I’m from the school of thought that prescribes every child should be involved in some sort of competition (at the proper age, of course). Life is a competition: the race for better jobs, schooling, and housing are all tangible things. It’s best if one were to learn early that hard work, dedication, and a healthy sense of ambition are necessary to achieve not only a comfortable living, but a valid sense of worth and serenity. (I’m merely talking comfortable, and not in any way suggesting to raise your children like race horses bred to win the Kentucky Derby.)
Some sort of competition can help instill those valuable traits in a child. Will there be heartaches? Sure! But there are lessons to learn there. I absolutely sucked at little league baseball. Did it crush my soul in some ways? Yup. But, if I wasn’t so terrible, then I would have never migrated to mixed martial arts as a young teenager, which helped propel me from an overweight, asthmatic kid with braces to an asthmatic kid with a black belt and a pocketful of confidence.
I say all that to say this: Toddler & Tiaras is disgusting (how’s that for a George Carlin-like transition?). There’s healthy competition, and then there’s pimping your children. T&T leaned — like a hooker into a john’s car — radically into the planes of grotesque narcissism.
The whole child pageantry thing is a disgrace in and of itself. What are these “contestants” learning? What are they achieving by having grown men and women judge them on their looks at such a young age? I’ll tell you what: morbid self-obsession (shoutout to Travis Bickle). They’re learning that if they dress in revealing clothes, and layer their face with so much makeup that they’re unrecognizable, they’ll achieve some sort of small-town fame that can eventually translate to a grander stage should they apply the same principals in their latter years. I’m getting off on a tangent now, so let me finish this portion by just providing you with some evidence (if you’d like even more examples, then this and this should satiate your thirst for truth).
A 5-year old cavorting with strippers is not okay but as bad as that is, I’d like to refer to the 1:40 mark of the video for this tell: “I like to win,” says the soon-to-be stripper’s mother.
Note the operative subject, “I.”
This is the primary issue when it comes to either unhealthy competitions (like child pageants), or healthy competitions that bad parents restructure in unhealthy ways (i.e. those crazed football dads who rush onto fields to attack refs, coaches, other players, expecting mothers, etc.). What makes these situations unhealthy is the parental units putting themselves first, before the mental, physical, and spiritual health of their children.
We haven’t seen Lifetime’s Child Genius yet, so to compare the two programs now would be unfair. The first episode of it’s inaugural run (the show previously ran in the UK with some pundits calling it “car crash television at its worst”) will see 20 intelligent kids duking it out in a tournament-style contest of I.Q. points for a $100,000 college fund. Producer John Helsing spoke to the TV Page about the stigma the show is bringing with it.
It is not an exploitative show. Obviously there is drama and excitement. There is tears and laughter. But I think that the key thing here is that all of these kids are very, very bright and they really want to do this. They want to go to university at age 14. They want to be president by 25. None of them were forced into it by their parents or by us. This particular show makes you realize that the future is bright and in fairly safe hands.
Helsing also didn’t deny that the parents got contentious at times during the series.
The parents were obviously competitive in certain ways and wanting their children to do well, as we all do. There were moments when there were complaints of concerns from parents that maybe their children had gotten gotten questions that were harder than another child’s. There were arguments with moderators. So there was tension for sure.
Lifetime’s Child Genius debuts tonight at 10 pm.