After the lady in Connecticut got her face bitten off by a chimp purchased in part to pay for itself as an actor, there was a spate of articles on chimptainers. It turns out their professional lives are short, usually ending before they hit puberty and become uncontrollable. Upon retirement, something has to be done with them and the result is inevitably tragic. If they are lucky enough to retire to a sanctuary, they must learn to socialize with other chimps and not the humans who raised them. And one can only imagine what it must be like to go from a private dressing room to a cage at the zoo.
The conclusion that anyone with a heart (and a brain) must reach is that the exploitation of chimps for our entertainment – in commercials, movies, talk shows etc. must stop. Cease and desist. This can be no more.
Which brings me to Michael Jackson…
While there are people who aren’t famous as children who become child-molesting narcissists with little grip on reality –a lifetime of celebrity doesn’t help. During crucial times in childhood and adolescence, “fitting in” with peers or at least being able to socialize with them, is of primary importance in establishing and solidifying identity. Michael’s friends (and yes we all get to be on a first name basis with dead celebrities) were aging movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor who of course was also a famous child and Liza Minelli – the daughter of one. If he was ever around “normal” non-celebrity kids, he would have been fawned over and objectified. Fame did him no favors ,and while it’s still possible that he might have grown into the same pathetic surgery-obsessed creature without it, the chances are that at least more people would have said, “Michael, you don’t need another nose job!” or “Michael inviting a group of prepubescents into your bed is a terrible idea!” Instead, even his doctors became his enablers. They not only provided the drugs that may have contributed to his death, but now it looks like his dermatologist – the same one responsible for his lily-white skin –was also the sperm contributor for the creation of the commodities known as Michael’s children.
Fame like most drugs, impairs judgment. Take Woody Allen…please. And I’m not just talking about the diminishing qualities of his films. You’d think those around him, particularly the psychiatrist he allegedly saw for years might have said, “You know Woody, running off with the teenage daughter of your lover, really isn’t a good idea.” But the disease affects those around the “star” as much as the star himself.
In Woody’s case, he at least had a chance to grow up, become a man and responsible for his own bad decisions, as opposed to Michael who wasn’t allowed a childhood and never became an adult.
There are kids who are natural performers, who want to be in show biz. (There are also children who want to eat unlimited amounts of sugar and stay up all night, but that is where parents come in.) I’m not suggesting that we stop talented children from strutting their stuff. I am suggesting, however, we do what we can to protect them and allow them something close to normal childhoods.
A modest proposal: There are already rules about how many hours children can work on movie sets and rules making sure they have tutors and keep up with school. What about not listing their names in credits? What about making sure that during most of the school year, they are in schools with other children? How about limiting the number of films they can be in, and restricting them from publicity tours and appearing on talk shows? In other words, what about allowing them to perform, but not allowing them to become “stars”? Would it hurt Dakota Fanning not to appear on The Tonight Show and to make only one film or fewer a year? Shouldn’t she be allowed to be a child before she becomes a brand? Do we need to read all about her in People?
The fact that not all former child stars grow up to rob convenience stores, flash their genitals at reporters, or undergo multiple plastic surgeries designed to wipe out all traces of ethnicity and gender, does not make the exploitation of children right. There are kids making carpets in Pakistan who will grow up and lead semi-normal lives, child prostitutes who may escape, and if they don’t die of AIDS even marry, but that doesn’t justify child labor or prostitution. If it is time to stop exploiting primates for our amusement, shouldn’t we apply the same rule to children?