There is a predictable quality to the impact of Fame on children, and we ignore it at our peril. This morning I sat in the very same CBS interview chair I occupied 90 days ago to speak about the ill-defined workplace that surrounds the "+ 8" from "Jon & Kate," the same chair where three months ago I warned about the potential for disaster in the lives of the two children from "Slum Dog Millionaire," a warning, I might add, that played out far sooner than I anticipated. Please, when it comes to the consequences of notoriety on children in the spotlight, who has proven to be right more often than wrong?
This is not a recreational debate. The future of Jon and Kate's children is at issue, and while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, not everyone is entitled to alter the facts of this matter.
The following words and terms, when used in this subchapter, have the following meanings, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise:
Employer--Any person who for his own account or benefit or that of his patrons, directly or indirectly, or through an employee, agent, independent contractor, or any other person employs or permits any minor to work in theatrical productions, musical recitals or concerts, entertainment acts, modeling, radio, television, motion picture making, or in other similar forms or media of entertainment.
Employment--A minor engaged in a performance shall be deemed employed, if any person, including the performer, his parent or teacher, receives remuneration from the performance or if any performer in the production is paid for performing.
Pennsylvania does, in fact, have laws and regulations governing the protection of Minors involved in the performing arts. Five years ago, when "Jon & Kate + 8" first arrived in our living rooms, it was a far cry from today's slickly-mounted presentation. Jon and Kate were different people then, and we all sympathized with the extraordinary pressures they were under with six preemies to care for, and a set of adorable twins to nurture as well. No one, including A Minor Consideration, was worried about child labor laws. The initial situation was almost certainly "news" by anyone's definition.
Things have changed. The old Gosselin house became a television studio. Blood-relatives were shunted to the sidelines. The 'freebies' started to come in bunches, from plastic surgery to family vacations. TLC began to brag about ratings and the lurking evil of public relations came out of the closet. Big money was suddenly on the table. Appearance fees and book deals materialized, as did a much larger house in which to film the Gosselins, plus private schools and a paid household staff to "manage" the brood.
"Jon & Kate + 8" became a commercial enterprise, spawning loads of imitators on the network, and luring marginally competent people into believing that bearing a boatload of infants was a ticket to fame and fortune. America, sadly, tragically, soaked this up without giving a thought to the impact on the lives of the children exposed to the ravenous maw of the media.
Could it be true that no one gave a thought to the status of the children because after all is said and done they are the property of their parents? Besides, just being on television ought to be good enough for a kid, even eight of 'em, right?
Just look what we've done by going along with this fiction that reality shows are somehow different than scripted television shows. Not only have we deluded ourselves that the presence of cameras have no impact on the participants, we've somehow suspended disbelief when it comes to the calculated deliberations of the production team that puts all the elements together, deliberations in the case of "J&K+8" that involve the admitted participation of Jon and Kate.
When the Writers Guild of America went out on strike last year one of their demands was that the writers of reality television be covered under the Basic Agreement. Keep that in mind.
If the sad but predictable saga of the two children sent back to the slums after starring in "Slum Dog Millionaire" has any meaning to you, if you followed the denials and tortured explanations of that film's producers and director, you will have a better understanding of the "spin" being issued by TLC and Jon and Kate Gosselin who now claim that they spared no effort to protect the children. TLC, ignoring the obvious marital problems, now says the filming of the children is limited to a couple of days per week and the cameras no longer film in the kids' bedrooms.
No mention is made of the images already broadcast and cemented for all time on the Internet. That ship, you see, has already sailed and sunk.
This is a monumental mess, my friends, and a window into the true state of childhood in America these days. Dozens of innocent children are currently featured on so-called reality television shows, and hundreds more are potential fodder in hostile jurisdictions all over the world.
It's time to put the reality genie back in the bottle. This plea for a return to sanity isn't about this author, or even the gaggle of former kid stars who have been trying to share the lessons of their lives with you for decades.
We look forward to the results of the formal investigations now going on in Pennsylvania and California. Subpoenas have been issued in California and witnesses are coming forward in both states. It's hard to put the wheels of justice in motion, but once they're moving they are impossible to stop.