In early September of last year, I wrote an article regarding what I then referred to as the “overt sexualization of small children,” which focused on the TLC reality show “Toddlers & Tiaras.” It would seem that the “powers-that-be” behind reality television did not take any socially productive lessons away from last year’s debacle over fake boobs, butts and prostitute costumes. Now, A&E Television Networks’ “Lifetime” has joined the disgusting fraternity of cable channels airing content that sexualises children for profit. Some of my fine, young readers already know what I’m alluding to; last Tuesday’s episode of “Dance Moms.”
First, please allow me to present a bit of back story: Lifetime is a jointly-owned subsidiary of A&E Networks, ownership being divided amongst the Hearst Corporation (42.5% stake), the Disney-ABC Television Group (42.5% stake) and NBCUniversal (15% stake).(1) The show “Dance Moms” follows the exploits of dance instructor and school matron Abby Lee Miller, the owner / operator of the Abby Lee Dance Company in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania as she instructs young girls in the art of dance.(2)
On last Tuesday’s episode titled “Topless Showgirls,” the students were in a local dance competition, performing a burlesque routine taught to them by Miller, while wearing what a Fox News article on the matter describes as, “barely-there sparkly flesh-colored bras and panties to give the illusion of nudity.” In the process of training the girls, some as young as eight years in age, Ms. Miller could be heard describing the attitude she wanted conveyed by the girls as, “I’m hot, I’m mean, you can’t have me, you can’t afford me!” The article also noted that, while several of the parents expressed what was referred to as “horror” regarding the costumes and dance number being performed, not one of them took any action on those concerns. Miller stated during the episode that the parents’ concerns were, “…ridiculous because all they’re worried about is their kids and their bodies and blah blah. Once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. This is show business, kid.” Miller also went on to refer to the costumes as “stunning” and “harmless,” stating that “…everyone in the industry knows the girls are completely covered.”
Since the episode aired, various professionals in the fields of psychology and human behavior have expressed concerns over the relation between this type of apparent sexualisation of minors, and pedophiles / pedophelia. (3)
This is show business, kid. During a 2006 interview on “Inside The Actors Studio,” comedian Dave Chappelle unabashedly expressed his opinion that the entertainment industry (“Hollywood”) environment was psychologically unhealthy;
[Chappelle:] “So, let me ask you this; what is happening in Hollywood, that a guy that tough (speaking about Martin Lawrence) will be on the street, waving a gun, screaming “They are trying to kill me”? What’s going on? Why is Dave Chappelle going to Africa? Why does Mariah Carey make a 100M-dollar deal, then take her clothes off on TRL? Is it….a weak person cannot get to sit here and talk to you. Ain’t no weak people talking to you. So what is happening in Hollywood? Nobody knows. The worst thing to call somebody is “crazy.” It’s dismissive. “I don’t understand this person.” So they’re “crazy.” That’s bullshit. These people are not crazy. They’re strong people. Maybe that environment (Hollywood)…is a little sick.” (Chappelle’s critique of the issues in the industry received a standing ovation from the crowd at Pace University that night.)(4)
Other celebrities have also voiced concerns regarding problems with the entertainment industry, and its penchant for child “sexploitation,” including veteran actress Allison Arngrim, who portrayed Nellie Oleson on “Little House on The Prairie.” Katherine Heigl has also voiced an opinion on this particular story, having taken to her own weblog at iVillage and stating that she;
“…watched with open-mouthed amazement as girls as young as seven were encouraged to dress provocatively and shimmy around a stage doing a dance performance that could just as easily been a burlesque routine. I kept thinking all these girls were missing is a pole! I was also horrified by the way their instructor spoke to them when she felt they weren’t up to snuff. It was demeaning, belittling, and downright unkind.”(5)
[SOAPBOX=ON] As with last year’s “Toddlers & Tiaras” episode, I once again find myself quite appalled at the depths that cable television and reality tv will plumb, all in the name of “entertainment.” I don’t find anything remotely entertaining in a woman (Abby Lee Miller) who appears to believe that it is perfectly acceptable, not only to parade young girls in front of others while scantily dressed, but to also convey ideas of sexuality to them that are in no way, age-appropriate! (“I’m hot, I’m mean, you can’t have me, you can’t afford me!”) “Have me”? “Afford me”? I wonder if Ms. Miller would care to explain to a seven-year-old exactly what “having” and “affording” actually mean in that context! In my not-so-humble opinion, Ms. Abby Lee Miller is one sick individual. She is not in an “effed-up situation,” she is an effed-up situation! How it is that any parent would entrust their young child to her care and tutelage, is mind-boggling to say the least.
Also, Lifetime television must bear an equal amount of culpability in this instance. Like TLC last year, Lifetime has given us a real-time, high-definition video “how-to” guide on the sexual exploitation of our youth. It is no wonder that the entertainment industry in this country is a “sick” environment, as Dave Chappelle so astutely described it, when you have a major cable network partnering with a woman who is this nonchalant where the impressionability and vulnerabilities of young children are concerned! Shame on you, Lifetime! When Lifetime started out, it was a combination of the Hearst Daytime network, devoted to women’s programming, and Viacom’s “Cable Health Network,” which was devoted to health and wellness programming. My, how the times have changed, I guess! Lifetime has evidently done a complete one-eighty in the intervening 28 years.
In closing, there are a few other peculiarities and thoughts that I have regarding this story. For one, I have yet to see a firm public statement from the Parents Television Council regarding last Tuesday’s episode of “Dance Moms.” Where are they on this one, especially in light of the rapidity with which they pounced on the “T&T” issue last year? (I put a call in to PTC President Tim Winter on this…a call that has yet to be returned.) Also, it should be noted that Disney (remember Disney? They own a 42.5% share of Lifetime…) has a poor track record of looking after the emotional and psychological well-being of its own stable of child actors. Now, they find themselves with a 42.5% tie to yet another issue of child exploitation. (Another “eyebrow-raiser.”)
PS: As this realisation was important enough to share on Facebook, it bears just as much applicability here…the realisation that this story, and the previous one regarding Jordan Powers, are related. In a society where the overt sexploitation of our youth has become so acceptable that networks such as TLC and Lifetime have no qualms in airing it, situations such as the one that Jordan Powers is in become all but an inevitability, due to the impetus and encouragement that is being provided to the predators…predators such as James Hooker.