Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Child Star Machine

Have you guys been following the news about how Billy Ray Cyrus says now that "Hannah Montana" ruined his family and he wishes that he could go back in time and never sign Miley up for it?  It makes me sad.  I mean, it's not a huge surprise that Miley Cyrus is going the way of so many other child stars and headed for a train wreck of a life; in fact, it's kind of to be expected.  A lot of people are criticizing his fathering skills and doing the whole "I told you so" thing, as if they wouldn't take the opportunity to make millions of dollars and allow the world to adore their child as much as they do.

I was probably too pasty to have made the grade anyway.
The subject of kids in showbiz always gets me fired up.  When I was young, I wanted to be a Mouseketeer on "The Mickey Mouse Club" more than anything in the world.  In fact, I would pray myself to sleep every night, wishing and hoping against hope that the auditions would somehow come near my tiny Missouri town and my parents would have the heart to take me there so that I could be "discovered".  Now that I'm grown, and I'm a parent myself, I thank my lucky stars that we lived in the middle-of-nowhere and that my dream scenario never played out.  Sure, it would have been fun and useful to have fostered talents for singing, dancing, and acting at a young age.  God knows we needed the money back then, and it would have helped my family out immensely to have had a little extra...but now I realize that the price of that fame and fortune is far too high.

Did you know she wrote a book before she could legally drive?
I doubt a serious study has ever been done on the matter, so I don't think there are statistics out there, but the percentage of child stars who turn out to be healthy adults seems to be disproportionately low.  For every Jennifer Love-Hewitt out there, there's at least one Lindsay Lohan.  Even Drew Barrymore, one of the biggest movie stars today, went to rehab twice before her 15th birthday.

Look, I get it:  child actors are necessary to make movies and television shows.  If we want to keep seeing films and shows about families, we're going to have to have to keep hiring children to fill those roles.  Little people playing third-graders wouldn't really have the same effect.  The problem (in my opinion) comes when these kids are exploited to the point of having their faces on posters and merchandise and they start recording crappy pop albums just to make a buck for Disney or Nickelodeon, or whoever signs their checks.  The thing is...it's a slippery slope.  Sure, you could start out putting your kid in commercials and think that it won't go any further than that, but then one opportunity leads to another, and before you know it, they're surrounded by "yes men" and recording videos of themselves at parties smoking out of bongs.  And the whole world has an opinion on your crappy parenting skills and their inappropriate behavior.  Not.  Cool.

Even if you manage to raise a happy and healthy kid who works in the entertainment business, there's always the question of what they'll do when they grow up.  Maybe they decide to stop acting when they get older, but then they haven't paid close enough attention to their schoolwork because they were working, so that rules out college.  Or maybe they figure out later in life that they aren't making it as an actor, then they don't have the skills or experience to start a career in another industry.  Then there's the issue of people recognizing them as their characters--how difficult would it be to have a normal job when that keeps coming up?  How embarrassing and distracting that would be!

The thing that I really don't understand is that everyone seems to agree that child stars turn out badly, but there are more opportunities every year to create them.  Look at "American Idol", for instance.  They recently lowered the minimum age to 15 years old, down from 16 last year.  I don't get it.  Why??  If these kids are talented at 15, they'll be just as (if not more) talented by the age of 18.  What's wrong with, at the very least, allowing them to finish high school before throwing them in the national spotlight? 

Of course, the reasoning behind everything is money.  Teenagers spend more money on music than any other demographic, so it would stand to reason that they would rather see someone from their own peer group on the American Idol stage than some old, wrinkly 28-year old.  Remember Taylor Hicks, the silver-haired, raspy-voiced blues singer who won Season five?  No?  That's because he barely sold any albums.  They won't make THAT mistake again! 

Look, all I'm saying is that we need to let our kids be kids.  Being the mother of an abnormally cute child, I am often told that I should put him in commercials or get him into modeling, but my answer is always the same:  no.  Though I like to share his pictures and anecdotes online, I don't want people making money off of him, because his well-being will always be second to that.  When he's eighteen and out of high school, he can choose to do whatever he wants with his life, but until then he's going to be a kid and do kid-type-things.  In our house right now, that means playing Candyland and earning a quarter for cleaning up his toys--not dancing onstage with Justin Bieber at the Grammys or whipping his hair all around in a cheesy video.  Even if he begs and pleads with me when he's older, he'll appreciate my choices later in life:  I know from my experience as a former non-Mouseketeer.
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