Swati Daftuar explores the unstoppable fascination for celebrity babies.
Recently, during one of those blank phases when one listlessly jumps from link to link absorbing trivia varying in degrees of uselessness, I stumbled on little bits and pieces that came together to form a common thread of thought. An article asking this pertinent question: Should all pregnant women look like Kate Middleton with her discreet baby bump? A website dedicated solely to the reactions to Kim Kardashian’s baby’s name. The fact that, in 1953, Lucille Ball (of the classic I Love Lucy) gave birth to her son, Desi Arnaz Jr., and the national obsession and TV coverage of this otherwise nice but frankly private event eclipsed President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inauguration.
These and many more nuggets of wisdom are merely baby steps (excuse the pun) into the swirling pool of frenzy that seems to have engulfed every star-struck celebrity enthusiast — and we have lots of them. A long line of expectant celebrity mothers just waiting to name their offspring after fruits, vegetables and compass directions, this type of news — if it is news at all — is filling tabloid space and page 3 panels. Baby bumps and baby arm candy are accessorised and, in a world that offers a celebrity status quite readily and eagerly, these little boys and girls are already A-listers. They have fan pages, like Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ daughter, and they make for wonderful photo ops, like the Pitt-Jolie clan and their family outing to the nearest grocery store. We have some home-grown famous tiny people right here in India too. They make for wonderful filler stories. Some celebrity parents aren’t above kitting their children out in designer clothes and marching them out to paparazzi tunes during media-dry spells.
The royal baby is already dominating the spotlight, perhaps paparazzi trained, before it has accomplished its first burp. Magazines and tabloids are speculating Kate Middleton’s due date and entire websites are devoted to guessing and suggesting baby names. Takes you back to that years’ worth of Baby Bachchan coverage, who has thankfully been named now and can escape obvious epithets. Now, it turns out that even the mere mention of the idea of having a baby is cause for discussion. There is Karan Johar and his intention to adopt, and Shah Rukh Khan’s much-discussed decision to opt for a surrogate baby.
The upside? Many of these write-ups are on how Baby Nahla/Suri/Maddox/Aaradhya/Iqra are cute as buttons and filled with photographs of them with their happy, successful and multi-tasking parents. And, honestly, these are more pleasant than long-winded celebrity-bashing pieces. They make for wonderfully easy stories too, giving the paparazzi something to chew on for a good long while. Baby-bump tracking, pregnancy watch — call it what you will, but with an expectant couple to track, right from the first rumours to the first little branded item of clothing worn, these mini-celebrities give gossip magazines something to do.
This trend throws up a few perplexing questions, though. Why do some of us care so much and so deeply? Is it just simple curiosity? A need to see if that beautiful actor’s baby spits up too? To find out if she looks as flustered when it throws tantrums and eats dirt? And after all, if there is a demand for pictures and news of celebrity divorces/marriages/crime, aren’t pregnancies and babies next in line? And wouldn’t you say that flaunting and revelling in the media space that pregnancy buys you, is better than hiding it, feeling ashamed of its existence or ignoring it? Today, have these celebrity women with their media-friendly babies and baby bumps become a sort of beacon? Now if it were only that simple. This international interest with celebrity babies and pregnancy could be applauded as progress, if it hadn’t become an obsession. Today, we don’t want to know what the celebrities tell us about their families. We want to do some sleuthing and look into their hopefully full closet.
Which brings us to the question of privacy. Amid photographs of celebrity kids on family getaways and accompanying comments that range from simpering to catty, are we crossing a line? Are we looking through chinks in the wall and unguarded peepholes? With arguments of progressing feminism that celebrates pregnancy and motherhood, we try to justify invasive curiosity that can be at best unhealthy and at worst, harmful.
It might sound dramatic, but there are innocent casualties of this symbiotic, on-again-off-again relationship between the media and celebrity parents. Those kids caught off-guard in a park as they try to toss a ball around, those little girls dressed in haute couture and pitted against each other in a ‘who’s cuter’ filler, the kids who grow up already famous with no claim to fame but their genes and quirky names. Some take to it, some hate it, but none of them quite manage to escape it. They grow up under intense scrutiny, with an entire fan-club looking out for them.
With more bland pieces in glossy magazines that tell you what a celebrity kid likes for lunch, things are getting curiouser and curiouser. You’d think that no one cared for that sort of thing, at least after a while but it turns out, we do. We want to know as much as we can, and thankfully, the flow of celebrity baby information is relentless. Now the only thing we need to figure out is this — does the root of this obsession lie in their bright, shiny lives or in our own everyday ones?