Earlier this week, Corey Feldman appeared on Larry King Live to discuss the death of his friend Corey Haim, and in doing so, also brought up a good question: why is it okay to kick child stars when they're down?
Perhaps the saddest aspect of Haim's death was the fact that it came as no surprise to anyone: Haim had long been on the storied Fallen Child Actor Path, a sad downward spiral often littered with drugs, depression, trouble with the law, and even suicide. And thanks to celebrity culture and our society's collective nostalgia obsession, many of these fallen stars are unable to keep their personal struggles post-fame out of of the headlines: during his Larry King Live appearance, Feldman pointed out that "things like TMZ, outlets like that" make it okay for "society as a whole" to point and laugh at adults who can't seem to outrun their child stardom days. Haim's participation in a reality show centered around his relationship with Feldman, surely pitched to appeal to 80s nostalgia nerds, didn't do him many favors career or reputation-wise, either.
So why is it okay to point and laugh at people who have been to the top as children and come crashing back down as adults? It is a bit of a sick system that is seemingly designed to set many people up for a devastating failure: for every child actor success story, like that of Christian Bale, or Drew Barrymore (who went through her own issues), or Neil Patrick Harris, there's a Corey Haim, a Jonathan Brandis, or a Brad Renfro. And perhaps the worst part of it all is not just the loss of one's career or the struggles with drug addiction that these fallen stars have to face, but the incessant mockery from the general public, who take their fall and turn it into a punchline. As Feldman said, "In Hollywood, we build people up as children, we put them on pedastals, and then, when we decide they're not marketable anymore, we walk away from them. And then, we taunt them. We tease them."
In some ways I think our tendency to dismiss and ridicule child actors is also a distancing method, not only from the actors themselves, but as a protective measure to continue recalling our own pasts with fondness, something my generation, particularly, seems to have an overboard obsession with. We can't deal with Corey Haim the drug addict the same way we couldn't deal with late-era Michael Jackson or post-Mean Girls Lindsay Lohan or seeing Judd Nelson not look exactly like Bender at the Academy Awards.
We don't like to be faced with the realities of life, that nothing is secure, that things can change in a very short time period, and that people eventually have to grow up and step out of the identities we've assigned them, sometimes in ways our collective memories don't quite know how to process; something that we also experience in our everyday lives that perhaps we transfer onto celebrity slates in order to attempt to push it out of our own realities. It is much easier, you see, to call a virtual stranger a washed-up hack drug addict waste of life than it is to consider the human element behind it.
As a comment moderator who has had to go through several threads relating to struggling child stars (Lohan, Spears) and celebrity deaths (everyone in 2009), I've seen several justifications (not just on this site, but on many others, including the land where comment etiquette goes to die, TMZ) as to why it's acceptable to, as Feldman claims, kick child actors when they're down, the most common being the idea that they've "wasted" everything; that they had it all and made shitty decisions and deserve their fates. There's also a general anger at drug addiction, anger at god awful stage parents, and anger at the world in general for investing so much in to the worth of celebrity, as opposed to the "real problems" facing the world. While the public scorn certainly isn't helping to break the child actor downfall cycle, the notion that a "comeback" will fix everything isn't helping either: in the end, there has to be another path opened up to the Corey Haims of the world. Fame has to stop being considered the ultimate cure for fame.