Childhood stardom and the specter of the “stage mom” are at the center of a summer editorial sensation in the United States that – in short, hard-hitting phrases spoken with a high level of self-perception – could transform the trauma memoir sector.
At Jennette McCurdy’s I’m glad my mother died has sold around 200,000 copies since its release less than two weeks ago, according to publisher Simon & Schuster. It also sparked a wave of fan activism and propelled the author to a different kind of fame than she inhabited in Nickelodeon. iCarly then its spin-off, Sam and Cat, which also starred Ariana Grande.
McCurdy, now 30, recounts how, at the age of eight, she was pushed into gambling, encouraged to restrict her diet to prevent her breasts from growing, and named as the breadwinner of her family by his obsessive mother who controlled his life and career, leading to anxiety and self-loathing that played out in an unhealthy way.
McCurdy claims she was the victim of misconduct and manipulation by a man identified only as “The Creator”, who is believed to be on Nickelodeon’s production staff.
“No child is psychologically, emotionally and mentally equipped for the hurdles of childhood stardom,” McCurdy told Canadian broadcaster CBC last week. “Even though they have the biggest support system around them.”
The child actors, she claims, were turned against each other. She was encouraged to drink alcohol, yelled at while filming her first kiss, received borderline proper massages, then claimed she was offered money not to talk.
“Nickelodeon is offering me $300,000 in silent money for not speaking publicly about my experience on the show?” McCurdy writes in his book. “It’s a network with shows made for kids. Shouldn’t they have some sort of moral compass?
Dan Schneider, producer of many hit Nickelodeon shows, left the company in 2018. He denied all allegations of inappropriate behavior.
“If this explodes more than it already has, Nickelodeon and the entire kids acting industry could finally get a #MeToo account,” Slate magazine predicts Friday.
McCurdy, who left acting in 2014, may turn out to be among the luckiest child stars who have tried to bridge their careers into adulthood and have found transition, or audience expectations, to their regard, unbearable.
The parallel theme, and one that drives McCurdy’s narrative, is her relationship with her mother, Debra, who pushed her into acting when she was six years old. The couple bonded over shared eating disorders. But when the child star told her mum she didn’t want to play anymore, Debra became hysterical and burst into tears. “You can’t give up! It was our chance! It was ouuuuur chaaaaance! cried his mother.
In 2013 Debra died of cancer. “I don’t know who I am without her because I lived for her, and now she’s dead,” McCurdy told CBC this week.
“I couldn’t deal with it at the time, but there was some relief there.”
But the book, and the reception it has received, could restore the focus of trauma stories to the mother and create a new demand for mother-daughter stories.
“The public mind may have changed,” says Michael Kinsey of Black Cat Books on Shelter Island in New York. “From a publisher’s perspective, it will now become its own subgenre. Trust me, when there’s a hit, another publisher has another version of the same story ready to go.
Black Cat Sales Assistant Tatum Kosow, 19, an iCarly and sam and cat fan a decade ago said, “It’s harder to read about a mother and her daughter because moms are supposed to be motherly. Abuse is psychological.
According to psychoanalyst Dr Jamieson Webster, the return to a focus on the mother may correspond to a decline in patriarchy. “It throws you back to kindergarten and it’s not necessarily a nice place either,” she said.
“It’s not like you go from bad to better; it’s like you’re going from bad to worse, or that’s how Lacan said it,” she said, referring to Jacques Lacan, the French psychoanalyst who wrote The father or worse. “The mother who uses her daughter for money and fame. How can a child really say what he wants? So we go back to blaming the mother, but that will get us nowhere.