It's been 54 days since 26 people lost their lives to a disturbed shooter who opened fire in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. In the days immediately following the attack, America mourned. President Obama gave a stirring, emotional speech (and shed a few tears of his own), the NFL observed a moment of silence before each of its weekend games, and the normally raucous Saturday Night Live solemnly showed its remorse with a children's choir singing "Silent Night." But now, nearly two months later, the memory of that tragic day is kept alive by trotting the survivors out for us all to gawk at. During a time when these children should start to get back to old routines and rebuild a sense of normalcy in their lives, they are continuously shoved in the spotlight.
The chorus from Sandy Hook Elementary first performed alongside Jennifer Hudson at the Super Bowl, and now, the kids will sing as part of E!'s Live From the Red Carpet Grammys pre-show. E! reports that a group of 21 children from Newtown (only some of whom attend Sandy Hook) will be broadcast live via satellite from their Connecticut locale, singing Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe." They will then be interviewed by Ryan Seacrest, about what one can only imagine. These children are now celebrities because they witnessed a tragedy, and that juxtaposition is more than a little unsettling.
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Before the kids' big Super Bowl debut, Erin Nikitchyuk, a parent of one of the children, summed up the contradictory feelings the performance stirred in her and many by telling CBS, "It’s hard to balance the thought that we’re being rewarded for the tragedies of those days, but as a friend of mine said, we're layering good experiences on top of the bad experiences we’ve had with our kids and I think they are healing." Of course she's right. And music, it seems, has been particularly instrumental in helping the children to heal.
Last month, the same chorus that will be showcased on E! recorded a version of "Over the Rainbow" with singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson, which is now available for purchase on iTunes (the proceeds for all sales will go to the United Way of Western Connecticut and the Newtown Youth Academy). The children have since performed the song on ABC's Good Morning America and at a benefit concert. The performance on Grammys night, at first glance, seems to be an extension of this musical release.
Newtown teacher Sabrina Post agrees. Speaking of the choir appearances, she told the AP, "This opportunity to do something positive lets the kids know that although a lot of things happen in our world that are not pleasant, like this that happened with us in Newtown, there are many giving people and wonderful things that can come out of life, so don't get discouraged," she said. "It teaches them to use their gifts to work through things." This sentiment is, again, admirable.
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Tim Hayes, co-producer of the "Over the Rainbow" recording, adds his voice to the chorus of supporters. He tells the AP, "We know the kids involved have had a wonderful experience, but we think this chapter is now done, and we want these kids to get back to being kids." And here, finally, we arrive at the heart of the matter: These kids need to get back to being kids.
While the morning show appearances and New Orleans excursions have surely been exciting for the children, they have prevented the kids from returning to their normal lives. On Dec. 14, the lives of these children changed drastically. Not only did the day's events impact the students emotionally — grammar-school-aged kids were suddenly confronted with a grief many adults are fortunate enough to have never experienced — but also tangibly, on a day-to-day level, when these kids were forced out of their school and in front of national news cameras. How can parents begin to help their children understand that life will one day be able to return to normal if that restoration is continuously delayed? Even if that delay is caused by fun things.
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But the blame here, of course, doesn't lie with the Newtown families. (What parent doesn't want their grieving child to experience the exhilaration of the Super Bowl or the Grammy Awards? Who wouldn't, like Nikitchyuk says, want to layer happy memories over the terrifying ones?) It is the network's decision to use the chorus as a ratings magnet that is so deplorable. E! knows that viewers will tune in to watch the kids; when the satellite to Connecticut heats up, Grammy red carpet viewers will undoubtedly switch from CBS to E!. And that is exploitive.
Because, you see, the "Call Me Maybe" performance isn't really about the kids. It's not about healing, it's not about happy memories, it's not about music. It's about ratings. For E!, the rest are all just excuses and happy side effects. So let's turn off the cameras, give Newtown some room to breathe, and let these kids get back to being kids.
Follow Abbey Stone on Twitter @abbeystone
[Photo Credit: Getty Images]
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Ape descendant Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) gets yanked from the Earth by best friend and alien Ford Prefect (Mos Def) seconds before a Vogon constructor fleet destroys it to make way for a hyperspace expressway. Next thing he knows Arthur is aboard the Vogon ship reading the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (voiced by Stephen Fry) and wondering where he might get some tea. But he and Ford are not in the clear: the Vogons (some of whom look like the nightmarish drawings of Ralph Steadman come to life in S&M leather) want to throw them into the vacuum of space right after they read some of the third worst poetry in the known universe. Luckily the spaceship Heart of Gold picks up the stranded hitchhikers in the nick of time. Stolen by the dim but groovy President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) the ship has an Improbability Drive that causes certain mischief turning the stowaways into loveseats and later two missiles into a bowl of petunias and a sperm whale. Also onboard is doe-eyed Earth girl Tricia "Trillian" McMillan (Zooey Deschanel) who previously ditched Arthur at a costume party on Earth to satisfy her wanderlust with Zaphod. The crew then embarks on a quest to find the Ultimate Question to Life the Universe and Everything after supercomputer Deep Thought (voiced by Helen Mirren) found the answer: 42. On the run and without a home Arthur discovers that life's true meaning comes from the answers found within.
The slapstick antics and sharp dialogue evoke enough laughs to make one forget that the characters are rather one-note. Rockwell's Zaphod is a riot at first but the cheeky smile and devilish winks soon wear thin. Deschanel has little to work with playing Trillian though it's fun watching her wield a point-of-view gun on Zaphod. Mos Def mumbles some lines but does manage to act like someone from another planet. Freeman does an amiable job playing the fish-out-of-water Earthman but neglects to express the grief and bewilderment of someone who just lost his planet. Even John Malkovich as Humma Kavular--the spiritual leader of a cult awaiting the arrival of the Big Handkerchief--fails to make much of an impression in his brief appearance. Only Alan Rickman as the perpetually glum robot Marvin and Bill Nighy as the stammering planet designer Slartibartfast remain funny without becoming routine--though unfortunately Nighy only appears in the third act. A half-cocked romance between Arthur and Trillian is thrown in for good measure with the couple merely going through the motions.
Directed with considerable flair by first-timer Garth Jennings whose frantic visual style blends well with Adams' ironic wit the film looks as good as can be. CGI is used to display Adams' universe in ways never seen before: The massive concrete slabs of the Vogon fleet surrounding Earth the Heart of Gold tricked out in 1960's Formica kitsch the stark bureaucratic world of Vogosphere and the eye-popping factory floor on Magrathea are all vividly brought to life. Although the graphics of the Guide look more like Internet pop-up ads than stellar entries from the best-selling book in the galaxy the exposition from the Guide is clever and amusing though one should brush up on the material prior to viewing. Even with all the stunning visuals however the plot is still thin. Jennings and screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick (Chicken Run) have trimmed the story--and witty banter--to its barest essentials leaving out some of the funnier bits to quicken the pace. Memorable exchanges--like the opening battle of wits between Arthur and Mr. Prosser--are reduced to a few meaningless lines while the always hinted-at love affair between Arthur and Trillian gets the full Hollywood treatment. In the past Adams who died of a heart attack in 2001 has allowed the Guide to change and progress with each incarnation so new additions--like the point-of-view gun and the cult of the Big Handkerchief--are welcomed. But the patchwork of wacky vignettes and neutered banter particularly between Arthur and Ford leave one yearning for something more meaningful.