Thursday, October 29, 2009

Maybe Richard Heene wasn't so bad

In defense of Balloon Boy's father

And why shouldn't a man pretend that his son was carried away in a balloon? Think of the boon it would have been to his family if it had worked. He's a freelance construction worker who can't be doing well these days. He was out to get a TV reality series. This was his chance.

It's a case of "moral luck", where our judgment of a person's actions is based on things beyond his control.

Think of what our judgment of Heene would be if two of the helicopters chasing the balloon had collided. Then crashed into a hospital.

On the other hand, if he had succeeded, gotten his TV show, become a beloved celebrity, provided his family with a lifetime of financial stability, and only then, years later, revealed that it all started with his Balloon Boy hoax....

Look at William Friedkin. He filmed the chase scene in The French Connection by speeding through a busy street with a small light on the roof of the car.

As the New York Times reported in an article about the releasing of a new DVD of the movie:

“We took off, with Billy telling Bill Hickman, ‘Give it to me, come on, you can do it, show me!’ ” Mr. Jurgensen said in an interview. “We had a police siren on top that people could hear, so that those who were able to get out of the way, could.”

There were no permits and no planning — just sheer nerve. “After 26 blocks, from Bay 50th to Bay 24th Street, I ran out of film, but I knew I had enough,” Mr. Friedkin said. “The fact that we never hurt anybody in the chase run, the way it was poised for disaster, this was a gift from the Movie God. Everything happened on the fly. We would never do this again. Nor should it ever be attempted in that way again.”

At that point in his career, Friedkin had directed a couple of documentaries and an episode of Sonny and Cher. How would we judge this scumbag if he had killed somebody?

Friedkin went on to direct The Exorcist which left a 12-year-old girl with a broken back and lifelong medical problems. Ellen Burstyn was also injured. There's a very brief shot in the movie where we see her falling on a hard wood floor. That shot cost her back problems ever since.

Thomas Nagel's 1979 article on "Moral Luck"

In 1979, Thomas Nagel wrote an article entitled "Moral Luck". It written as a response to Bernard William's paper on the same subject. They are a response to the Kantian view that morality is immune from luck.

But Nagel argued there are four kinds of luck that affect moral judgment:

Resultant luck, which I just talked about.

Circumstantial luck, which, I think, Frank Rich seemed to be talking about in his recent column defending Balloon Boy's dad. Heene just happened to live in a time when there are news helicopters and news networks that want to cover this type of thing, an age of reality TV shows, an age when, other than winning the lottery, a reality TV show is a construction worker with a high school diploma's only hope of escape.

Constitutive luck, where genetic or personality traits you have no control over affect your conduct. Balloon Boy's father was a narcissist with an intense interest in what he called "science".

And Balloon Boy's mother was Japanese. I don't know how much that means, but Balloon Boy's father thought it was why she went along with all his nonsense. That and the fact that she had a domineering father.

Causal luck, which I guess is just the sequence of events. The Wife Swap appearance, plus the negotiations for the reality show. I don't know.

In conclusion

I think we can all agree that Richard Heene was a completely innocent victim.

Well, maybe not. But, for God's sake, would-be filmmakers ought to show some of his spunk!

When Victor Mature came to Hollywood, he slept in a pup tent and lived on candy bars. He didn't have to---he could have stayed with friends. But he stayed in the pup tent and got publicity and a movie career out of it.

Here's an exercise:

Think of five harebrained schemes that could be your ticket to quick success!

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