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White House party crashers fit a new mold: Fame at all costs

On the heels of ‘Balloon Boy,’ the White House party crashers reveal that all the world is an episode of ‘Punk’d’.

By Staff writer / November 28, 2009

President Obama greets Michaele Salahi at a state dinner last week. Salahi and her husband Tareq were not on the guest list.

Samantha Appleton/White House Photo

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Atlanta

Tareq Salahi, a polo-playing winemaker, and his wife, Michaele Salahi -- the White House crashers who sashayed into the most closely guarded party in the world -- fall into an emerging mold: Those who'll risk jail time for a fleeting shot at fame.

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So why are people crashing the White House and setting off silver helium balloons for a show? Call it the Punk’d Age, where propriety cries out for a good prank and where all the world -- even the White House -- is a stage. And as “Octomom” has shown, getting noticed works.

Harry Shearer, the radio host and himself a famous guy, takes note on the Huffington Post: “It was obvious something was adrift, or ajar, when the phrase ‘reality-TV star’ began to be written and uttered with no trace of irony, even as more and more of these folks became involved this year in various serious crimes.”

The Salahis follow in the footsteps of others desperate to shake their obscurity in order to become one of a rather crowded field of household names.

The “Octomom,” Nadya Suleman, parlayed an in-vitro procedure and an Angelina Jolie obsession into a pop culture phenomenon and a lucrative British documentary. Colorado dad Richard Heene, who falsely claimed that his son had boarded an errant breakaway helium balloon, pleaded guilty to a felony after admitting it was all a hoax intended to drum up buzz for a potential TV show.

Reality TV is even being broached by fading personalities in order to revive their public careers.

Tom DeLay, the former Republican House leader, competed last season on “Dancing with the Stars,” and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich turned his legislative hijinks -- including the alleged selling of a US Senate seat -- into a stint on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice.”

Moreover, an increasingly desperate and fragmented media world is ready to push any Internet phenom out onto the broader waves, driving the growing obsession with fame at all costs.

Robert Thompson, a pop culture expert at Syracuse University, told the Wall Street Journal: "The media business is the new Ellis Island: Give me your talentless, give me your hoaxes and I will put anything on my air.”