You've seen Charlie Bit My Finger? It is the grandfather of viral kid videos (if you can say that when the stars are a three-year-old and his infant brother...) with nearly 400 million views since it was first posted to YouTube in 2007.
And I'll bet you have seen the loopy seven-year-old in David After Dentist? which came along two years later, and has "only" been viewed about 100 million times. More recently there's Lily's Disneyland Surprise, which went up early last month, and already six million viewers have watched the little girl sob when her parents tell her about the trip she's about to take for her 6th birthday.
"Is this real life?" David asks while still drugged post-oral surgery. (His father has since copyrighted the term and put it on t-shirts.)
Yes, David, it is. Or, more accurately, it's where real life meets the Internet meets parenting. Time was when your child did something cute and you called your mother and told her about it. You might even have pulled out the Super 8 projector and showed the results to your guests on Thanksgiving. Maybe you sent it to America's Funniest Home Videos, and got 60 seconds of fame.
Now, of course, you post it on YouTube
Nearly all of us have watched these latest outlets for exhibitionism. (Cute Kid Moments: The Streakers of a New Era?) Let's press pause for a moment and wonder what all that watching means.
As it happens, several round-ups have found their way to my inbox recently, all looking at the lives of these children -- and the earnings of their parents -- in the wake of their looping 15 minutes of fame. Frankly, everyone seems to be doing quite well.
Lily Clem went to Disneyland; Disney has reportedly offered her parents an "undisclosed sum" to use the footage of her crying jag in their advertising. David DeVore's father, also David, quit his job selling Orlando real estate, started a website about his son, and turned his business attention to selling those t-shirts and bumperstickers. Howard Davies-Carr, father of Harry and Charlie (bittee and biter, respectively) is estimated to have earned 100,000 pounds (about $160,000) from advertising revenue sharing with YouTube. And his boys (Harry is now 7 1/2, Charlie is 5, and Jasper is nearly 3) have just made a Halloween video, of the many parodies of their original:
All good, right? Every one is still healthy, and a bit wealthier, and not feeling exploited? Yes. For now. But you have to wonder about the longer term effects on these children, who will be, growing up known for something adorable (and in many cases more than a little embarrassing) that should have been a private moment with their parents. Specific content of the video aside, what about the warping element of the spotlight. (Quick, name a child star who didn't have a troubled adulthood. Okay. Ron Howard. Now name another.)
Randy McEntee has thought of that, and has set some ground rules. He's the father of the twin boys in this iPhone video, (50 million views) who clearly seem to be having a conversation in a language only they can understand. (One might guess they are discussing a missing sock.) He told the New York Times that he and his wife vowed "to behave in a way that our children would be proud of,"including, reporter Claire Cain Miller writes, "no travel to be on TV, no other videos of the children" and "letting them remove the video when they are old enough to understand." Until then, though, their mother has a blog where she chronicles their daily adorableness.
There is a difference, I'd argue, between the earliest "cute kid vid stars" and the ones that are coming along now. More recent entrants can't really claim to be taken by surprise. And there is, increasingly, a feeling of staging, and "can you top this?" and just plain nastiness to the many of the newer videos, as fame goes from something that just happens to something actively being sought.
Rebecca Black, who gained fame when her music video went viral because it was mocked by millions as the "worst" such video ever, was surprised and hurt by the criticism, her uncle told me in an interview. And yet, her mother had paid $3,000 to a production company, with the goal of getting her daughter noticed. The parents who answered Jimmy Kimmel's call to send him clips of them telling their children they had eaten all their Halloween candy got the joke, yes, and it WAS funny, true, but really Jimmy? It's one thing for David's father not to turn off the camera to comfort his disoriented son, or Harry's father to keep rolling, rather than removing Harry's finger from Charlie's teeth. But have we actually stooped to literally taking candy from babies? (Okay, the kids at the end were really, really cute... )
Yes, I realize I am writing this from "cute kid video central" here at Huffington Post Parents. You love watching these, and we run them often. Our own rules are that we won't show a child in danger or in pain. We try not to show things that were clearly staged rather than spontaneous, though it is often hard to tell. Basically we aim to show things that bring smiles.
But will we all look back on even the most adorable of these as not such a good idea for the children in them?
Why do YOU watch? Is this harmless fun, or is it becoming something more troubling?