One of my favourite movies is Stand By Me – a group of young kids who go searching for Ray Brower’s body but learn the power of friendship over anything else. Stephen King wrote an excellent book on the trials and tribulations of youth, but the real trials and tribulations came after the movie was over and the kids went on with their lives.
Cory Feldman went through years of depression and substance abuse; River Phoenix died of a drug overdose at 23; Will Wheaton was subjected to years of Star Trek roles (just kidding Trekkies). The only one who seemed to land on two feet after that movie was Gord, who lost his baby fat and became the jacked quarterback in Jerry Maguire.
And we all know about the struggles of child celebs Macauley Culkin, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears, but there are so many others. Jodie Sweetin from Full House, Edward Furlong from Terminator. There was Drew Barrymore and Dany Bonaduci in the early days. Or Taran Noah Smith from Home Improvement. Hobie from Baywatch. The list goes on. They got famous early and often get chewed up and spit out by the Hollywood factory.
It’s a cycle that just keeps playing out in the Hollywood circus year after year. We watch celebs get famous and then we watch them fall. Not always. But it seems to happen a lot with child actors, kids that get ultra-famous at a time in their life when they need healthy relationships and strong role models. I’m suspect at the number of role models behind the scenes in the entertainment industry.
“Because of the nature of show business, child actors are exposed to drugs, alcohol, and sex at an early age. At the same time, young actors must constantly cope with rejection, jealousy, self-scrutiny, obsessive thoughts and the nonstop need to be perfect” says Wanda Behrens-Horrell, a child development psychoanalyst who writes for Psychology Today.
Much of it depends on the role the parents play, Behrens-Horrell explains, but often the child is in the business as an extension of the parents’ ego or unfulfilled dream of celebrity.
This brings me to the other night when I found myself halfway through Season 2 of Stranger Things watching those adorable tweens react to Winona Ryder’s outrageous facial gestures when I realized how likely it is that some of these kid actors are going to go through the same rollercoaster of celebrity that will chew them up and spit them out. They’ll struggle to assimilate back into normal life, or they’ll chase celebrity as they get older and lose their cuteness. Of course, I hope this isn’t the case. I hope they all either transition into adult acting roles or transition back into ‘normal’ life, but considering how f—ing famous these kids are getting, I’m doubtful. Call it the pessimist in me.
And I’m not the only one who sees this coming. David Harbour, who plays Hopper on the show has publicly expressed his concern for the kids’ rise to stardom.
Let me clarify, I’m in no way trying to place myself on some moral high-ground or anything by my decision to stop watching. I’m not saying this is the right thing to do by any means. It is, after all, an entertaining show. It is well written and well-casted.
No, the reason I had to stop watching was because I started to look at these kids and saw them as future train wrecks and I couldn’t get past it.
I couldn’t enjoy the show anymore.
It happened after I saw the headlines about actor Charlie Heaton (Jonathan) getting busted with cocaine. I thought – here we go. Which one is going to be next? The curly haired kid who just got his new teeth? The girl – Eleven – who’s already becoming a sexualized tween on some magazine covers? The lanky cool kid who acts as the love interest for every girl on the show?
No, I can’t even try to pretend I’m taking a moral highground – one my favourite shows of all time, Degrassi (old school) is almost entirely acted out by kids. But ‘acted’ is a strong word here – the reason I love the show is because the kids are not really acting all that much. They’re dealing with normal kid issues, not upside down worlds and giant monsters and other dimensions. I was starting to get sick of the upside down world a little to be honest.
And while I’m being honest, kids just aren’t great actors. Save for the odd River Phoenix or Ann Hathaway, very few kids can pull off a great acting role. I was half way through the second season of ST’s when I watched that kid, Will, cry again about his ‘upside down’ world, and I just saw a kid acting like he was upset. That’s when I stopped. I couldn’t do it.
I never finished the second season. I haven’t told anyone that, of course. It’s a position that’s going to make me wildly unpopular.
Right now, the kids on Stranger Things are quickly becoming the ‘it’ kids. But for how long? When the show wraps up and we’ve all had our fill of these adorable children acting out a dark tale of other dimensions, what will happen to them? Will we watch their lives turn into train wrecks and wince? Will their meltdowns become TMZ fodder for years to come?
I guess my problem is with celebrity in general. I don’t think we should admire anyone that much for playing a role. They are just people, young people in this case. But I hope these guys are able to be kids while they’re still kids. We all know what happened to Michael Jackson when his childhood was taken away by celebrity.
“I would never wish my upbringing on anyone” Mary-Kate once divulged in an interview. Holy Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, I hope someone is looking out for these kids when the show ends. But for now, I’m peace-ing out and trying my luck with another Netflix show where I don’t picture the actors in shitty situations.
Maybe House of Cards….sorry, what’s that you say about Kevin Spacey?
Written by Jesse Wilkinson