COLUMN: Balloons in the news, entertainment or prank?


Dan Hahn

Dan Hahn is a graduate student studying English and can be reached at 217-581-2812.

Dan Hahn, Columnist

Is anyone else sick of all the balloon news coverage? The 24-hour nonstop news cycle demands stories, and the news consuming public (like yours truly) relishes in outrage and controversy as a form of entertainment. 

I am old enough to remember that the original Nintendo Entertainment System had a game called Balloon Fight. Released in 1986, this is a game where the goal is to avoid lightning and collect balloons, aiming to ascend the ranks and compete for a high score.

Like Nintendo’s early use of balloons in a video game, balloon stories in the news serve primarily to entertain.

There is a lot of so-called news similar to this. For example, the Hunter Biden Laptop congressional hearings produced feigned outrage and captivated many people’s attention. 

We need to come to terms with the fact that sometimes our lives are just boring: people seem to enjoy imagining situations where a balloon, or a family member of a politician’s laptop, is consequential and worthy of serious scrutiny and debate.

If you are like me, then the news can certainly be entertainment. Especially when stories like balloons and laptops become fodder for the late-night talk shows and fake news programs like “The Daily Show.”

Underlying the media’s obsession with balloons is a failure to recognize how ridiculous we all look. Consumed by the latest balloon news, we all look like news starved, entertainment junkies.

Any sane person recognizes balloons simply as a traditional accessory for celebrating significant milestones such as birthdays and holidays, not an apparatus for committing international espionage.

My kids get balloons for their birthdays. This year it was Paw Patrol balloons for one, and Frozen balloons for the other.

In my own boredom, I might imagine the balloons getting blown outside by a gust of wind, then sent into the atmosphere. As I gaze at the balloons hovering over the horizon, I might notice fighter jets close in on Elsa and blow her to smithereens. 

Joking aside, balloons surveilling  American military targets certainly is a big deal, especially when a balloon is as big as a bus, and indeed someone must contend with the fact that it was sent from a rival superpower.

But, that someone is not the American public, for let us not forget that balloons can also be filled with water and used for a summertime game or prank.

Or, consider the whoopee cushion: what is a whoopee cushion but a balloon that when sat upon makes for a hilarious prank?

With the media inflating the significance of news stories and invoking balloon mania, we are all being pranked. 

Balloons are the least newsworthy story currently cycling through the media machine, and no matter how much fuss we make over them, they will never be that threatening.

In this day and age, can you imagine a balloon actually posing a real threat, doing real damage? Taking our time and attention away from more important matters seems to be the greatest threat.

Dan Hahn is an English composition/rhetoric graduate student. He can be reached at [email protected] or 217-581-2812.