Thursday, March 3, 2011

Toddlers, Tiaras and Terror

The emerging trademark of television channels like A&E and TLC is that peculiar brand of fascination and revulsion inherent in programs like Intervention, My Secret Addiction, Heavy.

What I like to call train wreck TV – you don’t want to be the kind of person who enjoys this sort of thing, but yet you JUST CAN’T LOOK AWAY. I’m the first to admit that I enjoy my share of this type of programming.

But let’s single out TLC. It wasn’t bad enough that they terrorized me with Hoarders (which just as it sounds features scary profiles of people whose homes have been scarily overrun with crap because of their psychological problems) and Outrageous Kids’ Parties (the MTV My Sweet Sixteen for the six-year old set) … you also had to go and deaden our souls and make me lose hope in humanity and the American Culture with the jaw-dropping “Toddler and Tiaras.”
This is a reality show that chronicles regional child beauty pageants and the stories of the families who enter their kids into them. The program will follow them as they prepare, practice and primp their way to the title of “Little Miss Perfect” or what have you.

I know many of you may have feelings about what impact this sort of thing would have on the self-esteem and development of a child – but rest assured that the children seem to terrorize the parents as much as it goes the other way.

Horrifying doesn’t begin to describe my reaction watching the little trolls –er, dolls - forced onto a stage for grotesque “dancing” and “modeling.” The children are inherently cute, but transformed into hideous creatures with fake eyelashes and enough blue eyeshadow to make Western Barbie feel right at home.

It’s hard at first to distinguish who is worse, the children or the parents, and each one seems worse than the last. The relationships between the mothers and the children seem mostly dysfunctional, bossing each other around and generally acting ugly.

In the pursuit of trophies and sashes, the mothers do things like get spray tans for five year olds, purchase false teeth, spend scads of cash on frilly sequined dresses (which run into the hundreds and thousands of dollars), pay for pageant coaches and force Coca-Cola down the throat of a two-year old so that she’ll remain awake and peppy for her competition.

In most cases, the mother is the driving force in the pageant habit (it does read like an addiction at times), but there are usually husbands involved, bland lumps of flesh, wan and henpecked who are there to help bankroll the efforts and tote around Rubbermaid bins full of pageant crap from hotel ballroom to hotel ballroom.

My observation is that the mothers are either fading beauties/frustrated pageant contestants themselves, or just flat out blorgs.

The other day I caught a rerun of a recent episode, that happened to take place in Arizona. Among the families this episode showcased were a hideous four-year old who threw a bitchin’ tantrum in order to get her pacifier, and a sort of fascinating woman from Lake Havasu, Arizona, who was pimping out her twin, ONE YEAR OLD girls to the pageant lifestyle.

This is a particularly intriguing subset of the child pageant circuit, the infants. How can you compete in a pageant if you can’t even walk? Someone has to carry the babies out onto the stage, where they loll around in overdone outfits with boys taped to their heads.

Anyway, I mentioned Lake Havasu for a reason. If you’ve never been, it’s a small city in Arizona best known for London Bridge and spring break. An enterprising entrepreneur decades ago purchased the actual, original London Bridge and had it shipped over, piece by piece, from England and reassembled in Lake Havasu as a tourist attraction. I suppose it worked because I’ve been there – and it’s a bridge. In its shadow there are little shops and you can watch candles being made. The other raison d’etre for Havasu is rampant spring breaking, fueled by the huge population of Arizona State University. If you’ve ever seen one of those reality shows that features out of control spring breakers getting alcohol poisoning, sharing venereal diseases, jumping off of really big rocks into the lake and needing to be rescued, operating watercraft while intoxicating and taking their clothes off – chances are they’ve filmed in Lake Havasu at one time or another.

So this Havasu woman clearly got the attention of the Toddlers & Tiaras producers not just because she has twins, but also because of her creepy plastic surgery, and the fact that she’s apparently loaded. Her husband is a doctor and I guess he has a hell of a practice because they live in a huge McMansion, are loaded to the gills with luxury cars, have their own private jet, etc. etc. etc. She (I forget her name) claims they have spent about $250,000 to date on the pageant stuff. Yes that’s a quarter of a million bucks. Did I mention the kids are one??

The irony is that so many of the mothers say they are in the game for the cash prizes, when there is no way that the money they win ever exceeds the money they spend on the pageants. The largest cash prize I’ve ever seen on these programs is $1,000. So even if you win, you’re still out about $249,000, give or take some change.

I know I’ve gone on and on about this, so I’ll just say this to the contestants’ mothers: your infant can’t get nervous about being on stage, she cannot. Because the 18-month old does not understand that she is on stage. Sure, she can be afraid, and rightly so, about being shoved into a scratchy tutu and paraded around in front of a roomful of strangers … but she can’t, in my opinion, get stage fright.
Here is a good description of this episode, which is a typical episode, that I found online – this was apparently written by a dude who was giving it a good go to try and watch the show… he ends up drinking heavily, which is understandable. He also refers to the Lake Havasu woman as resembling a “killer clown” which is eerily apt.

The show personifies so many things that are wrong with people in general, and the stereotype of pageant mothers in particular. Being a pageant mother is one thing, but somehow when you’re engaging in that behavior with a toddler, it just takes it to another level altogether.

Speaking of tiaras and terror, the whole John Galliano meltdown has been an ugly episode, hasn’t it? In France, anti-Semitic remarks are punishable by law, plus the PR fallout given what it is, the venerable house of Christian Dior had no choice but to fire him, and send him to rehab. And hire a new publicity firm. Here’s a short item from PR Daily on the story.

I love the veddy British mea culpa: “I unreservedly apologize for my behavior in causing any offense.”

Reminded me immediately of the scene in A Fish Called Wanda in which Kevin Kline dangles John Cleese out of a window and forces him to apologize.

Oh no, it’s K-k-k-Ken, c-c-c-coming to k-k-k-kill me! That’s a good flick.


  1. Forget the eyelashes and false teeth - a mother who would WANT her 2-year-old to stay awake, for any reason, is just unnatural. I remember praying for small children to please, please, PLEASE just GO TO SLEEP AND STOP ASKING ME QUESTIONS.