A Sacramento mom dishes on parenting, family and everything in between

Some families are willing to go to great lengths for a crack at fame and fortune.

Take the Heene family.

Parents Richard and Mayumi Heene, of Fort Collins, Colo., are accused of staging allegedly staged<NO>a runaway balloon caper starring their 6-year-old son, Falcon.

Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden is now saying the whole thing was a hoax, staged as a publicity stunt to land a reality TV show. One entertainment media outlet has paid the couple in connection with the balloon launch, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.

The Heenes have a history with reality shows. They've already been featured twice on ABC's "Wife Swap."

The couple face possible state and federal criminal charges in connection with the hoax, as well as other sanctions.

Kevin Wehr, an associate professor of sociology at California State University, Sacramento, said he's not surprised that an alleged attempt at reality stardom was behind the Heene fiasco.

Society has become addicted to television, and reality TV has simply extended the fascination.

The problem is that reality TV isn't really what it claims to be: While we think we're watching real people, those people "are largely reading off scripts that are very similar to the shows done by actors," Wehr said.

"Because we see these people as 'real people,' there is a certain amount of voyeurism involved," he said. "I think this really leads to an increase in people behaving badly."

What's truly disheartening is how much time we all dedicate to these types of shows and the impact they have on our lives.

We talked about "Octomom" for months following the birth of her eight babies. (To summarize, the birth of her octuplets in January brought her total number of kids to 14.)

The same holds true for Jon and Kate Gosselin, the stars of TLC's "Jon & Kate Plus 8," who announced earlier this year that they were divorcing.

We ate it up.

The show's ratings skyrocketed, ranking No. 1 among the top 10 cable programs in the Nielsen ratings for the week of June 1-7 with 5.94 million viewers tuning in, according to online Nielsen information.

The couple and their set of twins and sextuplets have graced the covers of tabloids and dominated pop culture conversations ever since. And it likely will continue now that the show will shift to focus on single mother Kate and her brood on Nov. 2.

Wehr said our collective fascination with reality television has become a stand-in for actual relationships, making it an even more powerful medium.

"This really diminishes us as people," he said. "We're talking about the latest antics of (celebrities) instead of talking about real issues. These are fake issues."

There may be hope on the horizon, however.

The number of reality shows currently on television and their pervasiveness indicates that the bubble might burst soon, Wehr said.

"The way these things go in terms of the spectacle they represent is they become massively popular and then after a while, saturate the market and people tune out," he said. "My hunch is that we're about at that point with reality TV."

Let's hope so.
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