Not since a red balloon followed a little boy around Paris in 1956 have red balloons received so much attention.
The release of hundreds of red balloons during a video game development conference in San Francisco angered many in the city by the bay. The stunt was meant to promote the release of a video game by software developer THQ.
Citizens pointed out that the balloons were a promotional event for a few minutes but will be trash in the ocean for months.
"Your recent aerial spamming stunt in San Francisco was appalling and absolutely outrageous," commented Teresa Aguilera on the Facebook page of retailer GameStop, which is helping to promote the game. "Latex is biodegradable only after six months, which means the people and wildlife of San Francisco will be reminded of your irresponsibility far after the 'buzz' has faded away for you and your heinous video game."
Aguilera's comment has since been removed.
In defense of the balloon release, Facebook user Michael Bollinger wrote on GameStop's page, "they're BALOONS! NOT NUKES, stupid eniviromentlist hippy soft skin, red commie RETARDS!!!"
The goal in the new game, Homefront, is to kill other people, but the balloons themselves have the capacity to kill real-world animals. What's more, the balloon stunt might even be illegal, because of the danger balloons pose to wildlife.
"The (California) Fish and Game code 5652 prohibits littering balloons into state waters," Patrick Foy, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game, said in a CNET article by Daniel Terdiman. “There are plenty of written stories about the problems associated with the release of balloons and when they are ingested."
"It's still trash," said Ann Bauer, of the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif., in the same CNET article. "It's biodegradable over time, but a bird can still get entangled in it right now. A sea lion could be curious about it, bite it and swallow it. It could clog their stomach and cause them to die — right now. Biodegradable takes time to happen."
The balloons were released to promote Homefront, a game based on an invasion of the United States by Korean forces in 2027. The game's website features images of bound and gagged Americans being beaten, next to women and children rounded up with assault weapons pointed at them.
THQ's promotional partner was video game distributor GameStop. GameStop's name appeared on the balloons, many of which also carried promotional flyers.
"We understand the concerns consumers have regarding the impact balloons can have on the environment," GameStop said on their Facebook page. "However, the balloon drop stunt in San Francisco was created by THQ, the publisher of Homefront, and GameStop had no prior knowledge of it. THQ has since informed us that they released soy-based, biodegradable balloons."
Since I had never heard of soy-based ballloons, I called a few balloon manufacturers and distributors but was unable to find anyone selling soy-based balloons. No one I talked to had even heard of the product.
Continuing the search for soy balloons, I called THQ's vice president of investor relations and corporate communications and left a message. She was kind enough to return my call and confirm that the balloons were not soy, but indeed made of latex.
IMAGE 1: Balloons float on San Francisco Bay after a THQ/GameStop publicity stunt (Credit: Twitter user seedlingproject).
IMAGE 2: Red Balloon, 1922, Paul Klee (Wikimedia Commons).