The child star is an iconic figure in Western society representing a growing cultural trend which idolises, castigates and fetishises the image of the perfect, innocent and beautiful child. In this book, Jane O’Connor explores the paradoxical status of the child star who is both adored and reviled in contemporary society. Drawing on current debates about the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood and fears about children ‘growing up too soon’, she identifies hostile media attention around child stars as indicative of broader social concerns about the ‘correct’ role and place of children in relation to normative ideals of childhood. Through reference to extensive empirical examples of the way child stars such as Shirley Temple, Macaulay Culkin, Charlotte Church and Jackie Coogan have been constructed in the media, this book illustrates both the powerlessness and the power held by this tiny band of children, and demonstrates their significance as representatives of the public face of childhood throughout the twentieth century and beyond.
"The Cultural Significance of the Child Star is an important new work in the sociology of childhood. O'Connor takes a unique approach to analyzing child stars that is both theoretically well grounded and thoroughly entertaining."
- Karen Sternheimer, University of Southern California, author of Kids These Days: Facts and Fictions About Today’s Youth and It's Not the Media: The Truth About Pop Culture's Influence on Children
"Jane O'Connor's book adds useful empirical material to research on celebrity culture and provides a convincing argument about the importance of child celebrities."
- Momin Rahman, Trent University, Canadian Journal of Sociology, Vol. 33, No. 3, 2008
1. Introduction 2. The Normal Child and the Exceptional Child 3. A Social History of Child Stars 4. The Powerlessness of Child Stars 5. The Power of Child Stars 6. The Demonisation of Church 7. Conclusion