So far, we’ve looked at the way children are treated by teachers and parents. We’ve looked at how they’ve been ignored during times when they need attention the most, we’ve looked at how they can be ruled through the use of fear. We’ve looked at how their identity can be taken away after witnessing trauma.
What about those children who have an entirely new identity created for them? I am talking about child actors. I’ll be looking at Judy Garland and Shirley Temple, who were famous child stars in the 1930’s; and then I’m going to twist the tables a bit. Just bear with me as I get this all done.
Before she became Judy Garland, she was Baby Gumm, a singer with her three sisters. She was a performer before she was a child actress.
Judy Garland was a performer from the age of two, performing with her sisters onstage in her father’s theatre. At the age of twelve, after having gone through several “bit parts” in smaller movies, she got her big break in The Wizard of Oz. According to her, she was “Born at the age of twelve on an MGM lot.” This ties in with the belief that she became MGM’s “property”. She was told what to eat, when to eat, how to behave, what drugs to take to help her lose weight (causing her drug addiction which eventually helped to cause her death.) and then, when she began to feel suicidal, and depressed and no longer showed up for work, they let her go. She had no other way to survive, performing was all she knew. “Metro made Judy a star, but it also destroyed…her self-confidence.”(Dalton.) I would also say that it destroyed her emotional well-being. The directors in the movies she was in were mean and sought to control her- she was told she had to lose weight, she was originally supposed to wear blonde wig to play Dorothy and wear make up; that changed when the first director left the movie. She was a “commodity” and once she became a “liability” they tore up her contract and had nothing more to do with her.
You can watch the next part of it here.
I was going to put in pictures of Shirley Temple in her first acting job in “Baby Burlesks,” but I was so horrified, I found that I just couldn’t do that. It literally made my stomach turn. In “Baby Burlesks,” children were dressed in costumes and the premise of the show was to have children act in short films satirizing adult films. (Shirley was dressed as a showgirl in one, and then as a big baby in another- with a diaper.)
It is very interesting and disturbing that the country felt that they needed a girl to help to raise their spirits. She represented innocence. It was escapism- they used the child actor to escape their own troubles and try to remember their childhoods during a less confusing time. She was not a child or a person- she was a representation of an idealized time to the people watching her on screen. A time filled with hope, and happiness that wasn’t present at the time Shirley Temple films were made. She was “the most valuable talent on the lot.” (Dalton) Not a child: It was her talent that needed protection as she became famous.
Shirley Temple in her costume for Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. She was so famous, she even had dolls made of her. She was able to make money for the studio she worked at, and saved them from bankruptcy. She was a sensation- not a person, not even a child: just something to make money off of. Her popularity dwindled as she grew older, and after reaching thirteen, she finally started to go to school and have a normal life- although her name would always be connected to her movies.
See? Shirley Temple was quite literally- a doll. She inspired dolls, she made money. It was the image that was cared for.
So, how is this any different from the child stars of today? Shows like Toddlers and Tiaras, where the girls get spray tans and parade on stage like models and they’re constantly told that they need to get their nails done or wear makeup and pretty dresses to be beautiful? Or how about Jon and Kate plus Eight? The reality show about eight kids. It got cancelled. The kids had to watch their parents separate not only in the home, but had to be reminded of it in the news, and on television. Suddenly, they were not important; it was their parents that were making money, so they weren’t cared for. As the show got further and further on, I wondered where the “Plus Eight” had gone. I wondered if the parents were even taking care of their kids. Child actors just simply aren’t cared for the way that they should be. They’re seen as objects- they make money, or they are abandoned. Adults live their lives vicariously through them, and they get no say in it; or if they do happen to act the way they want to (like with Judy Garland) they’re abandoned.
The kids are all pictured starting from the background in a line to the front on the right side. The parents are on the left, also known in theatre terms as “downstage right- the most powerful position, because we read from left to right- they are the first people we see- they are the ones in the spotlight
I’m considering continuing this blog, but I’m not sure if I should. Honestly, to go deep into the construction of the child in the past and now; I’m interested, but at the same time, I’m disgusted with myself FOR being interested in this. Maybe it’s something better left uncovered, but I have a lot to say about this topic. There’s just a fine line we’re always in danger of crossing whenever we think about childhood and children- for example child exploitation- Is letting a kid play dress up at home child exploitation like on Toddlers and Tiaras? Is letting your kids be on a T.V show like Jon and Kate Plus Eight any different from recording home movies of your child’s birthday or school recitals? I don’t know. I think this blog has quite honestly confused me. I’m looking for answers, and it troubles me that I’m not getting any answers.
I’m not getting answers because people aren’t thinking about these things, it hasn’t been talked about, or it’s been swept under the rug. We need to start asking questions so people can start thinking about answers. Be more aware of how children are treated, and start thinking more critically when talking to a child, or babysitting, and I think that’s just the first step to the eradication of the cult of childhood and binary thinking.
IMAGES (Listed in order of appearance, everything else is listed in alphabetical order.)
- Dalton, Brittany N., “”Daddy Dearest”: The Development of Child Stars in the Studio System of the 1930s through ’50s” (2011). University of Tennessee Honors Thesis Projects. http://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_chanhonoproj/1437
- Judy Garland Part 2 Prod. berkon123 Youtube April 4 2009 Web. July 31 2012 <www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjTQrShwdw4>
- Lux, Amy D. “Televised Tantrums.” Web log post. WordPress. WordPress, 19 Jan. 2013. Web. 11 Mar. 2013. <http://amylux90.wordpress.com/2013/01/19/televised-tantrums/>.
- Judy Garland Part 1 Prod. berkon123 Youtube April 4 2009 Web. July 31 2012 <www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0gDW_EW8Ro&feature=related>
- Sparkle Shirley Sparkle Prod. JessiPooh88 Youtube November 24 2009 Web. July 31 2012 <www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrDTpwRpJzc>