elevating child care

Show Biz Babies…Oy!

The other night I had a rare treat – dinner and a movie with my two teenage daughters. Since they are more than four years apart, and the 17-year-old’s non-stop social engagements materialize as spontaneously as text messages, we don’t all get together much. I’ve recently instated a policy for myself — if she ever wants to do anything with me I drop everything and say, “Yes!” 

Dinner on the patio of a new Cuban place was a joyous affair. (For me, anyway. It’s never easy to know what teenagers think, but they laughed — a good sign.) We then went to see the chick flick Eat, Pray, Love

I had a problem with the previews. The first two — The Little Fockers and How Do You Know – had  erectile dysfunction themes, a tad embarrassing to share with my 13-year-old who just started attending PG-13 movies. I must have murmured “great” or “lovely” as each trailer ended, because big sister muttered her annoyance. “We don’t need to hear what you think every time.”  Later that evening I felt it my duty to explain Viagra to the younger one.  Chuckling at my naiveté, she exclaimed, “Do you think I don’t get spam?” and then confessed, “I thought it was funny!”  

Sigh. 

It was the third trailer that put me over the edge.  Life As We Know It stars Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel as a couple who hate each other but are thrown together because their friends die and name them the guardians of  their adorable baby Sophie. If this romantic comedy cliché weren’t appalling enough, the majority of the jokes seemed to be at the baby’s expense, including the one that really jarred me: the baby is supposedly walking for the first time, and the guardian “dad” knocks her down, pushes her on purpose for one of the movie’s big, slapstick laughs. 


Of course, I’m wondering and hoping they found a teeny tiny stunt double, but even if they did — this is funny? Would we laugh if someone pushed a dog down?  (My hunch is no. In fact, there might even be an emotional — and organized — public outcry.) And what are parents thinking when they allow their babies to participate in this stuff? What about the lesser evils, like the baby being handled by strangers, actors who are pretending to be clueless and carry her like a slab of meat? 

When I was acting I sometimes did commercials with babies. I admit I didn’t respect babies the way I do now. Becoming a mother and meeting infant expert Magda Gerber opened my eyes to a new view of infants as full-fledged people. But even then I knew there was something wrong with a mom telling me to stuff M&M’s into her 10-month-old baby’s mouth so that she would cooperate in my arms as we ran through fake rain. 

Commercials are very competitive for babies because two or more are hired for one role. They all get paid a minimal day rate, but only the baby who appears in the actual commercial gets the big bucks – the residuals. Parents are motivated to make their baby the one that behaves for the camera. It can bring out the worst in a stage mom. 

Another commercial I did (for Kleenex) required me to cuddle a sleeping baby in my arms. Those five seconds of commercial time took hours to shoot.  There were three babies hired, and the parents were working their tails off to get the babies to sleep. Then, the baby would be tucked into my arms on set in the dark. The director called for the lights. Within moments the room was brighter than Christmas, and the baby would wake up and WAIL! (Where was he? And who the heck was I?)

I don’t even remember how many tries it took get a baby knocked out enough to finally make this shot work.  And I wonder, knowing what I know now, could I ever do those things to babies?

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10 Responses to “Show Biz Babies…Oy!”

  1. avatar Barbara says:

    Wow, Janet, this is a powerful post on an issue that few bloggers take-on (or I don’t read *enough* blogs.) I beat-up on the ‘media’ regularly, too, and I am in complete agreement with you on questioning the (ab)use of young children in film.

    I think people forget – the industry exists as a business to make money. Too often the emotion resulting from movies gives the industry a veneer of social progressiveness.

    Regarding attending the movie with your 13y/o – I so relate to that experience! At the last movie we attended as a family my Hubby and I were less than thrilled with the trailers, too – for movies directed at children – all anthropromorphic – animals acting like people. We commented to each other repeatedly “not that one”. Scowls from our Teen, too. ;)

    • avatar janet says:

      Barbara, thanks for articulating about the “veneer of social progressiveness”. You are so right! And that presumed “political correctness” of a supposedly liberal community makes me less inclined to want to criticize.

      I’ve often thought about “animals acting like people” in movies (better than people acting like animals, I guess), and the way it allows for scenes that would never be acceptable in a G rated live action movie. The animal family’s little ones get kidnapped and they scream, etc. I often wonder at the affect those things have on children…since they’re percieving the animals as human (I think).

      One thing I know for certain is that teens have to scowl and be sarcastic sometimes. It’s in their job description. ;-)

  2. avatar MadameHilmar says:

    well…I have been thinking about that myself ever since we watched Friends. The kids in there no matter what age seem so dull and totally wiped out. I always thought they have been given some sort of tranquilizer and I began to wonder how other kids in films etc. are dealt with to shoot scenes the way they are supposed to… But then I went on and thought about all those – in my eyes – poor celebrity kids who are squeezed into heels at the age of 2 and are experiencing life far off reality. And this kept me going on to think about the other side of the medal – the poor little hungry faces in this world and I realised… there is so much (too much) you can worry about. And what am I doing when I see parents walking their child that can’t walk by himself yet ? I say “poor thing”. But who is really poor of all those kids ???
    But maybe I’m off topic here a little. I do think it’s great that you point that out – especially the fact why people would (and will!) laugh at the scene where the baby is pushed…like the comment from Roseann (on Facebook) with the dog – animal protectors would be all over the place!

    • avatar janet says:

      Interesting what you were saying about babies looking drugged. I always look at babies’ expressions in movies, too. Even the ones who are being carried comfortably always seem to look a little “out of it”, shut down & disengaged. Sir Richard Bowlby spoke at the 2010 RIE Conference about babies “disassociating” when they are extremely uncomfortable (too uncomfortable to even cry) and feel helpless to do anything about it. Scary to be doing that to a baby for dozens of “takes” or extended periods of time.

      But I agree that in the scheme of things, starvation is obviously a far bigger concern than infant respect.

  3. avatar Roseann Murphy says:

    You are right on target. We have to continue to bring attention to the fact that we “are asleep at the wheel” when it comes to our attitudes and behavior toward infants and young children. We continue to “experiment” with highly controversial products and equipment..all in the name of enlightenment.
    I agree wholeheartedly with you, Janet..regarding the trailer that showed someone pushing over a walking baby….if that had been a dog..it would be all over the news…not overreacting in the least. We need to step back and remember to take a gentler more respectful attitude toward our very young children.
    It is up to us to voice our concern and dismay regarding the way children are used in advertising and in film.

  4. avatar Amy Jane says:

    wow…i cannot believe he pushed that baby down! that didn’t look like a doll…i think he really pushed the baby. I can’t believe that is legal!!

    • avatar janet says:

      I know!!! Thanks, Amy Jane, Roseann, all of you. The more feedback I get, the less crazy and alone I feel being shocked by this!

  5. avatar Joe Brancaleone says:

    For a very, very, refreshing alternative, I cannot recommend highly enough the baby / growing up / childhood scenes in the recent film The Tree of Life. My wife and I both noted how natural and tender those scenes were shot. It was the little things like those gentle assuring sighs of a napping newborn on closeup. Everything is almost documentary style. You can sense that Malick (the director) had extreme tenderness in how babies and children were used in the film. I was blown away by all the subtleties that were captured, those little things that only parents would catch. This was accomplished by taking a lot of footage of babies and kids just being themselves, to capture moments instead of forcing them.

    (beyond that, the film got deeply divided reactions from audiences, because of its artistic form and lack of traditional narrative. You have to really love film as an art form to enjoy it. For my money, it doesn’t get any better than that ; )

    • avatar janet says:

      Thanks, Joe. I’m a fan of Malick’s films and have heard mixed reviews, but now I definitely want to see it.

  6. avatar Riitta says:

    My feelings exactly about babies in movies. After having my own baby I felt very upset seeing babies in scenes crying. I thought how my own son would feel, terrified being handled by strangers. Reading about your experiences with babies in commercials, I guess the crying scenes are the easy ones for the babes – no need for so many retakes!

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