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Is Reality TV Too Cruel for Children?

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Apr 16, 2012 | 10:05am EDT

Edens WorldOf all the strange permutations of reality television that have emerged from the boiling primordial stew of The Real World there is only one that I think might actually be harmful: the crazy pageant girl shows. Toddlers & Tiaras, Dance Moms, King of the Crown, Tiara Girls, Pageant Place, and now we have Eden's World, a new show on Logo that follows around Eden Wood, an 8-year-old pageant vet and Toddlers and Tiaras regular as she tries to make it famous. Have we taken this whole pageant thing too far?

What has always creeped me out about these shows is that they're about children. Most people in the audience aren't watching them because they think pageants are awesome wholesome fun for the whole family. They're watching them with an ironic detachment, rolling our eyes at the little people who think piling a 6-year-olds hair to the heavens and putting her in a sexy Daisy Duke costume is a sincere form of beauty. We're not celebrating these kids, we're gawking at them and putting them down, reveling in our superiority like we're rolling around in a bed of sequins.

Is it fair to do that to these poor kids? They obviously didn't choose to be on the show. Well, they may choose to be on the show, but they are kids. When I was 8, I wanted to wear a cape to school everyday, eat donuts for dinner, and stay up until midnight watching Nick and Nite. Luckily my mother was smart enough to put the kibosh on two of those things (the cape was a huge hit in second grade). Sadly these are kids whose parents want to be on television and can only do it through their children. These kids think they want the cameras around but it's only because mommy tells them to. When they're 18 how do you think they'll feel about having every embarrassing moment of their childhood preserved on YouTube, easily Googlable by every potential mate, employer, and friend. Sure, it might be cute to be Honey Boo Boo Child now, but think about how she's gonna feel about this at 20?

Pageants aren't really about the girls who are in them, they're about the parents who fund them, encourage them, and pack the minivan full of toddlers every Sunday afternoon to attend them. These programs are ostensibly about the parents as well. We rationalize tuning in by saying that we are really laughing at the manic moms so desperate and pathological. Honestly, they're fascinating to watch, but we can't see their craziness without inflicting their daughters in the same mocking gaze.

Eden's World spends way more time following Eden's mother, shrieking publicist, and crazy manager than it does Eden herself. She's the nexus of this storm of adults behaving badly. But without Eden, there is no show. There are two scenes that stick out from the premiere episode, which airs on Monday at 10 PM. In one Eden gets a meeting with A&M Records about a recording contract. When meeting with the execs in her electric blue gown covered in sparkles, tulle, and desperation, she gets up on the conference table and does a "drop it like it's hot" booty shaking dance. The execs giggle nervously, not sure what to say. That's sort of what this show is like: an 8-year-old doing something precocious and embarrassing to the consternation and embarrassment of the world. She doesn't know that it's wrong, she does what she's told and she gets a reaction, so she thinks it's the right thing.

The other key scene is when Eden's manager and publicist get in one of those unavoidable stupid reality show fights that are really more about creating conflict than actually arguing a point. Eden's mother says not to do it in front of her daughter, and takes her away from the fight. Excuse me, you don't want fighting or conflict in front of your daughter? Then why did you sign her up for a reality show? Did you think the show would be about people sitting around a table shooting smiles at each other while they help the poor? No! It's about fighting and being nuts. That is all that reality TV is about these days. And if you don't want your daughter exposed to that, then you need to tell the cameras to pack up and go home.

Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan

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