April 5, 2008

Whatchutalkinbout, Kid Stars?

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On April 20th, Tia Mowry will marry longtime boyfriend, Corey Hardrict, in Santa Barbara. Hardrict isn’t very well known for his acting talents, but Mowry is a household name for her breakout role as Tia Landry on Sister, Sister with twin Tamera Mowry, who played Tamera Campbell, her long-lost sister. Upon reading the headline reporting her upcoming nuptials, though, I could not for the life of me picture Tia walking down the aisle.
And then it dawned on me that I can’t see most of my favorite child and teen stars participating in anything remotely resembling a real life. Why is it so difficult to fathom that these kids simply become normal people once their time in the spotlight is over? They sign up for a life of early fame, the fame dies, and they’re left living out the character that they played for just a few short seasons.
I’m a child and teen star junky, and yes, I know how bad that sounds. I’m well aware of how pathetic it is that I’ve seen Vh1’s 100 Greatest Kid Stars in its entirety upwards of six times, but there’s something so endearing about those kids playing up their immaturity for the onscreen laugh. Nevertheless, their actual lives often don’t resemble the lives they lead on screen.
The life of a child star is tough, and few know it better than Macaulay Culkin. At age fourteen, his parents separated, and his alcoholic father and poverty-stricken mother fought over Culkin and his siblings. Both parents, very deep in debt, would have benefited from gaining custody of their son, who was doing pretty well for himself with a budding film career. Dropping out of show business, Macaulay took them both to court in order to take control of his own money. He won the suit.These kids often have rushed childhoods, becoming more like adults than we like to believe, and doing it a whole lot sooner than we’d like to admit.
But if they lead such adult lives off camera, why does the American public have such a hard time visualizing them in any kind of normal setting? We’re so captivated by their performances as little Arnold Jackson (Gary Coleman, Diff’rent Strokes) or cute/horrifically funny-looking Ray Boyd (Jonathan Lipnicki, Jerry McGuire), that we find it impossible to believe that they get married, have heroin addictions, or even have children of their own one day.

[img_assist|nid=29519|title=Jonathan Lipnicki as Ray in Jerry McGuire|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]

In the movie Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, actor David Spade puts together a novel idea. I love the movie even if it doesn’t resonate as a masterpiece of the time (note: I have a weak spot for movies that have received one star or less). The movie’s end credits feature a chorus of former child stars, in a sort of “We Are the World” formation, singing about their lives as celebrities past their primes. The song, written for the movie, is called “Child Stars on Your Television,” and it consists of each former sensation singing a solo about what bugs him or her most about being a has-been. While the movie itself may not be too highbrow, the rolling credits are astonishingly smart and witty.

“Child Stars on Your Television,” Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star

Indeed, former child stars are no different from anyone else with a past. In fact, their past is probably a lot more successful than most can say by the time they reach the age of eighteen. While their earliest years may (or may not) have been filled with drugs, scandal, or sex, they may (or may not) have also been filled with career opportunities, a fair amount of money, and few episodes in the spotlight. By eighteen, all I had to show for my childhood achievements were some cheap recreational sports trophies and few “Perfect Attendance” certificates from the fifth grade.
In this television culture, we find it best to look at our favorite characters as just that – characters. They are not the actors and actresses who play them, but the personalities themselves. This could be a sign of convincing acting; or it could be a sign of American gullibility. Perhaps, and most likely, it is a combination of both. Child stars are doomed to the lives they chose so early on in life, and even in the case of the few who manage to crawl out of the depths of early stardom, living an average life still seems unsettling and unnatural to their former viewers.