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25.12.2011 / 14:43 / Blogg

The ups, and downs, of chasing fame on youtube

Halla Beliebers! (:

TORONTO ? Now that Justin Bieber is one of the biggest entertainers in the world today, it's easy to forget he got his start on YouTube, where his mom posted videos of him playing the drums.

Justin Timberlake and Usher were so taken with the skills the little kid from Stratford, Ont. put on display, they both wanted to sign him to record deals and manage his career.

In the end, Bieber went with Usher's team and the rest, as they say, is history.

But for every Bieber -- or Maria Aragon, the 10-year-old Winnipeg girl who was discovered by Lady Gaga herself singing one of her songs on YouTube and who now has a record deal in the Philippines -- there are countless kids searching for stardom online and destined to never find it.

And while the Biebers and the Aragons have some hope for a long future in the music business, most kids who enjoy five minutes of online fame have to grow up and get regular jobs like the rest of us. The difference is that they have a digital legacy that might be hard to live down.

It seems this year marked an explosion in the number of kid-starring YouTube videos that went viral, from baby Emerson and his wild facial expressions every time his mother blew her nose to the little girl who was reduced to tears when she learned her parents were taking her to Disneyland for her birthday.

But for every cutesy video are scores more that, while entertaining, carry the most potential for long-term embarrassment.

Last month, Michigan mother Mary Napoli's video of her flour-covered home also went viral. Napoli's brief bathroom trip left her young sons just enough time to break open a bag of flour and cover the floors, couches and walls with powdery goodness.

And there are those kids who were fooled by their parents into thinking they had eaten all their Halloween candy, videos submitted after a call-out by talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel. While some of the children were shocked or heartbroken, there were others who cursed their parents and worse, physically threatened them.

While the kids' escapades provide great entertainment for viewers at home, it's hard not to wonder about the potential implications as they grow older.

Will the owner of the local daycare centre or preschool recognize the family's name and decline to offer space to the child for fears of similar bad behaviour? Or will junior survive his pint-sized reputation unscathed?

Dr. Carole Lieberman, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist and media commentator, says the growing trend of parents posting videos of their children to YouTube has its roots in the parents' desire to gain fame through their children.

While the notion of the "stage parent" is not new -- stage mothers have gained infamy for decades, from Mama Rose to Dina Lohan -- YouTube is just a shortcut for getting a child noticed. And, of course, when all you need is an internet connection and a cellphone camera, mom or dad doesn't have to schlep their little tyke to talent searches and casting calls.

"Many parents feel that it's too late for them to reach their own dreams, so they push their kids to have the same dreams, and then try again to make it happen," Lieberman says.

"At the very least, even if the child doesn't become a star, these parents get a thrill from seeing their kids on TV, or YouTube. Parents are not thinking about the potential impact this will have on their children because they are too busy delighting in the prospect of getting a lot of attention. Some of them will come to regret their decision."

While we have yet to see a slew of parents appear on television talk shows saying they made a mistake putting their children reacting to a birthday present or pouring flour all over the house on YouTube, we have seen them milk their (or their child's) 15 minutes of fame.

David DeVore, who posted a video to YouTube of his son drugged up from the dentist, makes regular media appearances and has a blog (davidafterdentist.com) on which he posts more videos and photos of his son and the rest of the family, and also sells merchandise. (It should be noted that the family has also used its limited fame to raise money for charity.)

David Jr. is still young, and so it remains to be seen if he suffers any adverse effects from the fact tens of millions of people have seen him dopily talk nonsensically to his father after a trip to the dentist.

For his part, DeVore says he taped the video a year before he posted it, recording his son in such a state so that afterward, he could see that his fears about dental surgery were unwarranted.

He also says he asked his son several times what he thought of posting the clip to YouTube.

"If he were a sensitive child or was embarrassed easily or didn't see the humour in things, I wouldn't have taped it from the beginning," DeVore told CNET.

A parent like DeVore isn't necessarily chasing Hollywood dreams, and Lieberman points out that when "done tastefully, this could become simply a fun shared activity."

According to the family's blog, young David is a happy, well-adjusted kid. But it will be years before we know what will become of an entire generation of kids who gained some measure of stardom via YouTube.

"Children are able to sense whether their parent is being self-serving by posting a video to get attention, or whether the parent is simply proud of how well the child plays the piano, for example," Lieberman says.

"But, it is especially damaging to the psyche of a child if there is a video permanently swirling around the web that portrays him in an embarrassing light.

"This could haunt him forever."


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