The Balloon Boy and Us: A 'Wild Thing' by Another Name

Friday, October 16, 2009 - 04:11 PM

I've never gravitated toward Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are." I know, terrible. As a kid I thought the 338-word masterpiece was creepy, and imagined myself being punished by my mother much more severely, had I spazzed out like Max did in the book.  Curious then, that I have three copies of the Caldecott Medal award-winning story in my home - the embossed gold sticker on the edition I had as a kid, ironically, made the book a premium in my developing library.  Two other copies were given to my son a few years ago and are on a shelf in his room.

Anyway, Max was a bad kid, man. And he was rewarded by getting to hang out with big Muppets: exactly how I imagined the creatures then, and, in a cool coincidence, the way Spike Jonez had Jim Henson's Creature Shop make them in his new "Where the Wild Things Are" flick, being released today. (...continue reading)

To the point, then: The story of Where the Wild Things Are is just not mine, but interwoven into the American psyche. How else might we explain our fascination with the 'wild rumpus' that happened yesterday in Colorado, each of us following a Mylar balloon, hoping that Falcon Heene, the six-year-old thought to be inside, was safe. Unknown to us at the time was that the Max-in-training was actually in his own attic, playing with toys and sleeping.

The story is bonkers. No matter, though; Wolf Blitzer on CNN, among others, tried desperately to capture some sense of it all from the odd family as the three sons played to the camera, contorting their bodies and making faces to the transfixed millions.

And we're the Wild Things - the media, the viewers, the Heene family - that are rewarding and embracing this fantastic adventure and this childish, shadow self (as renowned Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung might call it) with celebration and praise and supper.

Still, Where the Wild Things Are is not my cup of coffee. And my mother would have bathed me and made me take off that wacky wolf suit before going to bed if it were. Curious though, I'm listening to Karen O and the Kids sing the soundtrack to the movie as I write these words. It's pretty good.

So I guess, as the young folk say, "I feel" Sendak's archetypal tome. Though I have pronounced distance from the particulars, Max is someone I know. Surely the Balloon Boy knows him too, and don't we all; that vexed kid -- wanting to wild-out but also wanting a safe dinner, wanting a balloon ride but also a retreat to a favorite hiding place.

The trick is to keep this childlike, impulsive id in check. Make a movie of it, chase it down, parent it, but take it off TV.

And please don't normalize it.


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Comments [9]


I read the book as a kid (several times) but not once did i ever think about doing anything like it. That whole situation falls solely on the parents. They worried more about getting attention, even though they were already on reality tv, rather than teaching their kids right and wrong. I bet they never thought it be their own son who would have exposed them and their crazy attempt at more publicity. Pure stupidity.

Oct. 20 2009 10:07 PM
Carol Cain

I grew up reading Where The Wild Things Are and even as a child I found it discomforting and odd that Max was left in his wolf costume, but then also given dinner when initially told he wouldn't have any. Discomforting and odd because as a child this wasn't my reality, nor what I knew to be the norm.

I have to believe that even for my own three boys, often wild things despite my efforts, that when it comes to right and wrong, good and bad, acceptable and not, what I have established to be their norm, their reality, and what they have come to know within the loving and disciplinary walls of our home, is what they will remember and what will stop them in their tracks when faced with the opportunity to do otherwise.

They have the book, as I did at their age...and even at 3 and 4...they immediately know that "Max was a bad boy and his mommy put him on time out." All else that followed is a fantasy that will never come true in their life, including the warm dinner in the end.

Oct. 18 2009 08:43 PM
David Wall Rice

So, Richard Heene is the real-world Maurice Sendak . . . wack-a-doo. The unfolding story is really a shame, each of us culpable.

Oct. 18 2009 01:31 PM

Perhaps our interest is b/c the Heene family is clearly not normal.
Yes, we all worried about the safety of the child as we imagined his parents' fears. But even before the happy ending we were wondering:Who on earth leaves a hot air balloon capable of lift off in the backyard and within reach of his children!?
The same people that participated in Wife Swap, the very ones that pitched a reality tv show about their lives to TLC and the identical parents that take their children tornado chasing. How can that be normalized?
Maybe this incident was, as some have suggested, a publicity stunt. I believe it was more likely a child who got scared when he messed with Dad's latest toy and then discovered that he enjoyed the power role reversal his hiding caused.
The parallel I see between Max and Falcon is anger managed as best a child can. Not normal, but evidently curious and entertaining to many. There is a lesson for us all in the stories of these two boys.

Oct. 17 2009 01:57 PM
mikey zsa zsa

"please don't normalize it." enough said.

Oct. 17 2009 12:59 AM
Vijay Viswanathan

Seriously, David Rice should not be punished so severely as you are all making it seem. Honestly, this is a work of creative writing that is meant to make a point and entertain rather than to actually offer directions for life.

And, I also like his message. Nowadays, in the world of video games and text messaging, a little adventure doesn't hurt, does it?

Oct. 16 2009 08:17 PM
David Pitts

I find it totally irrational to celebrate and reward behavior that 30 years ago would have ended with me in a hospital, by a beating from my parental unit. In the 15+ years I've know Mr Rice his advice and opinions have never steered me wrong and this is one case I have to whole-heartedly agree.

Oct. 16 2009 07:43 PM

I agree to a certain extent, sounds like this would be a movie that could influence kids to behave like the character Max. On the other hand, it is just entertainment. It comes down to parenting and if you and your kids have an understanding that the type of behavior seen in this movie will not be tolerated. Then no harm no foul.

Oct. 16 2009 07:07 PM
Nesta Ojeda

Max (of Where the Wild Things Are) and Falcon (the real-life Max), I just don't understand the hype. I also don't want my child to see these stories as normal, whether they are fiction or reality. The adventure, shadow self and other themes Rice mentioned, as well as the colonialism and Freudian themes he did not mention, are what draw people in - and turn me away.

Oct. 16 2009 06:17 PM

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