I am looking away from the Balloon Boy stories.

The Heenes are tragic, no doubt. Having your family drama, fabricated or not, beamed from sea to shining sea just can’t be fun. I know they’re reality-TV veterans, but when your lawyer is asking the sheriff to resist the spotlight and let you quietly turn yourself in for creating a nationwide panic, well, reality loses its appeal.

So I’m looking away from Richard and Mayumi Heene. I find the rest of us more interesting to ponder. What is it we find so fascinating about this story?

I guess it’s that we love a happy ending. The tale of a lost and found 6-year-old provided that for us on Oct. 15.

We also seem to love juicy gossip. The continuing saga of this offbeat family has fed that hungry animal in us every day since the happy ending was upended by the balloon boy saying to his dad, “I thought we did it for the show.”

Kids. They’ll make us look like fools every time, won’t they?

What I can’t explain about this story and our collective response is all the outrage I’ve heard over it. People here in my home state of Texas suddenly know exactly how many dollars it costs to put a Colorado National Guard helicopter in the air for an hour, how many Fort Collins law enforcement dollars can be wasted in one afternoon, and exactly how much a family makes as part of a reality-TV show.

Waste like this is, apparently, despicable.

But ask the same people what we spent on Oct. 15 on lingering war in Iraq ($720 million), and you’ll be lucky to get a shrug. Why aren’t we outraged over muddy answers to strategic questions about ongoing war?

Ask them how many children in the world died from hunger on the afternoon of Oct. 15 (16,000). Why aren’t we incensed over the disparity between the never-satisfied American consumer and the barely surviving Third World child?

Ask how much money was spent last week ($3 million) trying to tell us what to believe about health-care reform legislation. Why can’t we get a hackle raised about that?

I am weary of the low-consequence Balloon Boy story. Let Fort Collins sort this one out alone. Leave the family to manage its own fame or shame.

In the meantime, can we get an eyebrow raised for a costly war or a hungry child or an expensive media propaganda blitz?

Jan Chapman is a former broadcast journalist, a storyteller and a blogger. She is a member of Church of the Savior, a UCC congregation with Baptist roots in Austin, Texas. She blogs at Thinking in Peaces.

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