It’s not often that I feel sympathy for others, and when so rare an event occurs, I feel moved to record it. Not that I’m stirred to compassion by the truly needy, mind you – the truly needy make me physically ill. Would the starvelings of Africa kindly shut up? Take your fly-blown faces and distended bellies elsewhere, please. So your village is poor and malnourishment and dysentery are causing you to shit yourself to death, but quite frankly that's just shitting me to tears: be off with you. No, the sob story that has plucked my heartstrings and piqued my curiosity today is the plight of former child stars.
But surely I haven’t been moved to pity by a bunch of mere has-beens, have I? Well, no. That former child stars may currently be suffering because they’re out of work, have been tossed aside for a newer model by an industry renowned for its callousness and an audience notorious for its short attention span; that they are are having trouble coping with the psychological ramifications of their earnings, not to mention childhoods, being stolen by exploitative parents…that interests me not one whit. Stiff bloody biscuits, hacks. The possibility of obsolescence is something all actors have to deal with. Given that the roles they played were predicated on their youth, this facet of their problems is simply one of temporal physics. My breadth of knowledge on that subject being on a par with my mastery of sanskrit, they’d be better off crying on Stephen Hawking’s shoulder than mine (not that he'd feel it, mind you).
No, the sympathy and fascination I feel towards child stars is due solely to their tendency towards extreme ugliness when grown up. The social maladjustments and self-destructive behaviour pale by comparison. Seriously, it’s as if they used up all their allotted cuteness quotient in one go - crammed a lifetime’s worth of good looks and winning ways into the short period of their fame, and had the lens of the camera melt away their beauty like a knob of butter dropped down Satan’s Y-fronts.
Consider Macaulay Culkin, and the face so adorable it launched a thousand appalling sequels to his original execrable smash-hit – now closer in physiognomy to a sweaty, hairless horse with worms in place of lips.
And Lindsay Lohan… do you really think it’s the partying, drugs, statutory rape and overbearing father that have changed a once attractive though unremarkable girl into this?
The list is of course endless: Britney Spears (now a trailer-bound mound of flesh); Blossom (fat, nose like wicked witch of the west); Haley Joel Osment (currently resembles a squinty-eyed hobgoblin); even the Olsen twins (you only see the one these days, since Mary Kate has been forced to use Ashley for spare parts). And it’s not just a modern thing. Paris audiences were reportedly disappointed with the adolescent Mozart who, despite his obvious musical genius, failed to entertain due to a deficit in ruddy cheeks and dimples which he’d displayed when performing there as a child. Instead he now bore a striking resemblance to a rather splendid fistula on the Emperor Joseph II’s left buttock – a likeness which the benevolent ruler was happy to confirm whenever drunk.
No, the malediction appears universal among former child stars – with one stupefying exception: Gary Coleman. Diff’rent Strokes is a show notable for the curse it bestowed upon its actors. Willis fell foul of drug abuse and crime, Kimberley of porn; and Mr Drummond of course recently took his own life, remarking in his suicide note that he could no longer stand being referred to as 'that old guy from that sitcom. You know the one' by everybody, including his wife of forty-seven years. But Ponce De Coleman just keeps on going, looking almost exactly the same now as he did twenty years ago (bearing in mind the fact that he was an abnormally wizened little homunculus to begin with, albeit an adorable one). Scientists and assorted eggheads are still tossing about unsatisfying explanations - mostly to do with cosmic radiation - but I for one know witchcraft when I see it, and shall happily construct a dunking stool for to prove my hypothesis.
What remains to be seen, however, is what will happen as children gain celebrity status younger and younger. Already rumours are surfacing that the once rosy-cheeked Apple Paltrow has developed in a manner so equine that at her last birthday party, a confused member of the entertainment staff tried to saddle her and offer the other kids pony rides. Admittedly, the poor filly may simply be reverting to genetic type. The same excuse cannot be made for Suri Cruise, who reputedly received so much media exposure while still in utero that she must now be hidden from the public eye at all costs, lest the world discover that instead of a face she has three arses. I consider such deformities a concealed blessing, however. Sure, it's sad for the kids, but to be perfectly frank, the more useless, parasitic luminaries that are forced to retire from the limelight prematurely, the better off we'll all be. And they can still find jobs in freak shows after all, or indeed wherever normal children gather to poke an anomally with a stick, so everyone's a winner.