• Wed, Jun 27 2012

Disney Works Teen Stars To Death, But Says Its Not Their Job To Raise Them

Demi LovatoDisney stars and their epic meltdowns have been a running joke for a while now. With all the pressure and temptation of teen stardom, Disney has a record of turning out talented kids who become Hollywood cliches of addiction and mental health issues. In all honesty, it’s pretty sad to think about the lives these young people must lead, full of insecurity and constant criticism. The world just loves to watch a Disney princess hit rock bottom.

So it’s interesting to hear about the “Disney curse” from the perspective of Disney Channel President, Gary Marsh. Or rather, it’s odd that he seems to take absolutely no responsibility for his company’s ability to make millions of dollars off of a minor and then kick them to the curb when they have a difficult time growing up under the spotlight.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Marsh talked about the Disney Channel’s strategy of leveraging popular young characters to within an inch of their sanity.

“For most of people who act, getting a television [show] is the end product. It’s the destination. For [Disney], it’s the launch pad. In my mind it’s: ‘You’ve landed a TV show, now what’s the consumer products opportunity? The film opportunities? The Disney channel movie? The crossover episode? The book you’re going to write?’ So they become Disney stars because they intersect with Disney in many ways, and that’s by design. Occasionally there are downsides to that: when we get overly identified with somebody and they go off the rails.”

And given the level of pressure that immense exposure puts on someone during their adolescent years, the tendency to “go off the rails” is pretty high. Sure that has minor consequences for the Disney brand, because they’ve invested a large amount of money into these young stars. But the thing is, Disney will always have a new crop of talent to replace them with. There’s no shortage of young people who would like their own TV show.

The young person who went “off the rails” however, is often damaged for the rest of their lives. Their reputations, their careers, that can all go away if they make the wrong move while under the intense stress of the entertainment industry. Disney has the downside of being “overly identified” with someone for a brief amount of time. That young person has the rest of their life to rebuild once Disney is done with them.

The really amazing thing about this interview is that Marsh realizes that the stress these young people are under is incredible. He admits, “It’s nearly impossible to carry the weight of [their] fans on [their] shoulders.” And then at the same time, he takes absolutely no responsibility for putting them in that position. At the end of the day, Marsh says that it’s the parents responsibility to keep these kids behaving. ”We give them all of the tools they might need, but the network is not responsible for raising their children.”

But tools, Marsh is referring to a seminar called “Talent 101″ that brings in security experts, psychologists and life coaches to speak with parents and actors before their shows launch. Apparently, the equivalent of freshman orientation for Disney actors and actresses should suffice in helping them handle a career that exhausts and troubles grown adults.

But of course, it’s not Disney’s responsibility to raise these kids. Disney is just the one putting the “impossible demands” on them. No responsibility in that at all.

(Photo: WENN)

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  • Andrea

    You know, it really ISN’T their responsibility. I’m sure mom and dad are thrilled when the checks start coming..if they didn’t like that, they would yank their kids out. Or never put them in that situation to begin with. If Disney is the “John”, for sure the parents are the pimps.

    • vTenebrae

      While Disney may profit from these young people, they did not seek them out. They didn’t go to the schools and demand these children work for them. Gary Marsh wasn’t at the shopping mall forcing kids into a van. These children were put in Disney’s hands by their parents.

      If people feel these kids are being exploited, they are being exploited at the behest of their own parents. The people who are supposed to protect, raise, and care for these girls are the very people who are handing them over for notoriety and their own financial gain.

      My child was scouted at a mall and I was handed a card for a reputable modeling agency. I was asked to give them a call. I never did. The baby wouldn’t have cared, she was only 6 months old. However, I felt that as a parent it was my job to care for her… not use her.

      Would she have gotten famous? Probably not, but even if all she got were tiny catalog deals or ads that’s still too much exposure for a kid. That’s still a JOB. Kids don’t need jobs, exposure, or fame. They need love, time, and boundaries.

      Disney isn’t ruining these kids’ lives. It’s the parents who didn’t say no or offer proper support.

  • Michelle

    I would be willing to bet that those psychologists and life coaches are still made available to them during their time at Disney as well. Hell, they make enough money that they can seek out any help that they need.
    Ultimately, parents still need to raise these kids, not Disney.

  • Jenni

    It isn’t their responsibility. It isn’t Marsh’s kids; they are a business investment, and are treated as such. It is the kid’s parents who are responsible for parenting.
    Showbiz carries risks. People born into it are just as likely to develop problems. Does that mean that you should blame the directors they work with when they are 3 for not raising them correctly?

  • Eileen

    Yeah, I agree with Disney and the other commenters. It’s a job. If your kid isn’t ready for the stresses of full-time work, that’s fine – many kids (and, honestly, adults) aren’t. But as long as Disney complies with child labor laws, it’s in the clear. Just as an adult would him-or-herself leave a job that caused undue emotional distress, so should the adult pull his-or-her kid out of a job that causes undue emotional distress. Even more so, really, since ostensibly the parent is still supposed to be supporting the kid financially. Ultimately, Disney’s responsibility as an employer is to treat employees fairly under the labor laws of the state(s) in which it operates. Parents’ responsibility, as parents, is to ensure that their children are emotionally capable of dealing with the demands of an adult job.

  • jessica

    I disagree. I think it is their responsibility to watch out for the well-being of their talent if the talent happens to be under the age of 18. They are the showbiz experts after all. The parents probably aren’t and may not fully understand what they are getting themselves, and their child, into until it is too late and the damage has already been done. Basically I feel the responsibility here is the same as with a pediatrician and a parent. The parent can only protect the child so much since the pediatrician is the expert here and the parent most likely lacks the medical knowledge that the pediatrician possesses. So the parent puts his or her trust in the pediatrician to treat their child effectively, but not overaggressively or incorrectly or whatever. If the pediatrician takes advantage of this trust, then the parents have a right to be outraged and, in my opinion at least, it wouldn’t be right to say to the parents “well it’s your job to protect your child and not the pediatrician’s so this is your fault”.

    • Justme

      It’s not a matter of being an “expert” in the show business. It’s a matter of setting boundaries, expectations and holding children accountable for their actions. That does not start when the child becomes a star with Disney. That begins when the child is very small and requires no guidance from a pediatrician or television show producer – all it requires is parents willing to put in the work to raise a child within a certain set of standards.

      I don’t expect my pediatrician to do all the work for my child. Yes she is the medical expert, but I still get the final say in what happens to my daughter and how she is raised.

    • denny

      The difference between a pediatricians and “showbiz experts” is that pediatricians take an oath — one that’s ethically and legally binding — to put the patient, i.e. the child, first. Entertainment professionals take no oath and are perfectly justified in putting the show/network first, as long as they are following child labor laws and following the parents’ wishes.

  • Jessica

    Also, I just wanted to add that the Tracey Gold and Jamie Lynn Siegler (spelling?) situations popped into my head when I was reading this and greatly influences my point of view here. Both were teen stars on popular tv shows (Growing Pains and Sopranos) when they developed serious eating disorders. And the producers and directors of both shows not only noticed that these girls were struggling and in serious trouble but actually refused to work with either Gold or Siegler unless they got help. They also made sure the girls got the time off to be properly treated. In interviews I’ve read, both girls (women now) expressed enormous gratitude to their former bosses for doing that and, most importantly, it seems that both feel that had thier bosses not responded as they did, they would have died.