Sunday, October 24, 2010

Greatness, or at least Fame, thrust upon them.

There is little point in discussing Life After Tomorrow (2006) as an aesthetic object. It is straight-down-the-line-talking-heads-photos-and-clips documentary as practiced in the late 20th and early 21st century. But it raises the question of a strange phenomenon that feels more intense when put in the context of children.

That is, sudden unearned fame; that is, at least, not earned in proportion to the effort or the talent displayed. Yes, these little girls who played the Orphans and the title role in the stage musical Annie could sing loud and read lines and dance in the fashion called for (which is mostly, to clomp around in rhythm). But these were not skills that would have ordinarily have earned a child the kind of blinding stardom they achieved by dint of being part of a successful vehicle built by adults around adult nostalgia and adult fantasy. Let's be brutally honest. Children in these circumstances are being used as thoroughly and cynically as pornographers use their "actors."

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying Annie is equivalent to pornography. But it is as unreal, bizarre, unnatural and built around make-believe as pornography is, and like pornography does not make the viewer smarter or better or possessed of any greater insight into the human condition, but only gives the audience a momentary thrill, without any real content or value.

And at least nowadays, pornographers provide doctors. But these children were not given counsel, therapy or even a decent education while they went through this ordeal or had to recover from it. What is most appalling about the Annie phenomenon is not the cynicism or exploitation of the Broadway veterans. That's to be expected. But the willingness of these children's families to toss them into the most appalling environment, which environment they will be yanked from once they are they grow, in age, height, or inappropriate body parts. (One staffer says, "Once the stagehands get interested in an Orphan, it's time for her to go." I wanted to take a shower in the middle of the movie.) Not a few families fell apart or burst apart from the strain of mediating impossible dreams, both by the children and the so-called adults.

Such is the thirst for attention and fame in our country. I really don't think this would happen to this extent other places, where people value home, family and the ordinary joys of growing up.

In defense of show business, however, some of the girls were left with the one indisputably positive aspect of the performing life-- the camaraderie brought about by the intensity of the experience, the expectations and the hushed attention of the audience. So we'll finish this post on a better note, a happy reunion among now-adult Orphans, who seemed to have absorbed the costly lessons of Annie and survived with humility, perspective and humor.

No comments:

Post a Comment