Balloon Boy, The Sequel? Bloggers React to Abby Sunderland's Dad's Reality Show Connection

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When Abby Sunderland was adrift in the Indian Ocean, her plight made headlines and bloggers buzzed about the ethics of the situation. How young is too young for epic adventures? Why would parents let a child barely legal to drive a car attempt to sail around the world? As Dr. Helen blogged, are Abby Sunderland's parents negligent or noble?

Possible answer? Greedy.

  The Huffington Post reports that Abby's father has been selling a reality TV show deal since earlier this year:

Amid fierce criticism for allowing their 16-year-old daughter Abby's almost-tragic attempt to sail around the world by herself, the NY Post now reports that Laurence Sunderland had signed a contract for a reality show "about his family of daredevil kids". Sunderland insists Abby's voyage was not a publicity stunt, claiming the trip had been planned since Abby was 13. In regards to the nearly $300,000 cost of the rescue operation, the Sunderland's maintain that they are broke.

Here's a video of Abby and her dad before she embarked.



The lack of transparency from Laurence Sunderland taints the whole story, and now social media channels are full of a different level of discussion, with people wondering why are we learning about the reality show development after we've already followed Abby's story since January, worried about her rescue and celebrated her safe rescue?

Did her dad push Abby and her brother to risk their lives because teens sailing in the face of danger is saleable?  Was the family comfortable with the obvious huge dangers Abby would face because they would receive even more press if she failed than if she succeeded? 

The very professional website features a "Sponsors" page, but no mention of the reality show.

This story brings up lots of questions about parenting and media ethics, so of course bloggers have lots to say about this story:

Bloggers on Abby Sunderland and Her Parents

Sandra Rose wrote she was on to the father's secret story:

I knew it. When Abby Sunderland’s “missing at sea” drama began to unfold last week, I turned to a friend and said, “watch this turn out to be a publicity stunt.” It had all the markings of a made-for-tv stunt similar to the balloon boy debacle: a pretty blond teenager goes missing after weeks at sea alone. Presumably her sail boat overturned and the nearest rescuer was 400 miles away. She was at risk of being eaten alive by sharks or raped by pirates.

Jo at On Food, My Travels and a Scent of Chocolate brings up a good question about how the rescue was handled.  She doesn't understand why Abby's boat wasn't towed and instead apparently was left at sea:

I certainly don’t understand why they would leave the boat out in the ocean to become a hazard to shipping apart from anything else. Nor do I understand why Abby having lived on board for so long allowed it to be abandoned in that way. Don’t think the insurance company will be very happy about it. OK, the mast was broken, but masts can be repaired.

Muireann Carey-Campbell at Bangs and a Bun thinks Abby's parents are abusive:

But if we don’t hear of a case out of California of a girl wanting to divorce her parents some time soon, I’ll be very surprised. Parents, if you don’t like your kids very much, there’s plenty of ways you can let that be known without sending them out in a dingy to tour the world.

When Abby was in distress, Bri Taylor at Moms Gather wrote the heartfelt response of a worried mom:

This story makes me so sad. Granted she must be an adept sailor to be prepared for and allowed to make this journey, but I still don't think I would let me sixteen-year-old depart on a sailing trip alone around the world. I do understand the parents desire to support their daughter's dreams and encourage her to meet her full potential, but wow. That's such a long, difficult journey without complications; with this new development, it's simply heartbreaking.

Maralee wrote at Famecrawler on Babble that she thinks that the bad press of the news about the reality show will tank the family's ploy:

As of now, no one has taken the bait and purchased the show, most likely because of the backlash her journey has caused. However, it is being promoted by Magnetic Entertainment of Studio City, Calif. on their web site as the documentary “Adventures in Sunderland” and “Abby’s Journey.”

I feel bad for Abby, because one way or the other, her dad messed up the pure authenticity of her story of bravery and accomplishment. Mostly I'm tired of being yanked around by reality show wannabees.  I would like all of the media Svengali stage dads out there to know that my emotions are not your audition reel. Go ahead, sail around the world yourself and post it on You Tube if you want, but throw away your Balloon Boy playbook and let your kids be uncommodified minors living out their one childhood.  This trend has to stop. I only like to worry about TV show characters AFTER I've decided to start watching their shows. 

Contributing Editor Deb Rox spent the summer of her 16th year getting lost in her own neighborhood because she had to avoid stop signs at the top of hills because she would stall out her old VW bug when she tried to switch from brake to clutch.  She Tweets about similar harrowing adventures to this day, so what are you waiting for, come  follow her!

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