By SHMULEY BOTEACH
America continues to be gripped by Jon and Kate Gosselin, whose marriage has now gone belly-up and whose TV show seems to be following suit.
After The Learning Channel (TLC) informed Jon that he would no longer play a significant role in the show, he informed TLC that he was pulling the plug on his children's participation. Many cried foul. Was this a form of perverse payback? Was he pulling his kids from the show for the right reasons, or was it a selfish comeuppance?
For his part, Jon says that he had planned to pull his kids out way before TLC took its action and that his only consideration was his children's welfare.
My response: Who cares? Does it matter what the motive is? Get the kids off the show. They don't belong there as they suffer through the anguish of their parents' divorce. And clearly someone here has to be the adult.
It seems to me that TLC, as a responsible broadcast network, has to understand that now that the Gosselins' experiment in fame has ended in disaster, it is time to give this family some alone time, whether they want it or not. And that especially applies to vulnerable young children.
(Full disclosure: I spent a very brief time counseling Jon Gosselin to do exactly this - get the kids off the show).
MY OWN parents divorced about 35 years ago. I still don't think I have completely recovered. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to have TV cameras in the house as it happened. I was in enough pain without having to become a fish in a bowl or wonder how people pitied me.
What is even more puzzling is that TLC really is a different kind of network. It spent millions of dollars sending me around the United States healing families in crisis on Shalom in the Home. And yes, it was for TV. But a boatload of extra money was spent keeping me in people's homes well after the shows were completed to try and offer some help. So why would they now fiddle while this family crashes and burns?
Then there are Jon and Kate themselves. In a recent interview, Kate Gosselinjoked that "aliens" had come and abducted her real husband and replaced him with the partying animal portrayed by the media.
She was both right and wrong. It wasn't an alien. It was something called fame. And it wasn't just Jon. Both Jon and Kate Gosselin were carried away by its current until the entire family crashed against the rocks. Clearly, before the show, these were good, balanced people. They loved kids, had a huge family and loved each other. They started the show to help pay their bills. As a father of nine, I know the astronomical costs involved. But little did they realize that fame exacts a far higher price.
It's not that fame is itself a bad thing. Judaism argues, wisely, that everything in life is neutral, and it is the use to which you put the item in question that will determine whether it is a blessing or a curse. Many celebrities - Bono and Oprah are fabulous cases in point - have not only survived fame, but have consecrated their notoriety to causes larger and more worthy than themselves.
It is, rather, fame without foundation, celebrity without balance, that is so deeply corrosive. And once you see that the fame has become an addiction and that you can no longer eat breakfast without blogging about it, it's time to go cold turkey - at the very least until you can once again find your bearings.
Above all else, you dare not infect your children with your own insecure need to always be in the spotlight. Kids are naturally natural. They have no affectations and they don't care what people think of them. Why rob them of that innocence by thrusting them in front of a camera in their formative years? And why continue making them live their lives in the public glare when they are dealing with extremely painful emotions?
IN MY new book, The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation, Jackson is positively eloquent about the scars left by being forced to become a child performer at such a young age. He relates how trapped he felt as he traveled in his limo to recording studios, all the while eyeing other children who were lucky enough simply to play on monkey bars and have their parents push them on the merry-go-round.
Funny thing, that. All of us wish we were the ones in the back of the limo. Yet all Jackson wanted was the trappings of a normal childhood. We all know the rest of the story. And there is no happy ending.
Since the book's publication, I have discovered many critics who object to my using Jackson's life as an American morality tale, even though one of his principal purposes in sitting down with me to do the interviews for publication was to warn parents of the dangers of childhood neglect. In particular, many in our celebrity-obsessed culture have reacted negatively to Jackson's warnings about fame. Shooting the messenger seems a lot more convenient. Jackson has been criticized for being a poor spokesman for family values, and I have been accused by some of his most die-hard fans of publishing the book for profit, even though it was sold for an extremely modest advance and a large portion of any potential profits will go to fund my and Jackson's longtime dream of a national family dinner night, which I am realizing through an initiative called "Turn Friday Night into Family Night." But does it really make sense that the most famous entertainer of our generation should die under such tragic circumstances and the rest of us learn nothing from his life?
And the main lesson? All the cameras and adoring fans in the world can scarcely heal the broken heart of a child forced \onto a stage too soon.
The writer has just published The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation (Vanguard Press). www.shmuley.com
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