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Howard Stern has taken a few hits this week for supposedly causing the 7 year-old rapper Mir (pronounced mere) Money’s tears on the show, America’s Got Talent (AGT).  Stern was booed, host Nick Cannon called him a mean man, and the Huffington Post has called the episode “That Time Howard Stern Made a Child Cry on National TV.”  Upon very close observation, however, I’m not sure the fault lies with Stern but with the American audience’s love ’em or hate ’em knee-jerk reactions and our need for moments that re-affirm our identity and our commitment to the myth of the American Dream.

We are obsessed with potential child stars.  The list of shows focused on children includes “Dance Moms,” “Eden’s World,” “Toddlers and Tiaras,” and more!  And even though the girls are British, the singing sensations, “Sophia Grace and Rosie,” have become huge in America, thanks to the Ellen Show.  Child performers are cute, yes, and when they stand bravely on stage seemingly immune to the vulnerability and fear of a mass audience, they remind us of the best parts of ourselves.  They seem to represent some qualities we like to think are American:  our inherent drive and determination in reaching for something better.  Our national narratives constantly illustrate this value for us, think of the pilgrims and the immigrants, even the American Indians, all survivors.  We’re tough, we’re the best, and as Chevy says, we’re like rocks.

Familiar Americanisms were obvious on AGT when Mir Money first took to the stage.  He was asked who his favorite rapper was, and he said, “Me!”  The audience gushed at the cuteness of his “me” mentality, so early and so American!  British icon and AGT judge, Sharon Osbourne, asked what he would do with one million dollars, and he answered, “Help my family.”  We swooned at his American family values.  This kid was going somewhere, we could feel it.  We were pulling out our tiny American flags and the lighters with the American Eagle on them.

Afterwards, Mir Money rapped inaudibly and stomped his feet loudly, and it was immediately apparent that his true talents were in his charming answers and dimple-cheeked stage presence.  Howard Stern hit the X, which triggered the sound of a dying cow (meant to emphasize “you stink”), and the audience booed.  Sharon hit her X and Mir Money stopped and gave them a look of surprise.  The look was classic, as he seemed to be dogging the judges’ panel.  It turned out, Mir Money was just thirsty, so Nick Cannon brought him a bottle of water which Mir Money gulped down.

Then it happened.  Somewhere between Howard Stern opening his mouth and the audience booing — the thing that will keep Stern tossing and turning for awhile — Mir Money started to cry.  Not just any crying, either; it was the mouth wide open, eyes squeezed shut, hand-slammed-in-the-car-door, type of crying.  Not American at all.  The audience booed, Cannon rushed onto the stage again; Stern went up to hug and console the kid; Sharon remained stiff-upper lipped and turned away, unable to watch proud Americans in this most public display of weakness; the kid kept crying, and Cannon carried him off the stage in his strong fatherly arms, at which the audience finally cheered.  We can’t handle kids crying but we sure as heck love father’s saving.

This roller coaster of events and emotions didn’t need to happen, and it certainly didn’t need to be aired.  But America loves a talented toddler as well as creating a monster, which seems to be what Howard Stern became that night.  In truth, I think Stern has been incredibly encouraging and sincere with his treatment of the contestants in this his first (last?) season on the show.  He hasn’t been the foul-mouthed, sharp-tongued naughty boy we’ve come to know.  Clever editing?  I don’t think so.  After all, AGT wasn’t clever enough to omit Mir Money’s moment, though I’m a little pleased that they didn’t otherwise I wouldn’t be making the most of the moment on my blog.

I think the live audience’s reaction and the online audience’s reaction to the AGT episode and to Howard Stern (who really seemed to feel bad as he left the stage)  is displaced emotion.  Our pseudo-anger may be masking what we’re actually feeling:  shock.  We’re baffled at the reality of the story that played out on the stage that night.  A crying child wasn’t in the script.  It’s supposed to go like the the Narvaez’s from earlier this week.  Jorge and Alexa Narvaez sang a duet that endeared the judges and the audience.  Alexa, also 7 years-old, first charmed the audience by teasingly saying she was scared of all “609” of them.  Her father, a recent graduate of UCSD, played the guitar as they sang “Home,” the Edward Sharpe & Magnetic Zero melody with the sweet chorus:  “home is wherever I’m with you.”  And when it’s sung by a dad and his daughter, the sweetness abounds, spills out and brings audiences to their feet.

The Narvaez family also illustrate the immigrant, rags-to-riches story that mythologizes America.  When we see it happening before our eyes, we believe in it and we believe in ourselves, again.  The Latino family, who sing in English and Spanish, started their career from the ground up, on Youtube, which can make ordinary people renowned worldwide, if the videos go viral.  To top everything off, Jorge posted at his blog this boot-strapping affirmation:  “I have to start looking at that brighter side because I have come far and that is what’s important and I’m proud of it!”

Mir Money’s moment was shocking, but in actuality, a crying child on stage is how the story usually goes in elementary school auditoriums across the country.  It happens.  A lot.  It’s just not usually broadcasted on national television where the weakness, fear and insecurity of the moment can trouble our already tenuous American identity.  We don’t like that story, so we sweep the kid off the stage, dry the spot he soiled with his tears for the next act (hopefully big strong basketball players that jump on trampolines to make amazing shots in the air) and we wag our fingers at Howard Stern.  We need someone to focus our anger at for killing our dreams, and as he’s our only countryman on the panel, we blame him, because he should have known better.  Even though they’re here, making millions of U.S. dollars, the British Sharon and the Canadian Howie wouldn’t ever truly understand how we feel when one of us gets on stage and blows us away, and they certainly wouldn’t understand how crushing a moment like Mir Money’s is.

By the way, don’t worry about Mir Money.  He’ll most likely buck up and try again, in true American style.  After all, he’s from Uptown Philadelphia.  Need I say more?

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