Sight Unseen: Toddlers & Tiaras

What hath God wrought?
What hath God wrought?

There are a million shows on the naked television. We're going to watch all of them, one at a time.

I don't personally know anybody who doesn't watch TV. I mean, I know such people exist, usually because they feel the need to broadcast the fact to everyone who wanders into earshot, but I'm not on a first-name basis with any of them.

My TV-watching, however, is usually confined to snippets of Yo Gabba Gabba and Sesame Street in the morning, the nightly news, and the bare handful of shows my wife and I can agree to watch together without strangling each other. It's not a long list, and not very conducive to maintaining a lengthy and "lucrative" career in entertainment writing. This is Sight Unseen, in which I will watch a random episode of some TV program I've never watched before, in whatever sequence it's airing, and try to make sense of it. It may or may not become a weekly thing, and suggestions for future installments are welcome.

For this week, however, I simply had to check out Toddlers & Tiaras.

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Imagine you stumbled upon the motel murder scene from The Devil's Rejects. First, you'd probably experience disbelief and confusion, followed by indescribable horror as your brain processes what you're seeing, followed by PTSD and years of therapy.

Watching the opening minutes of TLC's (insert obligatory "'Learning' Channel?" joke here) Toddlers & Tiaras is like that (except for the therapy, but I just watched the show last night, so give it time). First, I'm thinking, "Wait a minute, wasn't JonBenét Ramsey one of these kids? Surely, actual human beings don't subject their children to this." That was followed by, "Holy Christ, is that four-year-old girl actually wearing a padded bra and a fake butt?" The rest has just been tortured madness, like if I got stung by the stump monster in Flash Gordon.

"I beg you, end it quickly."
"I beg you, end it quickly."

Not knowing the structure of the show -- and with no intention of ever watching it again to find out -- I don't know if they use different kids every episode or if we follow the same children throughout the season. I suspect the former, since Maddy (the four-year old)'s mother, for example, regales us with tales of her past pageant glory as she parades her toddler past all her old trophies, which take up at least half the living room in her double-wide. Seriously, you can barely see the paneling.

Then there's ten-year-old Queen, whose mother takes her to get her eyebrows waxed later in the show, which seems like it should be illegal. But then, so should forcing your children to compensate for your own lifetime's worth of failures.

Madison, the third little girl, is five years old and probably the one I feel most sorry for. Not only does she have a speech impediment, but her mother Laura is the only parent on the show that displays not the slightest spark of comprehension that what she's doing might be damaging her child beyond repair. Maddy's mom has the flinty-eyed look of one who knows what she's putting her kid through but clings to the belief it'll all be worth it, while you can tell Queen's mother doesn't believe her own claims that her daughter enjoys this. But Laura...I'll let her make my case for me as she explains why she has trouble controlling her daughter: "My husband works seven days a week."

Go figure. 

Our contestants hail from such far-flung places as rural Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky. Way to live up to expectations, South. I don't remember where the climactic "Winter Pageant" was held, because I was getting pretty drunk by the end, but it looked like a high school auditorium. Which is as fitting a locale for childhood-crushing disappointment as any.

Laura has a problem with Madison's lack of focus. Frankly, I was shocked, as most six-year-olds I encounter are perfectly capable of digesting the collected works of Heidegger. The kid also gets some dental work done, because nothing turns pageant judges off like being reminded they're ranking pre-adolescent girls on how attractive they are. Seeing that front teeth gap might actually trigger some rudimentary sense of self-awareness, and what a bummer that would be.

Nobody stands a chance against Maddy, however. Her mother has staged a magnificent coup de grace by dressing her up as Here You Come Again-era Dolly Parton, complete with fake boobs and butt (is Dolly's butt actually that big? Must do further research). You saw Maddy on the previous page, here's the original version:

It's like looking in a (funhouse) mirror.

After that, it's all over but the awards, and there are multitudes. Maddy wins Best Fashion, Best Hair, Photogenic, Overall Sweetest Face, while Queen walks away with Most Beautiful, Photogenic (different age group), Outfit of Choice, Winter Wear Winner and the Grand Supreme title. No wonder these kids can lay claim to "hundreds" of titles. Apparently, it's possible to win a few dozen in one pageant alone.

Maddy doesn't leave empty-handed, coming away with the Overall Photogenic title. Laura sees it as a good stepping stone. I see hundreds of thousands in future therapy.

This, apparently, is how the child pageant industry is able to perpetuate itself. If they only gave a few awards out, kids would end up disenchanted and no longer wish to participate. By merging the creepy pederast atmosphere with the modern "Everybody wins" concept, they've got an enterprise that could potentially go on indefinitely, or at least until these kids grow old enough to tell their parents to get bent.

I could be way off base. Some, maybe most, of these kids might love the attention and playing dress-up and all the pretty trophies and ribbons they receive. At least their parents are involved in their lives...I guess. I mean, I have daughters of my own, and I'd personally rather go three rounds with Anderson Silva wearing nothing but a bullseye on my scrotum than allow them to participate in this, but who can really say?

At least it can't get any worse, right?

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