“Crazy. I just can't sleep, I'm so excited, I'm in too deep. Crazy.” But it feels alright, Every day and every night.” -
“Super trouper, beams are gonna blind me But I won't feel blue Like I always do 'Cause somewhere in the crowd there's you.” - Agnetha Fältskog - Björn Ulvaeus - Benny Andersson - Anni-Frid Lyngstad
Let us travel across the city of Los Angeles. Thick brown smoke from forest fires rolls over the the Santa Monica mountains and suffocates the city's basin. Come with me over the oilfields and tar pits that still shrug up the fossils of saber-toothed cats, giant sloths, American lions, Columbian mammoths and other megafauna, most of which went extinct with the arrival of the first humans 10,000 years ago.
And now this city's main industry will soon destroy humanity.
Hundreds of factories dot the area and churn out entertainment commodities. These products are beamed onto billions of screens from giant theaters to tiny handheld phones. Humans in this country spent, on average, 10 hours each day staring into a screen. This entertainment not only filled their days but also seeped into their dreams and warped how they saw the world around them. For example, as they sought romantic partners, their tastes were greatly influenced by what these factories fed them.
In Downtown Los Angeles, Dr. Patricia Navarro stands in the wings of the Hilton Hotel ballroom. Her press conference will begin in 10 minutes.
On the stage, a holopowerpoint presentation whirs its first words, “Early Childhood Stardom, Mental Health and Personality Disorders. Principal Investigator, Dr. P. Navarro, UCLA's Charlie Sheen School of Psychology.”
In his will, their benefactor had stipulated the branding for this institution. The logo is a silhouette of the mullet-clad, chicken-wielding Sheen from his magnum opus, “Hot Shots! Part Deux.” The university's development department tried to wiggle out of this, but Sheen's lawyers threatened to pull out his very large endowment unless they acquiesced.
Dr. Navarro bounces notecards in her hand, nervously. She looks at the freshly painted nails that dazzles from her fingertips.
“Are these mine?” She thinks to herself.
The hotel conference room fills as news outlets pour in. The press release worked! Of course, she knew the formula of Children + Celebrityhood = Crippling Emotional Damage would prove provocative. Reporters jostle to place their branded microphones front and center on the podium. Like a reckless round of Jenga, they balance their mics as far forward as possible, letting it teeter on the edge of the podium.
Ah, the press conference, 10% substance, 90% pageantry!
Dr. Navarro had practiced her walk and poise. She had mapped out where the cameras would be and what the best angles are for this harsh lighting. Her head could safely move 30 degrees left or right. It may tilt up. But it must never tilt down. This would cast a dark shadow from her brow ridge, turning her face from friendly to ghoulish.
Three minutes until show time.
She chants a tongue twister to warm up her vocal chords and calm her nerves.
“She sells seashells down by the sea shore.”
“She sells seashells down by the sea shore.”
A thought hits her like a shovel to her face and she cringes.
“Mary Anning! ... How vile! To have one's whole life's work distorted and reduced to a silly children's rhyme!”
Anger bursts from her amygdala, furrowing her well-plucked eyebrows, clenching her pink lips, speeding her heart and opening the veins through her body.
Two hundred years before Dr. Navarro, Mary Anning had unearthed the intact remains of animals that roamed this planet more than 200 million years ago. Her discovery of ichthyosaur, plesiosar and pteresaur fossils proved that species can and have gone extinct.
This provided a warning for humans to consider their own extinction. Did they heed her findings?
Anning catalogued her treasures and took pen to paper to intricately sketch her specimens. She alerted the leading scientists of the day, sharing with them the near-mythic creatures she unearthed. All these scientists were men and during this period of human history, it was be obscene for a woman to be a scientist, so they shunned her. She suffered in poverty for most of her life and died young.
Anning knew no notoriety because of the noxious and ignoble banning of women.
Say that ten times fast!
But not Dr. Navarro. In the intervening 200 years, some groups of human women were able to become educated and even lead scientific discoveries. Now, she will be heard. Today, she will receive the recognition for her decades of work.
“Please welcome Dr. Patricia Navarro to the stage.” The Dean of the Charlie Sheen School of Psychology steps back from the podium and gestures to her.
After 25 years of grueling research, the culmination of her tiny contribution to the sea of human knowledge dances on her tongue.
As she takes center stage, the heat of the super troupers brings drops of sweat to her brow that trickle down, melting the freshly shellacked layer of paint from her face. A wave of anxiety rushes into her, carrying with it a deeply rooted sorrow.
A memory appears in her limbic system and shudders down her spine, that network of nerves.
A memory is a neatly folded file of data. Memories are often wrapped in an emotion, so as the memory unfolds, the emotion diffuses throughout the body.
What an absurd technology memories were! Rather than a file of information that can only be summoned when called for, memories shot up and flooded the human mind, often unprovoked. A human may not even have an awareness of this memory until it resurfaces, inciting a painful reaction.
Dr. Navarro shakes as her last, long forgotten, experience before these blinding lights possesses her.
* * *
Forty years are sucked from her frame and she stands before a microphone. Patricia is part of a cattle call of 107 young human girls auditioning for a role in a television show. Unlike other factory tools: conveyor belts, hacksaws, and drills, which are sought and purchased for a purpose, these insecure 'tween tools compete to be used. The girls and their parents sacrifice large amounts of money and time to sharpen their skills to be the best fit for these entertainment factories.
But some of their parts they can never change.
The lights bear down on a ten-year-old Patricia. She sees only the outlines of four figures seated in front of her, ready to judge her every move.
“Ok, #17, Pah-trish-uh,”
“It's pronounced 'Pah-tree-see-ah.'” She corrects and then remembers to smile.
“Whatever. You're singing 'I wanna know what love is.' You may begin. Now!”
All fear vanishes as an angelic sound rumbles from her vocal chords. Her confidence swells as she hits a high note and holds it, pushing all the air out of her lungs.
She inhales to continue but the casting director waves his hand. The music stops and she is dismissed with a loud, abrupt, “Next!”
She stares at the outlines. Stunned. A few seconds pass before she realizes she has been ordered to vacate the stage. After filling the hall from floor to ceiling with the sound of her voice, the silence overwhelms her. The only sound now is the dull thud of her footsteps as she exits stage right.
Her mother stands in the wings with open arms. She kisses her and smothers her with hugs.
“Mi estrella! You did such a good job, mija! I'm so proud of you!”
Her mother ushers her back into the audience.
“The men are very busy. They've gotta be fair, mija. Only one minute for the audition. But don't worry, they'll give you more time in the next round, just wait.
“Espéra, mija, espéra.”
To hope and to wait, wrapped in one word, encouraging dreams and tempering them at the same time
For five hours, she watches as the other fresh-faced girls take the stage. In their eyes, she can see a reflection of her hopes and dreams. To be famous, to be loved by millions, a goal that society had groomed in her from an early age. A mix of empathy and jealousy boils in her. Emotions her short life has given her little experience with. She felt paralyzed by these and only wanted to scream.
The loving pat of her mother's hand soothes her. She feels ashamed of this jealousy and wants to cry. She grabs her mom's hand and squeezes it tight.
One of the casting directors stands and turns to the assembled families. This is the first time she can see a face. The gaunt white man offers a pleasant, though fleeting, smile as he scans these instruments, all eager to be used.
“Ok, numbers 8, 32, 47, 86, 63 and 94, please stay. The rest of you, I want to assure you that you all have potential.” He turns to sit down when he realizes that the sea of hopeful faces has yet to recede.
“Thank you. You may all go. Now!”
Reassuring parents support sniffly children as both waddle out the door.
Patricia stands but her mom yanks her back to her seat.
“No mija! Watch the finalists, we can learn something from them.”
Six petite blue-eyed white girls walk to the stage. Their yellow hair glows iridescent under the lights.
Patricia tries to watch, but she is so upset that she buries her face into her mother's side. She burrows into the warm blackness in an attempt to flee the blinding, harsh world.
Her mother pulls her out of the auditorium and walks her to the parking lot.
“You have a gift, mija. Never stop using it. Sing with me.”
Her mother opens her mouth and sings.
“De colores, de colores. Se visten los campos en la primavera.”
Patricia feels the swell of mariachi music prickling her skin. She can hear her church's whole congregation, three hundred members strong, singing together.
“De colores, de colores. Son los pajaritos que vienen de afuera.”
Her mother sees the gaunt casting director walking to his luxury vehicle.
“Excuse me!” She throws her body between him and his car.
“Excuse me, I'm sorry to bother you, but if you can give my daughter any feedback, she wants to be a singer. She has talent.”
He looks Patricia up and down, trying to remember which of the many defective devices she is. The tedium of the day has worn through his geniality. In a moment of frustration, he doesn't filter his thoughts.
“Look, you want the truth? Let me save you a lot of time and misery. Your daughter is just too thick, too dark and too ethnic looking. She will never be a star. Now if you could.” He shoos them away with his right hand.
“I've had a long day.”
He climbs into his vehicle, slams the door and skids out of the parking lot.
Though humans around Earth come in many different body types, the entertainment factories in Los Angeles and New York bolsters only one for women: skinny, bird-hipped, light-skinned, large eyed. In the final human population of 8.5 billion, less than 5% had blonde hair, though another 10% used chemicals to bleach their protein chains this lighter hue. And less than 8% of the worldwide population had blue eyes.
During this period, these factories would beam this ideal of womanhood around the world, enforcing this as the norm. All other women were deemed aberrations from this norm and taught to be ashamed of themselves.
* * *
The long repressed memory relinquishes control. The aftershocks quake through her body as Dr. Navarro scans the room, trying to determine how long she has stood there, speechless.
One final thought weighs heavily on her.
She never sang again.
But now her voice will be amplified and the shake the industry that shunned her. She leans into the microphones and smiles.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for coming.”
Dr. Navarro smiles at the reporters. She gives a stern nod to the impeccably dressed public relation flacks seated in the back of the room, scowling into their complimentary coffees. She winks at her team of researchers in the front row. They respond by erecting their opposable thumbs up in an unmistakable sign of support.
“I would like to describe our two and a half decades of research that conclusively demonstrates the adverse mental health effects of stardom on children.
“For the study, we randomly selected 10,000 children who were entered into the Kidz-Starz database, the largest catalogue for aspiring child performers. Every year, we called them, pretending to be casting directors and got their responses to a mental health questionnaire. We tracked their progress through the Internet Movie Database and other sites that listed their work.
“As a control group, we selected 100 children who had no ambitions of stardom and interviewed them annually as well.
“We needed an objective metric of stardom and we decided to use one of the following: a main role in a feature-length, wide-release film, five cameos on a TV show, a long-term commercial contract or one song in the Billboard top 20.
“As you can see, of the 10,000 we first identified, 127 met the criteria for stardom.” Dr. Navarro gestures to the three-dimensional pie chart that changes depth when it hears her preprogrammed keywords. “Five years into the protocol, we saw a few entertainers wildly out-perform the others. So we added a new metric: superstardom. We define superstardom as having a main role in five films, a starring role in a TV show, and/or a music career with at least one platinum album. 32 of our subjects met our metrics to be labeled superstars.”
A 1.27% sliver of the pie chart swells even higher than the rest, glazing the top of her head in blue hues.
“There were negative effects for those 9,873 children who didn't attain stardom. Each had a lowered self worth, coupled with insecurities. But most recovered from these within the first three years. On top of the emotional trauma, we must highlight the amount of money and hours wasted on teeth bleaching, tap lessons, hair products, etc. For these children that did not meet the criteria of stardom, each family spent an average of $9,000 and wasted 400 family hours.
“As our star group became more famous and thus walled themselves off from interactions with the general public, we had to resort to new ways of obtaining survey responses.
“Our intrepid research assistants disguised themselves as reporters to interview subjects during press junkets.”
Dr. Navarro pauses to acknowledge her past and present graduate students seated in the front row.
* * *
Stacy and Jamal laugh as they enter the studio backlot. With sunglasses over their eyes and press badges dangling from their necks, they are ready. They carry personality disorder questionnaires in their hands as they enter into a warehouse of stars.
“I couldn't imagine a more perfect first assignment.” Stacy chuckles.
“Well, Dr. Connors is treating his students to, err, testing psilocybin on his students.” Jamal smiles.
“Ha! Well, I'd rather see the stars than trip out of this world.”
After sitting in the waiting room with the other journalists for an hour, a headset-wearing, frazzled production assistant alerts them that its their turn.
They coif each other, grab their notebooks and pull back the curtain.
Behind it, a seventeen-year-old blonde girl sits beneath a spotlight, radiating melancholia. Her arms are crossed as she shivers with only 4% body fat. Her bony knees glide on top of each other, creating a hollow echo.
Stacy and Jamal smile as they plop down in their seats.
“Thank you Annabelle for meeting with us today.”
“Umm who... Who are you representing?” Annabelle Dickson purses her freshly plumped lips.
“Das Geheimnis Umfrage, Germany's third largest entertainment news syndicate.”
Annabelle flutters her bony hand expressing both 'whatever' and 'proceed.' She reaches for her coffee mug and blows on it.
Each celebrity strained to stay awake during these 14-hour press junkets. Answering the same questions became mind-numbingly tedious. Annabelle perfected a semi-interested smile as her eyes unfocused, her lips opened and answers flowed out.
“Yes, I did my own stunts.
“No, I wasn't afraid to flip over that cow.
“No, I didn't enjoy kissing Taylor, he's like a younger brother to me.
“Yes, I did read the book the film is based on and yes I loved it.
“No, the director's decision to change my character from a poor, homely girl covered in sores into a beautiful, emaciated prostitute who's allergic to clothes did not bother me at all.”
The researchers move through these perfunctory questions, lulling the star into spilling without thinking. In the middle of the drivel, they drop:
“On a scale of one to ten, how God-like do you consider yourself?”
“Oh about a nine and a half, I'm pretty sure I could get my 27 million Instagram followers to move mountains for me. Literally, move mountains. Rock by rock.”
“Uh-huh” Stacy says with a scribble of a pen.
A nervous publicist swings in from the shadows. “Oh she didn't mean to say-”
“Oh don't worry, that question is off the record.” Jamal reassures.
“Do you consider yourself easy going?” Stacy continues.
Annabelle takes a swig from her coffee mug, convulses and spits on the curtain.
“I said NON-FAT milk, you fucking bitch. Do you want me to shove this heel down your throat?”
She throws her stiletto at the assistant.
“Wait, what were we talking about. Oh, right, I'm so totally down to Earth.”
“Uh. Huh. Hm.” Jamal notes both the response and the flying shoe incident.
* * *
Stacy and Jamal perfect this press junket parry over the coming years.
While interviewing the hip-hop star, J. Kimo, before the release of his new single, “I Beat that Bitch with a Bat, Part 2,” Jamal inquires, “Are you prone to bouts of anger?”
The cherubic faced rapper squeaks out in a soft lisp.
“Sure am, why you think I beat that bitch with a bat? Pshhhhh!”
* * *
Stacy is blinded by the bedazzled Russian starlet, Katya Zamolodchikova, who sits drenched in diamonds and wrapped in a pure gold kimono so malleable that even a gust of wind could bend it.
“Um, on a scale from one to ten, how important is your appearance.”
“Wait, why are you asking this? My appearance is THE MOST important thing for humanity. If I get a haircut, one million girls will do the same 'do.
“And this face.” Katya waves her Swarovski jewel-encrusted nails around her taut face.
“THIS FACE has launched a thousand rocket ships!”
* * *
Jamal reads “Now I'm going to read to you some thoughts and I want to hear how much you agree with them. Ok, first, I often use make-up or clothing, ie, hats, scarves, long sleeve shirts, long pants, etc. to camouflage a perceived flaw.”
Jamal looks up at Jaxon Stonewall. The action star grimaces, debating how to answer. He twitches and scratches the top of his head. As he does, strands of hair are caught in his topaz pinky ring. With the itch satisfied, he lowers his hand and with it, his blonde toupee.
“Oh god, you can't tell anyone about this! NO!” Jaxon falls to his knees, groveling before Jamal and Stacy. “PLEASE. This would be the end of my life!”
“Mmm. Hmmm” Stacy scribbles.
* * *
Dr. Navarro warms up to the crowd and begins pacing the stage, microphone in hand.
“Most stars wouldn't give us accurate numbers for their most basic medical details, such as height and weight, so we rigged their chairs with scales to get an accurate body weight and bone density reading. We found most female stars suffer from a drastically low BMI indicative of sporadic ovulation. The bone density scans found 40% had pre-osteoporosis symptoms. After each interview, we asked the stars to stand perfectly erect for a photo with their interviewers. We could use our interviewers' heights to interpolate the height of each star. And of course, we adjusted based on heel size.
“Since the private lives of these stars have long been considered public, we were able to obtain details of each star's plastic surgeries, interviews from in-treatment rehab facilities and medical records for every hospital visit for 'unspecified exhaustion.'
“And now for our results.”
The reporters flip open their notebooks as the cameras focus.
“The stars were 90 times more likely to undergo a plastic surgery procedure to correct a perceived flaw about their body. Yes, 90 times! As you can see on the wall, all of the female subjects had breast surgeries of some kind, with augmentation being the most common followed by resizing. After that, chin shaving and ear pinning were 2nd and 3rd most popular.
“We found that, at baseline, each of the children seeking celebrityhood had slightly higher indicators of a narcissistic personality disorder compared with the control group, but this was only slightly outside the statistical margin of error.
“Over the course of twenty five years, we saw a chasm grow between the star and control group. A spike follows shortly after an inciting incident, like a movie premiere or album release, what we have dubbed the 'moment of stardom.' Within a year of stardom, 90% of these respondents showed attributes that were consistent with a narcissistic personality disorder and 85% showed the excessive emotionality and attention-seeking consistent with histrionic personality disorder. Superstardom brought these numbers up to 99% and 92% respectively.
“Because of the years surrounded by people who leached off them, 67% began interpreting the actions of friends and family as threatening and became suspicious to the point of paranoia. 80% had symptoms consistent with schizotypal disorder: they scrutinized every social interaction and they saw the world as a strange and unstable place.”
Cameras flash as a series of bar graphs pop out from the screen. Dr. Navarro feels the need to stop, smile and Vanna-White her scientific discoveries. She resists the urge to ooh-and-aah her decades of work.
“And this is after we controlled for family history. We found that parents who would force their child into the limelight had higher rates of personality disorders themselves.
“We will continue to give updates every five years about the subjects we are following. Among the questions we hope to answer is if the stars' higher rates of crippling anxiety lead to increased heart disease and how these effect mortality and morbidity rates.
“Ok I'd like to open it for questions.”
The reporters leap up, waving their hands.
She is elated to see how rapt they are by her research. She feels like she's on fire and living for their love and adoration. Psychologically, she takes a breath and checks herself. And then continues.
“Yes, you in the navy pantsuit.”
“Dr. Navarro. Trina Nguyen from KCCA, can you name any of the celebrities you've been following?”
“No. No, I can't. Only a select number of our researchers know their identities. Even our statisticians are not privy to this information.”
The crowd foams with excitement.
“Look, all I'll say is that you have seen movies and enjoyed music that our subjects have created.”
“Ooo, Dr. Navarro. Over here! Summer Reign from BuzzCall media, can we get a copy of the questions you've been asking these stars?”
“All study protocol material, including survey questions, can be found in the press packets under your seats.”
Within an hour, BuzzCall published “Are you crazy like young Hollywood?! Take this easy test to find out. You'll never guess the answer to number 42.”
After answering a dozen more questions, Dr. Navarro smiles and takes a polite bow. She ends the event by welcoming all her co-authors and researchers on to the stage to get the recognition they deserve.
As she totters back behind the stage, her left heel gives out and she topples. She grabs the curtain and swings herself behind it, landing softly on the ground, safely out of the way of the journalists and their cameras.
* * *
Back at home, she washes the smudged paint off her face, de-spanxes and throws on her favorite sweatpants and sweatshirt. She exhales as her internal organs float freely. Once finished, she checks in on her daughter, Gladyz, who is already tucked into bed.
“Hi Mommy! How did it go?”
“So good! Everyone loved what mommy had to say. You can see mommy on the news tomorrow!”
Gladyz yawns, extending her arms from underneath her periodic table of elements comforter.
“Ok sleepy head, before you go to the land of sueños, I want to sing you a song.”
“Sing?! I've never heard you sing.”
“I found my voice tonight and I want to share it with you. This is mommy and abuelita's favorite song.”
She flicks off the light and stands up. She turns on a flashlight that sits next to her daughter's bed. Above them is a mobile made of prisms. She aims the ray of white light into these prisms, refracting the light into a dozen dancing rainbows.
Gladyz jumps on her bed, squealing as she bathes in the short and long waves of visible light.
“De Colores, de colores.”
As she sings, she twirls around her daughter's bed, letting the light hit the prisms in a thousand different ways, filling the room with color.
“Y por eso los grandes amores. De muchos colores me gustan a mí.”