The Consequences of Child Fame
Samaira Thapa is just like any other four year old girl in Nepal. She has playdates, she goes out to dinner with her family and tries her best to make everyone around her happy. She also happens to be a viral TikTok sensation. Currently, Samaira has over 786,000 followers on TikTok, over 100,000 followers on Instagram and over 150,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel. She first gained recognition in September of 2020, when she began posting videos of herself dancing and lip syncing to popular songs and movies onto her TikTok page. While this may seem outrageous, a child having a follower count larger than some countries, this is not new. With the recent rise of social media, child stars are growing exponentially. While at first, this may seem like a positive thing for the stars and their families, history shows that fame for these child sensations can lead to serious issues down the road.
While the rate that these “stars” have risen has undoubtedly increased with the introduction of the behemoth that is social media, it is important to understand that this is not new, and looking back, we can understand how these child stars often turn out.
Look back to the 80s and 90s, the era of classic TV shows like Full House and iconic movies such as Home Alone. Despite being undeniable classics, there is another thing that these pieces of entertainment have in common: they both point to famous examples of child fame. The Olsen twins on Full House and Macauly Culkin in Home Alone. The Olsen twins have famously said that they wished that they were not famous. From an outsider looking in, that’s ridiculous! Why would you not want the ability to be financially stable for life, to have articles written about your everyday life? However, it’s easy to say that when you have the choice to pursue acting or not, and the twins did not. They were millionaires by the age of 7. In 2010, Mary-Kate, one half of the duo that played the iconic Michelle Tanner on Full House, said to magazine Marie Claire that she and her sister were “little monkey performers” and claimed that “I would never wish my upbringing on anyone.”
While the Olsen twins’ public appearances are rare, meaning that their lives are more of a secret to the public, Macaulay Culkin has had several famous public appearances since his role as Kevin McCalister on Home Alone, and many of them don’t paint a good picture for child fame. In 2004, Culkin was arrested on grounds of possession of marijuana and a controlled substance without a prescription. Culkin showcases another side of child stardom, controlling parents. With Macaulay starring in one of 1990’s biggest movies, he had a lot of money, at a very young age. Culkin claims that his parents, specifically his father, claimed at least 15% of his earnings. Although what he had was bad, he says that it could have been worse. In an interview with Esquire, he says, “Look, I mean, it sucks. But, it coulda been worse, you know? I wasn’t working in a coal mine. I wasn’t a child soldier.” Unlike the Olsen twins, however, Culkin has not resigned from public appearances or interviews.
After seeing the different ways that fame affected ‘older’ child stars, it’s time to bring it back to today. TikTok, as of June 2021, has over 1 billion active users and 83% of users have posted a video, likely hoping that their video is the one that blows them up to stardom. It’s inconceivable to think that many children growing up in the digital age hope that they can achieve internet stardom. A study done by First Choice found that out of 1,000 children, around 75% of them want to pursue a career in online videos. It’s totally understandable as to why these kids wish to pursue careers in online videos. All the videos that they see are of people, often teenagers, living their best lives. They show off their houses, cars, boats, and jewelry. Why wouldn’t you want that? Hulu has a new show on their site called The D’amelio Show. The show follows the everyday life of Charlie and Dixie D’amelio, both of whom garnered unimaginable fame from posting videos on TikTok. In the show, there are several scenes of Charlie D’amelio breaking down in tears. Upon seeing this my 11-year-old sister looked at my mom and said, “I’m surprised she’s crying. She always looks so happy on her TikTok videos.” This struck a chord with me. My sister, who had grown up in the age of overnight internet celebrities, had not understood that everything shown on TikTok is fake. Not the material positions, but the filter you put on yourself. Looking happy is a must on TikTok, if you appear upset at something, people may not respond well to that, as they follow creators to watch entertaining videos. Breaking from that norm may lead to a loss in followers, which would cause a decrease in the income that you provide for your family. This is why I’m writing this. More people need to understand what the effects of having millions of eyes on you is like. Millions of people watching your every move. Having to live with the knowledge that you will likely never get a private day to yourself again.
It is believed that in 1986, Andy Warhol, predicting future life, said, “Everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes.” Think to yourself about every viral YouTube video or TikTok that went viral for about two days, never to be seen again. It’s a vicious cycle. People get popular, people are entertained, and then they’re thrown out like yesterday’s lunch, never to be heard from again. They may retain a small amount of followers, but 9/10 times, they will never have the same viewership that they had those 48 hours. That of course is not including those that are ‘lucky’ enough to maintain that audience for years. All they have to deal with is the knowledge that everything they say, every mistake they make, will be documented for all to see.
So what’s the point of writing this? It might be hard to believe, but I don’t actually hate social media, quite the opposite in fact. I think it’s great that the guy sitting across from you on the bus, the woman you pass on the street, could have the opportunity to achieve their dreams of fame. However, especially with the younger generation growing up with these giants of the industry, it is important to understand the consequences of stardom. If people understand these consequences, and still pursue their dreams, good on them. Conversely, for the children who do not understand these effects, it is important for them to learn them, before we end up with thousands of kids who didn’t learn the consequences and now have to live with them.