“Linda honey, just listen!” If you recognize this quote, then you have probably seen the YouTube video starring Mateo Beltran, a little three-year old boy who gained public attention through a video his mother, Linda, posted on the Internet. I can recall a time when family home videos were something private and only shown to personal friends. These videos were played through an ancient electronic device called the “VCR” or better yet, on a “cassette” that fit inside another ancient device, the “portable video camera”. Nowadays, parents like Linda simply take out their cellphones, record their children doing silly things (in Mateo’s case, throwing a tantrum over a cupcake) and instantly post the video. But when did the social phenomena of recording children start and why are parents so intrigued to make their children “Internet stars”?
We can probably date the first child Internet celebrity to 14-year old Ghyslain Raza, a young Quebec kid who video recorded himself back in 2002 pretending to be fighting with a light saber, giving him Internet fame as “The Star Wars Kid.” Raza’s video however was meant to be private, as he was practicing for a Star Wars parody as part of his school’s television club. A couple of his classmates found the video and uploaded it onto Kazaa, a popular P2P platform online. Although Raza’s video was not filmed and uploaded by his parents, it does showcase how even children are affected through Internet publications of them just doing everyday normal “kid stuff” and then made into Internet celebrities. In a rare interview given ten years after the initial publication, Raza goes on to say that he was bullied because of the video. In his interview with L’ Actualite magazine Raza says,
“One evening, while I was alone in the studio, I practiced the choreography…Most 14-year-old boys would do something similar in that situation . . . I left the tape on a shelf in the studio. I didn’t think about hiding it. Who would take the trouble to watch it? . . . In the common room, students climbed onto tabletops to insult me…People made fun of my physical appearance and my weight. I was labelled the “Star Wars Kid.” They didn’t mean it as a compliment. It soon became impossible for me to attend classes. . . . Afterwards, we wanted to know: could we sue the media to force them to stop showing the video? What about suing the school, which failed in its responsibility to protect me? We settled on the idea that, by suing the few who had uploaded the video, we’d send a strong message. . . . Every single talk show in North America wanted me as a guest…But why were they inviting me? They wanted to turn me into a circus act.”
Raza was made an Internet star, not by his decision, but by his peers. Other children however are made celebrities by those who raise them, their parents. Take the famous 2007 video of Charlie and Harry Davies-Carr, better known as “Charlie Bit My Finger”. This video was intentionally meant to be shared on the Internet with family, but it gained so much recognition that their father, Howard, started posting frequent videos to their “fans” of the boy’s progress.
Another example of children made famous thanks to the media and their parents are Sophia Grace and Rosie. The original video was posted in 2011 showing two little British girls singing and dancing to Nikki Minaj’s song “Super Bass” and viewers can see their mom’s in the mirror’s reflection recording them. The girls landed a job, only being 6 and 8 years old, with Ellen DeGeneres on her show, been on television programs such as the X-Factor and even starred in their own movie. The girls are obviously loving the camera attention and seem to be making a profit from their appearances, but when does normal children behavior gain celebrity status? I have a 6-year old niece who also sings, dance, wears tutus for pajamas and does a lot of the same silly stuff that these children do, but we never think about recording her doing these things and uploading them into the Internet.
You could say that Ellen DeGeneres is the opinion leader or tastemaker in all of this because through her television show, she has helped gained attention for the little girls, marketing them to the world and creating their success. According to Jack Lule, from his article Understanding Media and Culture: An Intro to Mass Communication (v.1.0), tastemakers are “people or institutions that shape the way others think, eat, listen, drink, dress and more. Similar in some ways to the media gatekeepers discussed above, tastemakers can have a huge influence . . . Another example is Ed Sullivan’s variety show, which ran from 1948-1971, and is most famous for hosting the first U.S. appearance of the Beatles – a television event that was at the time the most-watched television program ever. Sullivan hosted musical acts, comedians, actors, and dancers and had the reputation of being able to turn an unknown performer into a full-fledged star.” One could compare Ellen DeGeneres’ show to an equivalence to Sullivan’s show in the fact that she makes “stars” out of her guests.
Ellen DeGeneres is an Emmy-winning television persona, who through her show connects her image to the masses. She regularly features Internet celebrities and pop culture icons in interviews, including Mateo Beltran. She has already made Sofia Grace & Rosie into the mini-celebrities that they are. I guess it’s safe to say that if it was not for Ms.DeGeneres’ help, these children would not have gained the amount of attention they are receiving. It can also be said that Ms. DeGeneres is also the children’s “advertiser”, who through “word-of-mouth” promotes them and brings the masses to recognize them. Ms. DeGeneres’ fans probably support Sophia Graces’ career because they trust in Ms. DeGeneres.
It is sometimes thought that children are an extension of the parent and that parents fulfill their own desires through their children. Is it that Sophia Grace’s mother wants to live her “alter-ego” life through that of her daughters? And where does the child’s privacy stand? Truth of the matter is that nowadays there is a blur between what is private and public, especially on the Internet. If we post something online, we know the consequences are that a lot of people will view us and maybe as a society nowadays, we thrive in this sense of exhibitionism – where we like to expose our lives and be seen (vice versa as well because we like to watch). Also, when we post online, we rarely think about the future consequences of such actions. Maybe in the future, these children will regret those online posts or maybe it will encourage them to continue in the show business and make profits as an adult. Only the passing of time will be able to tell what these children will do with their new-found celebrity status.