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.