather. The film as I understand seems to be about aliens (?) and appears badly animated. I don’t know, I’ll never see it.

    448 chars

  4. MarkH said on October 16, 2009 at 11:50 am

    Nancy, didn’t you declare yesterday that Balloon-Boy Daddy was nuts?

    One of many supporting videos yet to emerge.

    EDIT: If you can stand it, this 9:00 video is all you need to know. Stick with it for at least the first three minutes:

    These people deserve all the media crap that comes their way.

    397 chars

  5. Sue said on October 16, 2009 at 11:57 am

    What I hear about Wild Things is that you’ll either love it or hate it, no in-between, but bring kleenex in either case. I’m not planning on seeing it, but the idea of James Gandolfini as the main monster is very appealing.

    224 chars

  6. Jolene said on October 16, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    Good lord! I don’t know what’s worse–the way the people in the 9-minute video are behaving or the fact that, presumably, hundreds of people make a living from that show and millions of people watch it.

    Ann Hornaday, the WaPo reviewer, liked Wild Things, but thought Gandolfini was wrong for the part.

    Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs sounds pretty good too, although, as Deborah says, not exactly faithful to the book.

    654 chars

  7. Christy S. said on October 16, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Poor little Falcon (could the name have been better for a kid allegedly floating 10,000 feet in the air?) barfed on the Today show this morning. I think we’re going to find out (if they can confirm it, which I don’t know) that this was a publicity stunt. Conniving adults can lie forever — we learn that somewhere along the way — but most 6-year-olds are still too pure to carry on the charade for long. Hence the anxious puke from a little guy who’s probably trying to “expel” what he knows was wrong behavior. Nothing good is going to come of this for those children.

    571 chars

  8. Danny said on October 16, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Nancy, Mary, Moe, Sue, Dorothy, Jolene, Deborah, um … coozledad {snicker} … and the rest of you girls. I have a an important public service announcement for you in the form of a must-see video.

    Happy Friday!

    294 chars

  9. MarkH said on October 16, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Excellent question, Jolene. I would defer to the viewers as one can more easily understand the fascination of viewing a trainwreck.

    Stunt? The answer to that is in the video that emerged, showing the dad actually releasing the, er, aircraft. This, after the all the reports yesterday told of the family being in the house and the two boys accidentally letting it go.

    I thought the same thing Christy did when Falcon ralphed on national television. Meredith didn’t miss a beat in the interview, though, did she?

    516 chars

  10. Jeff Borden said on October 16, 2009 at 1:32 pm


    I just laughed my fool head off. Who is responsible for that dead-on recreation? It’s brilliant.

    106 chars

  11. nancy said on October 16, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    If only Mitch Albom would confine himself to writing about sports, I might like him better.

    Meredith probably couldn’t see what we could. Those sorts of interviews are difficult and awkward for everyone. You have to listen like a lynx and pretend there’s a face on the other side of the lens you’re staring into. Unless the director told her via her earpiece, she likely was flying blind.

    529 chars

  12. Danny said on October 16, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    ..or if he wrote about kittens.

    31 chars

  13. MarkH said on October 16, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    Could be, Nance, but if I remember correctly, there are monitors of the interviewees next to the camera on the morning shows. Judging by her demeanor, you could be right.

    And I thought I was too easily distracted at work on Fridays, Danny. I sent it to all three of my sisters, which will negate the Thanksgiving invite this year.

    333 chars

  14. paddyo' said on October 16, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Terrific weekender post, Nance . . .

    BTW, Andy Borowitz had a nice take on Balloon Boy:

    178 chars

  15. velvet goldmine said on October 16, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    The balloon thing may or may not have been a horrible stunt, but I’m mystified about the “ah, that proves it” reaction to the kid barfing, which I was watching live.

    The boy has been through quite a bit of excitement in the last 12 hours — enough to make any 6-year-old overstimulated. And he was hiding in a Denver-area garage in October. And it’s flu season.

    MAYBE those were cookies of guilt that he tossed, but it’s not exactly the smoking gun.

    456 chars

  16. ROgirl said on October 16, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    The point about the kid barfing is that if his parents hadn’t put him through the ordeal of appearing on television to be grilled by reporters, the country wouldn’t have seen it at all. Whether the father was trying to pull off a stunt or not (I have the sneaking suspicion that he was, and that it got out of his control), he shoved his 6 year old in front of the cameras after all the excitement of yesterday and today.

    421 chars

  17. Jolene said on October 16, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    I thought the issue w/ the barfing was that the parents seemed more concerned about the interview than the kid.

    Hysterical video, Danny. Here’s a little more Friday entertainment for you, this time referring to a different set of stereotypes. Saw this earlier today on Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blog.

    417 chars

  18. Sue said on October 16, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    The ladies then retired to the drawing room, leaving the men to their port and cigars, in order to discuss international economics without all that annoying buffoonery. Following that, they discussed their husbands, each with either withering scorn, blazing anger or derisive laughter, depending on the time of her cycle. Much, much laughter ensued.
    There. I imagine I have insulted everyone with this comment. My work here is done.

    445 chars

  19. MarkH said on October 16, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    I dunno. I just listened to the 911 call, and the mother’s hysteria seemed genuine. Also watched the county sheriff’s Noon presser, and he raised a good point about whether the kid was told by the father to hide for five hours in the attic. He said that the kid was clearly hyper-active, hard to keep in one place for even a few minutes. And, like his brothers was a bit rebellious and would not mind the parents. For him to stay in the attic for five hours like that would have likely come from genuine fear, not parental orders, he felt. Sheriff is leaning toward this being a “genuine incident”.

    OTOH, paddyo’s link is appropriate: what a time-waster this has been. I’m done.

    681 chars

  20. Jeff Borden said on October 16, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    Nancy referenced the obese Christian lady who freaked out on one of the wife swap shows and was screaming “Dark side!” at the top of her lungs. She’s shown ripping up the check she received for participation because it is money from the dark side.

    A chyron notes she later accepted the money.

    ‘Nuff said about these weird shows.

    334 chars

  21. Holly said on October 16, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    I watch Super Nanny a few times. I decided that my kids are not so bad.

    71 chars

  22. LAMary said on October 16, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    The crazy Christian lady who yelled what sounded like “dork side” to me accepted the money so she could have bariatric surgery.

    127 chars

  23. Jeff Borden said on October 16, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    Dork side? I kind of like that . .she thought the money was coming from “Dilbert.” If I recall, she was upset because the visiting mother read horoscopes or something that upset her delicately balanced flywheel. I remember my wife and I laughing it up, then realizing she was absolutely 100% sincere. She looked like a candidate for a cardiac arrest.

    The obese Christian lady is like something out of a nightmare. Could you ever imagine having even the semblance of a normal conversation with this loon? How’d you like to be teaching one of her children? Ye gods. I can only imagine the parent-teacher conferences.

    617 chars

  24. Christy S. said on October 16, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    New video shows Falcon’s dad participating in the balloon launch. Assuming that’s the same day as the “boy in the balloon” fiasco, he lied about his whereabouts — and made his kids lie too. Nice.

    196 chars

  25. MarkH said on October 16, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    That video was out last night without much explanation, Christy, as I said in #9. Judging from the way it was let loose, that WAS when it took its final trip, with the dad right there.

    184 chars

  26. Jolene said on October 16, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    She looked like a can­di­date for a car­diac arrest.

    Also a candidate for extensive dental work.

    109 chars

  27. nancy said on October 16, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    As I recall, some of the money the other family — the dork-sided one — gave to crazy Christian lady was for bariatric surgery and dental work. She definitely got the former, dunno about the latter. The tragedy, though, is that one of her long-suffering daughters, who was given some money to get out from under mom’s roof and have a semblance of independence, died a couple years later in a car crash. You can’t wish that on anyone.

    434 chars

  28. paddyo' said on October 16, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    Another ripple from yesterday’s freak show (the non-stop coverage part):

    164 chars

  29. ROgirl said on October 16, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    The freak show that is America, or as Tom Wolfe wrote, “this wild, bizarre, hog stomping Baroque country of ours.”

    114 chars

  30. Jen said on October 16, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    I was watching the Today Show this morning when little Falcon ralphed on national television. I felt bad for the poor kid, but I wonder why in the world those parents would let him on TV? It was obvious to me that they knew he was ill and in danger of barfing – they were holding a bowl up for him. But then I heard that the parents were on “Wife Swap,” and I realized that they’re nasty attention whores. The dad’s face was pretty funny when Falcon puked, though – he looked like he was about to ralph right along with him.

    I’ve watched some “Wife Swap,” but it makes me feel kind of dirty. I tend to not have problems watching trashy TV – Cheaters, Bridezillas, Super Nanny, the Tyra Banks Show and even Jerry Springer occasionally make it onto my TV set – but something about “Wife Swap” just kind of makes my skin crawl. There have been a few good episodes where both families learned to not be so weird, but mostly it’s just kind of a nasty show. And I really feel bad for the kids that are dragged into it. Though, I will say that my trashy TV intake has really gone down since I started spending time with my husband when we were dating. He really despises trashy TV, especially ones with dysfunctional families or people on it (he has a degree in psychology and is a social worker), although he has enjoyed both Cheaters and Bridezillas on occasion.

    Oh, and you can’t forget “Toddlers and Tiaras.” What a horrible, trashy and strangely fascinating show…

    1469 chars

  31. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on October 16, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    ROgirl — great quote, but you stopped too soon: “and reclaim it as literary property.” Plus the idea of an “irresistibly lurid

    128 chars

  32. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on October 16, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    ROgirl — great quote, but you stopped too soon: “and reclaim it as literary property.” Plus the idea of an “irresistibly lurid carnival of American life.”

    156 chars

  33. crazycatlady said on October 17, 2009 at 1:04 am

    I would barf too if I had to be on the Today show!!

    51 chars

  34. alex said on October 17, 2009 at 1:24 am

    When Jerry Springer started doing his thing, back when I lived in Chicago, I remember having the vague feeling that this kind of television was the other flank of the right-wing populist media effort.

    It struck me as having been targeted at the sort of low-rent audience who needed to feel superior to somebody. It also struck me as fear-mongering—selling the idea that civilization had gone to hell in a handbasket and that dysfunction, interracialism and sexual promiscuity were supplanting the flag, apple pie and Jesus.

    The wife swap shows are similarly exploiting the kulturkampf, but are more equable (I’m Goegleining that word, equable, from an earlier post by one of us here as I’m too lazy to attribute). Nobody wins because anyone who’d participate is a loser, as is anybody who’d watch, but there’s plenty of red meat at the banquet table no matter which side you’re on.

    889 chars

  35. moe99 said on October 17, 2009 at 2:13 am

    More extreme sheep herding.

    107 chars

  36. ROgirl said on October 17, 2009 at 7:19 am

    The Jerry Springers of the world (is Maury still around?) have faded to the fringes, replaced by the reality show model. Why appear in an episode of some cheesy talk show when you can go on a reality show and make yourself the brand? Parlay it into a career, make some money, achieve some of that low-rent fame, do more reality shows, web sites, product endorsements, milk it for as long and hard as you can.

    Entertaining the masses with cheap diversions isn’t a new phenomenon. Ancient Rome had its bread and circuses. Lowbrow populism is inherently conservative because it tries to appeal to so many people and not challenge their beliefs or assumptions or cause them to think about the value of the entertainment, or lack thereof.

    736 chars

  37. joodyb said on October 18, 2009 at 12:21 am

    wow. did i read through this entire thread and not see Jon Gosselin’s name once? Awesome.
    Alex@34, a fine summation of all the things i’ve been feeling about tv for some time now. does not prevent me from watching. everything. of course.

    238 chars

  38. Dexter said on October 18, 2009 at 2:42 am

    Helen Thomas and Craig Crawford have a new book out, just launched Friday.
    Craig has asked his blogger-buddies to spread the word.

    152 chars

  39. Deborah said on October 18, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Sitting in the Albuquerque airport waiting to return to Chicago. Had breakfast at Pasqual’s in Santa Fe this morning. Peter Fonda was at the table across from us!

    162 chars

  40. Danny said on October 18, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    I’m not a fan of Rush Limbaugh and think he deserves some of the criticism he gets, but I read through the op-ed in the WSJ, The Race Card, Football and Me and have to say, I agree with him. I don’t feel too strongly about whether he ever gets to participate in NFL team ownership, but I think he makes some very strong points.

    465 chars

  41. Danny said on October 18, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Peter Fonda! Did you hear THAT, Mary? Hmmph!

    46 chars

  42. Connie said on October 18, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    I’ve made it to Fort Wayne, checked in to my over flow hotel, and am headed to the downtown library for a wine and cheese reception. Sounds like the O’Sullivans trip is tomorrow evening.

    187 chars

  43. jeff borden said on October 18, 2009 at 6:07 pm


    I cannot stand Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson and wish they’d simply butt out because they confuse the issue.

    El Rushbo’s bid was squelched by a club of fellow millionaires who like to make money on their business. Period. I would wager the vast majority of NFL owners are Republicans and probably pretty conservative. (Not counting the Rooneys of Pittsburgh, btw). I mean, come on, you think Jerry Jones of Dallas is a liberal? Or Lamar Hunt in Kansas City? These guys saw the big fellow as bad for business.

    My aversion to Limbaugh is well known. I think he’s a cancer in the body politic, but even I agree he did get slandered by the use of incredibly racist quotes he never said. I get it. But even without those phony quotes, he has said plenty of divisive and belligerent things about black people, in general, and the NFL, in particular.

    You think the league wants a guy as minority owner who said the NFL looked like the Crips and the Bloods but without weapons? Or a guy who denigrated Donovan McNabb as overhyped because the liberal media was desirous of a successful black QB?

    This is all about the marketplace, Danny. Rush is a committed capitalist and ought to know about these things. His words had consequences. He’s paying for them. His money might be welcome in NASCAR, which is overwhelming white in both drivers and fans. A few million bucks would set him up nicely and he could plaster his logos, quotes, whatever on the side of the racecar.

    The NFL is quite another matter. This is not about Sharpton, Jackson and the drive-by media he denigrates even as he uses it to increase his ratings. This was a group of hard-headed capitalists who saw no upside to his involvement. Period.

    1724 chars

  44. beb said on October 18, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    And so the circle closes. NBC news reports that the sheriff has determined that the balloon boy was a stunt orchestrated by the father in order to clinch a deal for a new Reality Show. I hope the sheriff charges them for all the money spent to rescue the nonexistent passenger. But how can that man ever repay the nation for the hours and stress we suffered because of his mercenary ploy.

    Danny, Limbaugh has uttered racist comments for years and his mea culpa in the WSJ doesn’t begin to admit to the length, breadth and depths of it.

    I don’t know about Nancy but I had to turn on the furnace today. It was just too cold in the house. If this is Indian Summer I think the Indians are Eskimos.

    700 chars

  45. Connie said on October 18, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    Brian, I have spent the early evening wandering the downtown library in Fort Wayne, with a glass of free wine in my hand. They never asked to see my ticket, I should have dragged you along.

    190 chars

  46. alex said on October 18, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    Furnace has been on a while but this weekend rocked. I cleaned my yard even though it didn’t need it yet, just because I needed the workout. Also got a new toy—a chipper—that sucks up everything like a vacuum and turns it into mulch and bonfire fodder.)

    257 chars

  47. brian stouder said on October 18, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    Connie – just got back home! Friday I ran off to Springfield, Illinois, for the 24th annual Lincoln Colloquium, about which I have a funny story or two (which I won’t bore you with!); doesn’t the library thing have you wear an ID on a lanyard? That’s what we did at at the event in Springfield.

    If you’re around on Monday – maybe I can roll down there. Our library has some Lincolnia on display on the second level (near the Geneology section); our young folks always head straight for that area for the coffee table books, and then to the dvd section

    555 chars

  48. Joe Kobiela said on October 18, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    Beb, I like Rush, you don’t, fair enough, but would you find me any racist comments Rush has made. Not what you read some where that he said, but something you actually can find quoted that is racist. Donavon Mcnabb was not racist, and the blood and crip quote was not racist, only opinions.
    Pilot Joe

    304 chars

  49. Joe Kobiela said on October 18, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    Jeff B,
    Dosn’t your statement on Rush going to NASCAR make you just as big a Racist as supposedly Rush is?? I am a NASCAR fan do you think Iam a racist?? are all NASCAR fans racist??
    Pilot Joe

    194 chars

  50. crazycatlady said on October 19, 2009 at 12:52 am

    Joe- Rush called Obama a “Halfrican-American”. Is that just an opinion? He joyfully played a song called “Barack The Magic Negro”. Just an opinion? Or a long pattern of racial disrespect? Denial doesn’t become you.

    214 chars

  51. moe99 said on October 19, 2009 at 12:55 am

    Opinions can’t be racist????

    C’mon there, get a grip, JoeK.

    via wikipedia:

    “Barack the Magic Negro” parody
    Main article: Barack the Magic Negro
    On March 19, 2007 Limbaugh referred to a Los Angeles Times editorial by David Ehrenstein which claimed that Barack Obama was filling the role of the “magic negro”, and that this explained his appeal to voters.[37] Limbaugh then later played a song by Paul Shanklin, “Barack the Magic Negro,” sung to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon”.[38]

    502 chars

  52. alex said on October 19, 2009 at 6:09 am

    Shit, Joe, he told a black caller to “take the bone out of his nose,” for Christ’s sake. What planet have you been living on? Try that one on a black co-worker and see if you don’t get fired on the spot—and find a bone jammed up yours.

    237 chars

  53. ROgirl said on October 19, 2009 at 7:16 am

    In medialand there’s only one thing worse than being talked about, and that’s not being talked about. It’s win-win for Rush no matter what kind of publicity he’s generating.

    I have never listened to him and do not feel that I am missing anything from my life by not listening to him, but I am nonetheless exposed to his pronouncements, opinions, personal behavior and peccadillos, etc. I give him credit for being brilliant at what he does, and for keeping himself in the public eye for so long, no matter what he does to provoke, prod, epater les bourgeois, and make more money.

    583 chars