Are Will and Jada Bad Parents?

Are Will and Jada Bad Parents?

In a series of negative tweets, novelist Terry McMillan wondered whether Jaden and Willow Smith were being “pimped” and called into question Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s parenting skills. Should celebrity parents keep their young kids out of the spotlight?

From Jane Fonda to Miley Cyrus, the world has always had a love-hate attraction to celebrity children who follow their parents into showbiz. Are they talented in their own right, or just catching a free ride on mom and dad’s famous coattails? And as new celebrity children emerge, critics will inevitably take swipes. The latest target is Willow Smith, Will and Jada Smith’s 9-year-old daughter, whose “Whip My Hair” song and video became a viral sensation late last year. Willow and her Karate Kid brother, Jaden, were the subjects of a series of disparaging tweets from, of all people, Waiting to Exhale novelist Terry McMillan, who seemed to take Will and Jada to task for putting their offspring in the spotlight at such a young age. McMillan tweeted:

“It feels like the Smith children are being pimped and exploited. Or, they’re already hungry for fame. What about 4th grade?”

“The Smith children already act like child stars. There’s an arrogance in their demeanor and behavior. I find it incredibly sad.”

“These kids don’t already know what they “love.” Total bull****. They’re not prodigies. They think Hollywood is real.”

McMillan later apologized, but the damage had already been done. The truth is, both Jaden and Willow come across as precocious kids who emanate the same star quality as their mom and dad, and I’m sure their parents felt they were both ready. Willow, in particular, projects a strong and sassy demeanor, with her shaved head, pierced fingernails, and rhinestones on her lips. She’s different; but is it fair to automatically assume that she’s consumed by celebrity and an arrogant brat?

As McMillan suggests, it is reasonable to assume that a 9-year-old does not yet know what she wants out of life yet, but what would McMillan recommend as an alternative for a talented child in a position like Willow’s? Should she try out for the school play instead of auditioning for daddy’s next movie?

It is far too easy to label young, privileged talent as arrogant and undeserving. But, c’mon, she’s 9 for goodness sakes — too young to fully understand the depth of her privilege! She’s simply fearless, most likely because she has lived a life free of hardship. She sees mommy and daddy working hard doing the things that they love and getting rewarded for it. In her world, hard work equals success.

Willow’s parents have encouraged her to explore her talents and live fearlessly. Is this risky parenting? Are they allowing her to grow up too fast? Perhaps, but Will and Jada’s world is not ours. Having both been young stars themselves, perhaps they understand the dangers of showbiz culture better than most and will protect their children from the snares while empowering them to shine.

The bottom line is, what parent wouldn’t do everything they could to help their child to pursue her dreams? For some, it means weekly trips to the gym for gymnastics training or to the ice rink for figure-skating lessons. For others, it may mean basketball camp or piano lessons. It’s no different with the rich and famous, except they have advantages that most of us do not. It doesn’t always seem fair, and that is why some of us harbor such resentment toward people like the Smiths.

The Smith kids were the beneficiaries of instant fame for doing stuff that some people work a whole career at without any noteworthy results. McMillan suggests only prodigies should be allowed this type of success and notoriety, but I say you can’t blame Willow and Jaden for having been born into a successful showbiz family. Rather than bash them, we should pray that they survive the obstacles of young celebrity without too many scrapes, and that they’ll perhaps one day use their fame to do good in the world, or at least something more productive than criticizing folks on Twitter.

Photo by Harry Wad from Wikipedia.

The Mask of Social Media

Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks have transformed the way we interact, but how real are the virtual selves that we create online?
Unlike any other time in history, the average citizen is getting a taste of the world of celebrity. With little more than a laptop and a user account, we now have the power to create an “image” comprised of photo albums, status updates, and tweets. And we can reap tremendous social praise for our glam-shot photos, humor, and popularity as measured by our quantity of “friends” or “followers.”

But this new era we have knowingly entered, as with any era, will have its repercussions, many still unknown. Though social networking is passionately embraced among those eager to communicate, collaborate, and make money globally, perhaps the world of celebrity offers the best hints as to where this new culture of artificial reality could lead if we’re not careful.

Ten years ago, it would have been absurd for your sister to tell you she was getting married through an email. Just this week, my coworker found out that her sister, who she lives with, was engaged through a Facebook status. In her sister’s defense, it is much more efficient to write a Facebook status, where all of your friends and family can be alerted to an important announcement at once, rather than making separate phone calls. But it is this quest for immediacy, and the pressure to keep up with the times, that ironically will de-socialize our social-centric society. Despite this revelation, the machine cannot be stopped. Critics will become hypocrites; I am no exception as I type this “revelation” on my iPhone while having lunch with a friend.

Celebrities are being forced to become more “real,” via outlets like Twitter, in order to synergize with the new self-made celebrities of social networks and reality television. A Facebook or Twitter profile is seen as a more accurate portrayal of an individual, because it offers the full spectrum of life — personal, professional, and emotional — and it is often less censored than their public persona. What we are discovering is that relatable and local characters are more compelling than super-sensationalized celebrities. Ironically, this encourages the average, “real” citizen to create a more sensationalized version of their own public persona.

By now, both critics and enthusiasts have acknowledged the “Facebook Effect,” but back when the quiet storm was still developing in Silicon Valley, no one could have predicted the power of its impact. This freedom that social networks provide has facilitated political movements, the most recent being the protests in Tunisia and Egypt, which were driven, in part, by messages on Facebook.

While people are starting to realize the power of “image” on social networks, be it real or false, Internet-image security is quickly becoming a powerful new industry, as the world is made smaller and people are forced to submit to the social machine. For example, a new application called uProtect.it was recently introduced on Facebook, to protect comments, status updates, and even prevent Facebook from accessing them. Michael Fertig, CEO of Reputation.com, the company that created the app, highlights its social and political implications: “You want to help the guys in Tunisia? Here’s your tool.”

These concerns spark paranoia, not only for citizens of oppressive nations but also among average citizens right here in the United States who not want their bosses finding out what they did on their “sick day.”

So why can’t we stop sharing our personal business on the Internet? Is it therapeutic, or have we become so self-obsessed that we truly believe the world cares about our every rant and rave?

Movies about the future have all offered commentary on where they think the world is headed socially, and it has always been toward an apathetic, narcissistic society. Although the insights are typically guided by humor, the writers are clearly on to something. The Pixar film Wall-E (2008), for instance, depicted a future where careless humans consumed all the Earth’s resources and were forced to live on a space shuttle. The humans are obese, mobile only with the assistance of flying La-Z-Boy-style chairs. They have no face-to-face interaction; they speak to each other on video chat screens, usually around a pool that they never swim in. The film suggests not only that the trend of ever-greater convenience will eventually lead to chronic laziness, but also that our technology will one day reshape our reality.

A false and perverted reality is also the theme of the 2009 film Surrogates, starring Bruce Willis. This film takes place in a future world where people never leave their home, but interact through surrogate robots that go into the world as more polished versions of themselves. The surrogates are physically and cosmetically superior to their owners. Although this may be extreme, social networks in many ways serve a similar function. We present ourselves in a manner that we feel is more attractive and appealing, and ultimately many of us prefer sharing and interacting that way over connecting in person because of the control we have to carefully manage our image.

It’s obvious that social networking is changing the psychology of our culture. We love being constantly “plugged in.” We crave the immediacy of communication and the instant gratification of seeing friends respond to our random thoughts and observations. We also love the way it has helped us improve our sense of self. Thanks to social media, we now have the opportunity to create an artificial version of ourselves that makes us look good to our friends and followers. But in our enthusiasm to connect, are we in danger of trading truth for virtual reality?
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