Children’s Entertainment:
A Dark System that May Never Be Resolved

Widespread exposure of grooming behavior and potential child abuse in public schools across the United States has become a major issue—and possibly one that will help sway a large number of voters in November. If you had told me it was such a major issue even just five years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you even though it was hidden in plain sight. I’m not the only one who has woken up to this horrifying reality. 

Hollywood, as ever, is the trendsetter. 

Last month, former Nickelodeon child star Jeanette McCurdy released a No. 1 bestselling memoir titled I’m Glad My Mom Died, discussing not only her abusive relationship with her own mother but allegedly also the staff and executives at Nickelodeon. According to McCurdy’s account, one executive in particular, whom she calls “The Creator,” offered her alcohol when she was a teenager and gave her a back massage. 

It doesn’t take a super sleuth to determine McCurdy was most likely referencing “iCarly” creator Dan Schneider. The Los Angeles Times last week reported on allegations against Schneider, including “hyper-sexual practices” on set and in the shows.

Schneider, whom the New York Times once dubbed “the Norman Lear of children’s television,” has now been accused of pushing the children on his shows to wear “the most revealing” costumes and adding in disturbing sexualized imagery, including scenes that mimicked sexual acts and—for lack of better terminology—lots of foot fetish stuff. There is so much focus on feet in Schneider’s productions that you can easily find incredibly disturbing video compilations on the internet. Additionally, shows under Schneider’s supervision would challenge children at home to tag pictures of their feet on social media. (Schneider, for what it’s worth, has denied the allegations repeatedly.)

One might ask why McCurdy seems to be the only former Nickelodeon star making public allegations. She answers this with another claim that the network offered her a $300,000 parting gift if she would agree to never speak of her experience, which she rejected. 

McCurdy is a product of a dark system that is child acting. Her mother, as she details in her book, would count her calories, weigh her five times a day, shower her until her teenage years, mentally abuse her, and, of course, live on the money she earned. Although she’s able to bring humor and light to her story, so many cannot because they’ve effectively been brainwashed not to realize anything is wrong.

When you think more deeply about what McCurdy describes, you realize how easily most, if not all, children on television could be enduring precisely the same scenario. First, consider why a parent would want her child to be in show business in the first place. How far might parents be willing to go to make their dreams—not necessarily their child’s—come true?

We know that a child’s mind is incredibly malleable. Just as a young child is a sponge for new information, especially language, a child’s mind may be shaped in horrifying ways. It’s easy to imagine a selfishly motivated parent manipulate and torture a child to use them as a tool to gain wealth—and that the child would believe such behavior is perfectly normal. And if the child becomes famous and profitable, that same parent would likely ignore or forgive a show’s creator for putting the child in a sexualized scene. Why not? As long as the check clears.

Ultimately, the child entertainer will have been taught that deviant behavior is normal and acceptable when any reasonable thinking person watching from the outside would be outraged.

But even then, would you realize it?

The bizarrely sexualized behavior on display in Schneider’s Nickelodeon productions originally aired without a hint of public outrage. It wasn’t until years later that fans of the show grew up and started putting two and two together. When a viewer watched the shows in her childhood, she probably would have blown off scenes in which now-pop icon Ariana Grande struggled to fit her big toe in her mouth, drank water upside down from the side of her bed, or tried to “get juice from a potato.” Now, they see what was hidden in plain sight.

We no longer live in a world where this type of behavior can be excused. Even with all of the laws in place—going back to 1939—intended to protect child actors from adult exploitation, exploitation abounds. To whom does a child entertainer turn for help when his or her parents and the studio are in cahoots? 

By sharing her story, Jeanette McCurdy may have woken up millions of people to an evil cycle that plays out every day. But are you paying attention and will you speak out the next time you see it?

About Tim Young

Tim Young is the media and culture critic for American Greatness.

Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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