"I did awesome. I'm better than all the other girls," boasts beauty queen Torran Robinson, age 8.
Watch five minutes of Toddlers & Tiaras, TLC's controversial reality show featuring virtual infants learning all the wrong life lessons in the guise of a beauty pageant, and tell me the world isn't coming to an end.
It's bad enough we have the ever-popular "my-success-is-contingent-on-your-failure" mantra governing almost every adult-oriented reality show, but do we really need to sink to the level where we're offering our kids up as bait in exchange for a shot at the big time? Thanks to the success of the aforementioned, the answer is apparently a resounding, "Yes!"
Not only do we get to see five-year-olds playing the competition game to the max, complete with a visit to the chiropractor to gain that 'extra edge,' but we're treated to a glimpse inside the mind of one of these "Mimps" (Mommy-Pimps) as she openly brags that her goal in life is to mooch off her young daughter's celebrity for as long as she can. Is she talking about her daughter or a used car? The logical next step for the networks is to shoot a reality version of The Hunger Games.
A few years back, Sacha Baron Cohen's film Bruno shed some light on the disturbing subject of mothers willing to exploit their children in the pursuit of fame when he secretly filmed the mommy of a two-year-old agreeing to subject her baby to plastic surgery if it meant the possibility of landing a national commercial. As bad as that was, "T&Ts" takes it to a whole new level.
Child beauty pageants have been around for a long time. Knowing they exist is one thing, but watching the carnage unfold firsthand in your living room is another. After all, aside from Extreme Home Makeover, aren't the main ingredients of almost every successful reality show a toxic blend of humiliation, tension, and aggression? And, while the producers of Toddlers ^ Tiaras haven't yet bestowed upon us a throw-down between two six-year-olds, in my opinion, what they're doing is much worse.
Just watching one of these future "Veruca Salts" as she learns to be a sore loser (or worse, an ungracious winner), and overhearing a starstruck mother as she imparts upon her impressionable child life's most valuable lesson: the need to be better than everyone else, one can't help but feel that by simply tuning into the show, you're an accomplice. An accomplice in the destruction of a dozen childhoods per week.
Where Toddlers & Tiaras really succeeds is in its ability to give viewers an up-close-and-personal glimpse into what will most likely amount to a sadly confusing, vanity-filled, twisted adolescence and adulthood for many of these little girls. Thanks to the magic of reality television, the stars of the show are no longer just beauty pageant contestants, they're now pint-sized celebrities -- signing autographs, endorsing dolls, landing their own spin-off shows, etc. And, I think we've seen at least one or two of those derail in recent memory.
The big question is, where does it end? Are reality shows becoming our reality?
The Internet is overrun with clips of teenagers beating homeless people for sport, parents encouraging their kids to fight each other, and countless stories of teen celebs relapsing after rehab. But, who can blame them for their neanderthal behavior when everywhere you look is the message that living a "screw you" lifestyle is the preferred way to succeed? You don't have to be a sociology professor to see there's something wrong with this picture. On one hand, reality shows like Toddlers & Tiaras keep reminding us, indeed, we can sink even lower. On the other, I can't wait for Bravo's UFC Kids this spring.