Chew Them Up & Spit Them Out

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I am a fan of old school 1960s teen dream Disney. I wanted to be Hayley Mills when I was a kid, and Pollyanna and The Parent Trap ranked as two of my most-watched movies as a kid, along with the uber-bizarre Babes in Toyland starring Annette Funicello.

For awhile it seemed the Disney factory stopped producing ready-made stars, the closest thing being the explosion of teenagers in the late 90s that had all once, coincidentally, been on the Mickey Mouse Club together. You’ve heard the names before, but Britney, Christina, Justin, Keri Russell, and Ryan Gosling are just some of the famous alums.

These days though, it seems like the gears are greased and the factory is working at maximum capacity to churn out an endless spew of young starlets – starting back about a decade ago with Lindsay Lohan (who got her start in Disney’s remake of ‘The Parent Trap’) and Hilary Duff (who defined the Disney preteen genre with her starring role on ‘Lizzie Mcguire’).

Both stars burned out relatively quickly. Lohan seemed poised to go far beyond her Disney days with the hugely successful ‘Mean Girls’ and a handful of other half-decent movie roles in youth-friendly films like ‘Freaky Friday’ and ‘Herbie: Fully Loaded’. The tides quickly turned however, as Lindsay got caught up in the Hollywood lifestyle…and well, you know the rest. Girl got sentenced to spend some time in prison this week! Duff managed to avoid the majority of the party girl controversy, but earned headlines for her clandestine relationship with Good Charlotte frontman Joel Madden (papa to two kids & husband-to-be of Nicole Richie) when she was a minor, and a relatively flat music career. Duff appeared on ‘Gossip Girl’ for a stint this fall, but other than that her ship seems to have sailed. Don’t worry about Hil though, she’s engaged to a Canadian NHL hockey player. Cha-ching!

I remember my friend Danielle complaining that all of these starlets were unfairly blessed with good lucks, decent acting skills, and mysteriously, singing voices. I’ve heard stories about how terrible most of these kids actually are at singing and that Disney processes their voices as much as their hair, but it’s important to note that all Disney darlings (and their counterparts on The N! and ABC Family) tend to have vocal abilities.

Since the Lindsay/Hilary reign of the early 2000s, we’ve been treated to an endless litany of superstars – some which rise to greater heights than others. Call it our short-term attention span or what, but all of a sudden the 15 minutes for these kids seems to be shortened to 5 or 10 minutes.

Consider the Jonas Brothers. Last year (and for a couple of quieter but still buzz-filled years before that), the Jo Bros were THE hottest ticket in town. They churned out a few albums, went on sold out tours, and braced themselves for the inevitable Hanson-esque backlash. And yet they remained relatively untouched. Other than a few jabs at their purity rings, the only logical explanation for the decline in popularity of the band is the fact one of them got married and another one dated Taylor Swift (and everyone in Hollywood) and got revealed as a Mini-Mayer, both of which are good reasons to give parents pause when it comes to their OCD daughters falling over themselves for this group.

In one short year, the Jonas Brothers have been dethroned by a fifteen-year-old Canadian moppet named Justin Beiber. The same hysteria surrounding Bieber is exactly what defined the Jonas Brothers – screaming, hysterical girls of a certain age, sold out tours, and limited proven ability at a very young age. The only question is whether Beiber will be able to translate his current success into longevity – a harder move than one might think, as Justin Timberlake can attest (as the sole survivor of the boy band era).

Take another example: High School Musical. The franchise spawned two television movies and a big screen outing in just three short years and took over the dreams of tweens everywhere (and a few eagle-eyed teens and young adults that spied one Zac Efron). It also opened the door for more adult-oriented shows like “Glee” to make their move. Despite skyrocketing the young stars into the public eye, it has proven relatively fruitless for the gang so far. Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron, the most predictably successful of the bunch, have continued on quietly with starring roles in B-grade movies (save for Zac’s ’17 Again’, which I enjoy), Ashley Tisdale got a nose job and continued doing voice work and kiddie shows, and the rest of the cast basically fell off the deep end – along with their price-slashed merchandise. I have no doubt Hanna Montana, now that it’s off the air and Miley Cyrus is branching out in a Britney sense, will suffer the same fate.

My point is, there is a disturbing trend at work here. It seems like every week there is a new mini-star on the rise. I could name them, but I couldn’t tell you what they’ve done, what show they’re on, or how their music career is going. Demi Lovato. Selena Gomez. Jamie Lynn Spears (teenage mama). Miranda Cosgrove. Anna Sophia Robb. I’d like to meet the parents that think it’s okay to encourage their young ones to be thrown into an overgroomed, overworked spotlight like this when the results are debatable at best.

It’s nothing new – kid stars in the 30s and the 60s (the last big booms) were famously overworked and overexposed as well – but it’s disconcerting to think that one day I’ll be a parent shelling out for flavour of the month branded backpacks and binders, at the expense of a young person that doesn’t know what they’re in for, to the benefit of a company that knows how to manipulate and mastermind frighteningly successful branded people.

It’s just a hard thing to swallow.

- Britt’s On


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