The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Monday, April 12, 2004

What's not to like about a series that shows overbearing stage parents in all their ugly glory? Bravo's "Showbiz Moms & Dads" is set to debut tomorrow, and for once, I'm intrigued by this latest expression of reality TV programming. That said, I don't plan on catching it; if it's a success, I'm sure it'll get rerun on Bravo about a million times, so I can stumble across it at my leisure.

Naturally, you have to wonder why the victims ever agreed to go through with this public skewering: Are they that stupid? Are they that exposure-hungry, working on the notion that even bad publicity is good publicity? As it happens, one of the showbiz moms, Debbie Tye, is a local who shared her side of the story on how she comes off on-camera.
In Debbie Tye's case, the series often presents her saying one thing and doing another.

"I don't want to be on that stage. . . . I never have," Debbie Tye said just before the camera shows her energetically acting out Emily's talent routines in the audience to cue her daughter while she's onstage. (Husband David appears only briefly.)
That quip shows just how clueless she is. In the deepest sense, it's a lie: Of course she's the one who wants to be on that stage, getting the adulation; it's apparent to everyone but her. That's what stage moms do: They live through their children, as proxies for long-passed missed opportunities.

But even discounting that, it misses a more telling point: Most of the time, the kids themselves shouldn't be on that stage. Frankly, I find these images of 4-year-old girls with layers of makeup on their faces and dolled up in glamour-shot outfits rather sickening. These are babies--they don't need cosmetic work. These parents worry about pedophiles preying on their kids, then do what they can to make the kids look as enticing as possible to those sickos. The whole thing is warped.
Unfolding without narration, the show presents much of its context through occasional graphics, which tell viewers that Debbie Tye and her mother, Susan Caldwell, spend about $2,000 per pageant, or $20,000 a year on competitions...

"We've seen other mothers throw an absolute fit if they don't win," said Caldwell, a widow of who lives next door to her daughter and granddaughter. "And if you've got a film crew that gets you up at 5 a.m. to film you all day . . . you're tired by the end of it."
Big surprise--grandma has nothing else going on in her life since her husband died, so she's on top of her daughter's household 24/7. She and her daughter decide to play Barbie with the real-life grandkid. I feel sorry for the husband, who's probably doing a slow burn in anticipation of bolting in a couple of years.

Debbie Tye and Barron offer the same list of complaints often cited by those who are shown unflatteringly in documentaries or reality shows: editing that pushes separate events together or takes comments out of context; filming done when subjects are unaware; a finished product that is far more embarrassing than the subjects expected.
This is par for the course. I'm not saying it's right, but that's what these shows do: They pounce on every opportunity at sensationalization. As much as these parents deal with showbiz mechanics, they knew exactly what the pitfalls were going to be; I doubt very much any of them truly bought the "Bravo Kids" line of crap they were fed for placation purposes. If anything, they probably convinced themselves just enough to go forward with what they figured was a fantastic opportunity for television time, from which that magical call from a big-time agent would come.

I guess what I'd like to see is an expanded follow-up of this subculture, exploring the consequences of all this babydolling on these kids. How do they turn out when they hit adolescence? Adulthood? Professional life? I'm sure a fair number of Hollywood success stories started out at baby pageants; probably far more resulted in absolutely nothing. Inevitably, there are those kids whose lives got completely fucked up from all that early pushing, and that would be the meat of any such study/documentary. But regardless, I'd like to see something. Probably something has already been produced along these lines; maybe I could come across it sometime.