Sunday, August 02, 2009

All That Glitters. . . Isn't Gold

What is it about some stories about parents and children in the media that bother us while others do not? For example, there is continuous uproar about Jon & Kate Gosselin choice to raise their 8 children with cameras rolling.
There's Nadya Suleman and her 14 children, 8 of which were born this past January. We are quick as a society to judge and jump on seemingly every day parents profiting from exposing their children's lives in front of the camera on reality television.

Yet we are slow, even preferably ignorant, to the same exploitation of children on "fantasy" television and film. Is it any less disturbing, even though it is often more profitable?

We cringe when we watch the Barbie Doll pageantry for toddlers; we run for our torches and pitchforks when we hear about the arrest of a school teacher, pastor, or scout leader on charges of child pornography.

And yet we are numb to the lives of young performers, who begin their careers in front of the camera sometimes at birth. Who put them there to begin with? Who profits?

Is it because we concede that they are making a lot of money, therefore, their lives must be wonderful? Is it because we secretly wish our own children were in the spotlight? Is it because we forget that there are real people behind the characters they portray on television and on film?

For whatever reason, we are outraged at Nadya Suleman and Jon & Kate Gosselin, but we're oblivious towards Tim & Anne Sweeten, parents of Madylin Sweeten (Everyone Loves Raymond). Three of their four children are in show business (all three on Everyone Loves Raymond) - the twin boys since they were 1 year olds).

Now at 18 years old, Sweeten seems to live a charmed life. No negative press - yet. And that's probably why our eye doesn't naturally turn toward her like it does toward a car crash on a busy road. As far as anyone is concerned, all is well.

But is it?

According to Paul Petersen, founder of A Minor Consideration, an advocacy group for young performers, something always lies beneath. "Many, if not most, of the kids seen in the media come from dysfunctional households. There is no other way to explain how they come into the Business. Advanced abilities to communicate and control the emotions of a family (or within a character) are often plain ol' survival mechanisms," Petersen explains.

"These children are so good at masking their feelings we are often at a loss to figure them out...and that's awful because at the core they are still children.
No one, I've said and more than once, can be more mature than their age. It's the compensation principal: Excel in one area of life and you can be certain other aspects are lacking."

Whether we're talking about the Gosselin children or any young performer we see on television or on film, all is not what it seems.

Our fascination with the glean and glitz of reality and fantasy celebrity is not unlike the great gold rush of the 1800's. One rumor of gold is all it takes to get some people to abandon their lives in search of the gold that will change their life forever. But all that glitters isn't gold - we should know that by now. Any prospector will tell you that you'll find more pyrite (Fool's Gold) than you will ever find real gold.

As a "viewing" public we enlist a double standard - those using reality television to profit on their children and those using "fantasy" television and film to profit on their children. Human dignity does not exist on a continuum - as a society we either value it, defend it, and promote it - or we don't.