The Baby Burlesk short films of the 1930’s starred America’s favorite child actor, Shirley Temple. Released in 1933, Polly Tix in Washington features Shirley Temple as a “strumpet bent on seducing a senator”; she is essentially a call girl (131). The short film includes adult themes such as political corruption, seduction, and bribery, played out by children of a very young age.
Screen Shot. Shirley Temple starred in "Polly Tix in Washington," released June 4, 1933.
In John F. Kasson’s piece, “Behind Shirley Temple’s Smile: Children, Emotional Labor, and the Great Depression,” he states that these “children literally go through the motions of adult characters without, presumably, comprehending anything about the drama they are enacting” (131). While viewing a few of the Baby Burlesks, I felt somewhat uncomfortable with the scenes being played out. Even the way Shirley Temple struts across the stage suggests a level of flirtatiousness that seems highly inappropriate; not to mention her seductive walk is always directed toward her boy counterpart in the films. The Polly Tix short displays Shirley Temple in a black lace skimpy outfit, dripping in jewels, and using her body and flirtation skills to sway the opinion of the new senator. She also brings along a decadent cake to aid in her persuasion. One scene shows Shirley feeding a piece of cake to the young senator; she literally had him in the palm of her hands. Actions such as these play into the innocent act of young children enthusiastically shoveling delicious desserts into their mouths using only their hands, but on the other hand, exudes a level of maturity/intimacy usually reserved for adult interactions (similar to the bride and groom hand-feeding each other their first piece of wedding cake; it’s a somewhat sensual event). Although it’s humorous to watch Shirley win over the senator with cake and her sultry antics, the underlying message endorses seduction as an acceptable way of obtaining what you want.
Modern Family is a comedy sitcom that premiered on ABC in September of 2009. This mockumentary style series was created to appeal to the everyday American family by featuring three different families that can be characterized by modern-day circumstances. However, this past January, the show found itself in the midst of a controversy. Episode 13 of the show’s third season, titled ‘Little Bo Bleep’ was centered on one of the young daughters, Lily, learning and repeating the F-word.
Although the word was beeped out and her mouth was blurred each time she said the curse word, the episode drew negative attention from advocacy groups such as the Parents Television Council, which claimed that the show was exhibiting “poor taste” and a mild form of child abuse. The actors responded by saying that it was no way child abuse because the child actress actually said the word “fudge” during filming.
Reading these articles and watching this episode of Modern Family, I cannot help but relate it back to our class discussion of Shirley Temple. Many American viewers during the 1930’s were concerned that such a young girl such as Shirley Temple was being exposed to the actions and behaviors of adult women. The ‘War Babies’
Lily and her fathers (Cameron and Mitchell) right after she says the F-Word during a wedding.
video clip that we watched during class showed very young children portraying the lives of young adults. While watching Shirley Temple in this video, I realized I had conflicting emotions about what I was seeing. A part of me was disturbed by the kissing and sexual innuendoes being expressed by the kids, but the other part of me was highly amused to see these children behaving like adults.
I experienced this same phenomenon while watching the ‘Little Bo Bleep’ episode of Modern Family. I thought it was absolutely hysterical to watch Lily say the F-word out loud, especially when she does it in the middle of a wedding. However, it does become uncomfortable when you think about such a young child actress being trained to say the curse word. In the end, I think it is absolutely ridiculous for the show to be criticized for this particular episode. Modern Family prides itself on presenting an accurate portrayal of all aspects of family life, and this situation is something many families can say they have experienced.In response to the child abuse accusations, if the young girl was indeed saying the word “fudge”, the show’s producers were in no way abusing the actress.