Babes in TV Land
It’s a week old, but Slate‘s Regina Schrambling writes a thought-provoking article on the budding trend of child-oriented cooking shows and food writing.
Call it “a little child shall lead you.” First there was the 12-year-old “restaurant critic,” David Fishman in New York City, whose “review” of a neighborhood salumeria somehow snared him huge coverage in his hometown paper and then a long appearance on the CBS morning show, replete with warnings that his power had local chefs quaking in their clogs. Next a 5-year-old, Julian Kreusser, was touted for his cooking show on public access television in Portland, Ore., with the Times of London warning that he might get a cookbook deal at an age when most kids need In the Night Kitchen read to them. Now the New York Times Magazine has pledged one-quarter of its monthly food real estate to the kitchen exploits of a 4-year-old, Dexter Wells, who just happens to be the firstborn of the newspaper’s food editor, Pete Wells.
To clarify, Chef Julian’s show isn’t necessarily geared towards other children, but towards adults. He’s had a recipe posted at NPR’s website, and yes, someone does mention in an article about him that there’s potential for his show “going national.” As Schrambling points out, children aren’t necessarily the best authorities for what tastes good or how food should be prepared, simply because they lack the biological and mental skills required to distinguish between flavors. She also mentions that it’s disconcerting to watch little Julian (who is, of course, “unschooled,” according to his parents) use knives and stand on a chair over a hot stove. Nevertheless, given the mostly supportive comments on an article about him, Portland residents are tuning in to watch his show, not to learn how to bake zucchini bread, but because he’s adorable.
America is probably one of the most child-centric cultures in the world. We constantly show each other pictures of our kids, even pictures of other people’s kids. Entire books and TV shows have been based upon the funny, charming stuff they say. We love kids, especially when they act and talk like miniature adults. That’s the funny thing: we don’t like kids so much when they’re just being kids, like when they’re running around flapping their arms and screaming, or whining for candy at the checkout line, or eating their own boogers. We prefer the ones who seem like they came out of the womb ready for the camera. The New York Times just did a writeup on budding right-wing pundit Jonathan Krohn, who at the tender age of 14, recently gave a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference and has since appeared on FOX News and CNN. Eerily poised and dressed like Alex P. Keaton, Jonathan says stuff like “Obama is the most left-wing president in my lifetime,” without anyone pointing out that he was only born two presidents ago, and that he was four the last time a Democrat was in office. I see a kid like that and it makes me want to lock him in a room with some Pokemon cards and a Wii, but other people seem to find his parroting conservative rhetoric charming and newsworthy.
I have a daughter, she’s eleven years old. I think she’s awesome. If I posted in my personal blog every time she said or did something I thought was hilarious or deeply fascinating, I’d never stop typing. I’d also be testing my readers’ patience. I don’t believe that everyone should find my child as interesting as I do, and frankly it’s a bit terrifying how many parents don’t think the same way. It’s considered normal now, perhaps even required, that if your child possesses any sort of talent, whether singing, playing the piano, cooking, writing, whatever, that talent should be fast-tracked into a money-making career, with the paying audience being mostly adults. Nine year-old Alec Greven wrote a series of dating tips, which led to a book called How to Talk to Girls, the film rights of which were recently bought by Fox. A judge on last season’s America’s Got Talent was resoundingly booed when he told a four year-old contestant that he couldn’t in good conscience vote for her to move on to the next level, because she wasn’t ready for the top prize: a headlining gig at a Las Vegas casino. He was booed for expressing concern at the idea of a four year-old doing five shows a week in Vegas, as opposed to maybe staying home and playing with dolls, like a regular little girl. What is wrong here?
If child prodigies and performers tend to implode at some point, often resulting in their becoming estranged from their parents or caregivers, it’s because it’s unnatural for a child to be put on display, particularly for the delight of adults. If your kid shows a precocious skill for cooking, great, take some pictures of him, put them in your scrapbook with some stickers spelling out LIL’ CHEF and shut up about it. Your child claiming they’re liberal or conservative makes for good party conversation, not an article in The New York Times. If they can sing, let them do it at a local nursing home, don’t run to the internet to do searches on “agent,” “portfolio” and “Mickey Mouse Club.” They don’t need their own television show or book deal. They definitely don’t need to do interviews with the two-headed Gorgon Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb on Today. Let these kids be kids, for Christ’s sake, they’re not here for our entertainment. You’re taking something they do for fun and turning it into a circus act.