From One Swamp to Another

For four years, we witnessed the daily dysfunction in the White House. Kellyanne Conway, in many ways, became the self-appointed ringleader of the Trump-era chaos.  Sadly, while she maintained a laser focus on her role in the circus, it appears she abandoned the much more critical role as the leader of her family.  While ANY family is entitled to familial privacy (regardless of their position in the public eye), Conway seemed to be entirely unbothered by her daughter Claudia’s online cry for help.  In an equally juvenile manner, Conway allegedly posted a topless photo of her daughter in response.  Think about that.  One of the people closest to the free world’s former leader engaging in twisted revenge porn against her daughter.  Appalling?  Apparently not shocking enough for a major entertainment giant to capitalize from it.

Disney, the parent company of ABC, is maximizing its use of Claudia’s family dysfunction or, at this point, disintegration by teasing the 16-year old’s appearance with soundbites from the judge and new mom, Katy Perry.  In a lame and disingenuous manner, she asks Claudia, “Are you ok?”.  Wow, what an insightfully rhetorical question. You, Ms. Perry, know that this family is not ok along with the rest of the country. Their public disputes have been all over social media since last summer. We are not talking about leaked private conversations between mother and daughter—they both willingly took their tumultuous relationship to public platforms—a middle-aged woman attacking her daughter for all the world to see.  Instead of showing disgust, American Idol, airing on ABC a “family channel” owned by the symbol of family entertainment, Disney, showcased it.

The patronizing way the reality competition framed the promotion of its newest contestant was disguised as Ms. Perry “coaching” Claudia. She instructs Claudia to think about the song she is about to sing, “When We Were Young,” by Adele.  Then plants the less-than-subtle suggestion, “There is a sadness there because you lost your youth.” Lost her youth?  She is 16! Claudia is STILL a child who is capable of being loved, cared for, and healed. But tragedy and a salacious display of moral corruption are much easier to monetize.

There are other sleazy moments in which the camera cuts to Claudia’s mother embracing the former president, followed by a conversation with her daughter, via video, about how “Winners are people who are willing to lose.”  A brilliant sentiment clearly lost on Kellyanne Conway’s former boss.  Forget she should not be on the show first; asking this young lady anything about her parents puts her in a horribly inappropriate position on national TV. Something most adults cannot even navigate.

Claudia’s father appears in person, very emotional, and says, “Nothing would make her happier” than being able to sing on American Idol. Nothing? Because I can think of a few things, like not being cyberbullied by your mom.  But in my humble opinion, the people who would be happiest about the win would be Claudia’s parents—what better distraction to confronting your monstrous parental failures than 15 minutes of fame for your emotionally confused daughter.

Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.  The Conways want their daughter to be happy.  To repair the relationship—however misguided those reparations may be. But after years of exposing her family to a political swamp, I genuinely hope they are both prepared for how the entertainment industry handles, mishandles, and takes advantage of child stars.  It is an entirely new swamp.

The show’s draw and using a singing contest as a backdrop to air dirty laundry to insert drama into the program is certainly not exclusive to the Conway’s. They are simply this month’s hook.  It is somewhat ironic that while American Idol remains a top-rated show, fans, news outlets, and even countless of those involved in the entertainment industry are flexing their collective morality checks on social media by joining the #freebrittney movement. Congratulations.  You are disgusted at how Spears was stripped of a childhood, hounded by the press, chased by the paparazzi, and abandoned by her family, friends, former partners, and yes, fans.

Spears suffered from the abuse of a relentless industry that preys on children, promises them the world, and disposes of them when they become of no monetary significance. I’m sure her parents had the best of intentions as well, at least I hope they did, but placing a child into an industry that derails and destroys adults regularly, that has absolutely no oversight regarding how children are treated, will never end well.  Brittney Spears knows that.  She is now a middle-aged adult, likely with social and emotional skills like her former 16-year-old Mouseketeer self.

Are there children who manage to come out the other side?  Yes, but they are the exception, not the rule.  While the sympathy train is circling Ms. Spears, the vultures are busy finding more prey.

Reparations need to be made for Ms. Spears, even though reparations will never be enough. But instead of waiting for another expose on a fallen childhood star, let’s put some ethical, industry regulations in place to prevent these innocent children from ever slipping off the cliff.