Someone in Times Square had the great idea to set up a paper shredder Monday for the public to destroy, in effigy, matters that really bother them.

From a journalistic perspective, the year provided plenty of shreddable moments, with a couple Pope-pullers and pant-bombers slipping in just beneath the deadline. So please join me, your Information Age Cabana Boy, as I skim some of the sullied and often frighteningly reality TV-related flotsam out of the news pool for your disposing pleasure. I’ll even let you press the big, shiny shredder button.

BALLOON BOY
By far my favorite stinker of the year, October’s Balloon Boy saga quickly turned from a nationwide breath-holding moment over the fate of an apparently buoyant young boy to a firm focus on a crazy father with Doc Brown dreams and Keanu Reeves hair.

The plan was simple enough: Send up a homemade balloon that looked a lot like a giant Jiffy Pop bag and claim your son was aboard. Then, after every news outlet was solidly entrenched with your plight to the point of repeating the basic facts for the 19th time, get your kid out of hiding and ta-da! Instant ticket to a science reality show!

Or at least it would’ve worked if the parents had remembered one thing: kids make horrible accomplices. You just can’t get them to lie when you actually want them to! The gig was up on Larry King Live when the Balloon Boy himself said they “did this for the show.” It was such a low point in this family’s history that it came with its own fart sound effect.

Balloon Boy’s mom and dad now face minimal prison time, but perhaps the worst blow to reality show nuts one can give: the prohibition of profiting from the whole ordeal for the entire four years of their probation, or roughly 3 years, 11 months longer than anyone will care about this story.

IN VITRO DRAMIFICATION #1: OCTOMOM
Many women dream of becoming mothers; that’s a perfectly fine and normal urge. Not as many dream of being injected with 14 kids while still single.

Nadya Suleman, obviously, is not many women, earning the title “Octomom” after giving birth to octuplets in January, adding to the six she previously sired through in vitro fertilization. Thankfully, she long ago thought of a plan to pay for raising all these children: milking the media as long as possible. Lately, she’s been working on a documentary to pay the bills.

“I’m dammed if I do and dammed if I don’t,” the story reports her as saying. “Because if I don’t do what I need to do in the media to take care of and support the kids, I can’t take care of them.”

How sad. If only there was something she could’ve done a long time ago when she figured out she wasn’t going to be able to handle 14 kids on her own. Oh, right: NOT UNDERGO IN VITRO FERTILIZATION.

She still pops up now and then to say she’s having more, which keeps the populace squealing and pointing and somehow makes her money. Good luck to her, but better luck to the children.

IN VITRO DRAMIFICATION #2: JON & KATE
He’s a 32-year-old man who tries to hide his receding hairline with Abercrombie & Fitch shirts. She’s a 34-year-old woman who went to the Donald Trump School of Parental Profiteering. Put them together, add eight innocent lives and a camera crew, and you have ratings gold!

TLC (which used to stand for “The Learning Channel”–I’m totally serious) had a hit for several years with “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” providing a window into the life of the Gosselins, including a metric ton of precious family moments and the slow realization that Kate thought of Jon as a little more than a withdrawal account for genetic material.

Jon’s eyes soon began to wander, as apparently every guy who’s followed relentlessly by the media feels the need to do, and the perfect family image was fractured. Jon was accused of sneaking out with younger women. Kate was accused of flirting with her bodyguard. TLC was accused of getting dollar signs in its eyes and shouting ‘Ka-CHING!’ At least three of these accusations were correct.

TLC tried to keep “Jon & Kate Plus 8” going as “Kate and 8” during the breakup, but legalities caused everything to fall through and the network had to fall back on its other main draws: cakes and little people.

Recently, Jon Gosselin’s home was allegedly broken into over the holidays but police are finding it suspicious. They doubt anyone could’ve carried items out of the pad and not have broken their neck tripping over the minefield of half-empty pizza boxes and Corona bottles littering the floor.

So what’s the lesson when it comes to family in 2009? Kids aren’t meal tickets? In vitro fertilization is crazy? People will pay attention to you more if you have weird hair?

Beats me, but if anything would actually make me pine for the dull repetitiveness of Family Circus strips, it’s these families.

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