I find the increasingly common practice of celebrities pimping out their kids for profit disgusting. It is one thing to sell the "first photos" of stars' babies to the highest bidder, it's another thing entirely to use telegenic tots as chum to reel in lucrative and publicity generating television shows in hopes of resuscitating a stalled or otherwise non-existent career.
Okay, so the motive for selling these photos some times goes beyond greed. Really. There is a legitimate case to be made that stars have become such hunted prey by the paparazzi that they could be putting their child in danger if they don't agree to a photo op to feed the ravenous tabloid machine. Both Angelina Jolie and Julia Roberts granted exclusive access to People and promptly turned over the considerable sums they were paid to charity. (Full disclosure: I work for the magazine)
That said, consider this: Arguably the most eagerly anticipated celebrity spawn, Suri Cruise, daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, was photographed for free by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair. The couple, who were constantly chided in the press for 'hiding' their new baby, took their time and handpicked the magazine for their debut as a family. No cash was exchanged. So for all the slings and arrows TomKat have endured in the press for their alleged eccentricities, they seem downright wholesome in their approach to introducing their baby to the world. Sarah Jessica Parker also chose to handle things with a sense of grace and dignity that is sadly absent today. When her son James Wilke was born in 2002, she and husband Matthew Broderick arranged for a photo call at the hospital and stood outside holding their son allowing the photographers that had been gathered to get their shots. I love that SJP could be heard shushing the shutterbugs so as not to upset the baby.
Fast forward a mere six years and the practice of celebrities selling their kids to the highest bidder and reached an all time high — or, more appropriately, a stunning new low. Fresh off pocketing a reported $6 million for pics of twins Max and Emme, Jennifer Lopez has announced she will be starring in a 'reality series' for TLC that chronicles her life as a 'working mother.' But 'reality series' has such a tacky connotation — J.Lo prefers to consider the venture a 'docuseries.' Come on!
What a difference a few years make. Back in June 2006, I interviewed Lopez for Variety. Newly married to Marc Anthony, I asked her to reflect on that period when she and then fiance Ben Affleck were keeping Us Weekly in business while basically living every moment of their lives as a couple in front the cameras. Who can forget the Oscar winner kissing Lopez's famous bum for posterity in her music video? (I bet Ben would like to!) The couple became non stop tabloid fodder with the attention all but eclipsing her — and his — career. "That was a really tough time," she said. "I said, 'I don't want this. How do I change this and get the attention off this stuff and back onto what it was in the beginning — the fact that I was an actress doing interesting projects and a singer making music?'" Ironically, she credited her new husband with helping her set new boundaries between her professional and personal lives. "He's an ultra-private person," she said at the time. "I needed to put up those boundaries and say, 'This is okay and this is not okay.' It wasn't easy, but I did it."
So, what changed?
I have some idea since Lopez's latest film projects bombed. El Cantante, which costarred her husband, garnered mix reviews and did little at the box office and Bordertown went straight to video.
Since audiences obviously have not embraced Lopez as a dramatic actress why not go the yummy mummy route, put those designer duds on the babies and trot them out in that $2,ooo pram for all the world to see? After all, everyone knows that in Hollywood, children have replaced designer handbags as the must-have accessory.
I am not debating the idea that these women love their children. I'm sure J.Lo adores her kids. But that's not the point. The real question is why she and other "personalities" like Kimora Lee Simmons act as if their children are the supporting cast in the 24/7 extravaganza of their lives? Have you seen "Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane?" Simmons' reality show is unwatchable as she exploits her children week after week. They're adorable now but if there's any justice they'll grow up to be just like mommy. Denise Richards, locked in a furious custody battle with Charlie Sheen (who she has characterized as the world's worst father), wanted to do her reality show featuring her two girls so badly she took the actor to court in order to get permission to do so. The show is supposed to be "about her career" says producer Ryan Seacrest, who has also said her girls will be featured. Quick: name the last thing you saw Richards in? Exactly. Chances are there will be a lot more time spent following her around as she wears her mommy hat than any behind the scenes look at her red hot career.
I've never talked to these other women but I do know, based on what she told me, that J.Lo is jumping back into the fishbowl that almost swallowed her whole. One would think motherhood would have made someone who has experienced what she has all the more cautious about exposing her newborn children to the camera's constant glare.
But that's showbiz. And that's sad.