I've had a lot of free time over the past few weeks, and I've been using it to do what every hot-blooded American does with time off - watching lots and lots of trashy reality TV. In particular, the TLC series Toddlers & Tiaras, chronicling child beauty pageants. I suggest checking it out for shits and giggles, as well as the overall air of superiority for not being the people depicted.
Maybe I'm the wrong person to judge a show like this, considering I've always thought grown women dressing up and parading around in front of judges for awards based solely on looks was a pretty silly, if harmless pastime. But doing it to children is beyond the pale. I turned on the show for the first time because I was so horrified, and maybe a little intrigued, that such a thing even existed. I have since learned a lot about the human race.
There's no narration in the show, ostensibly to avoid judging the seriously disturbed stage moms. But the editing does all the judging you need. Often, the mother will claim in an interview just how much her daughter loves competing in pageants, and then it will immediately cut to a shot of the mother physically restraining her crying child while applying fake eyelashes or spray-tan.
However, some of the children do seem to genuinely enjoy competing in the pageants. These are little girls after all, and they like dressing up and pretending to be princesses, right? I think so. I was never a little girl, so I couldn't tell you for sure. But even if the kid does like it, one has to question the wisdom of parents spending thousands of dollars on an activity that is solely for the enjoyment of their children, instead of putting that money into, say, a college fund.
The pageants themselves were almost as disturbing to watch as the pre-show stage mom drama. How do you "judge" a six-year-old for walking around a stage wearing fancy gowns and eyeliner? What kind of adults would be willing to say, yep, that child is better looking than that other child? Pedophiles, that's who.
Although never really talked about during the show, the aura of all-around creepiness is everywhere. There's something genuinely weird about watching prepubescent kids dressed in the same kinds of clothes and makeup grown women use to attract men. How is this ever seen as appropriate? This reaches uncanny valley level of gross-out.
You have to wonder if the format of a television show was the best venue for showing the world this craziness. I think a Jesus Camp-style documentary would have been more devastating. Keep the lack of narration, just show us these crazy adults emotionally abusing children for 90 minutes or so, and release it at Sundance. That would better galvanize public opinion against this sort of thing.
I stand by what I said earlier about recommending the show. Most of it is on Netflix streaming; go check out at least an episode or two. Then you'll understand why the terrorists hate us.