In his book The Interpretation of Dreams, Dr. Sigmund Freud states: “It is painful to me to think that many of the hypotheses upon which I base my psychological solution of the psychoneuroses will arouse skepticism and ridicule when they first become known. For instance, I shall have to assert that impressions of the second year of life, and even the first, leave an enduring trace upon the emotional life of subsequent neuropaths [i.e. neurotic persons], and that these impressions—although greatly distorted and exaggerated by the memory—may furnish the earliest and profoundest basis of a hysterical [i.e. neurotic] symptom … [I]t is my well-founded conviction that both doctrines [i.e. theories] are true. In confirmation of this I recall certain examples in which the death of the father occurred when the child was very young, and subsequent incidents, otherwise inexplicable, proved that the child had unconsciously preserved recollections of the person who had so early gone out of its life.”
Contemporary research tells me that, since it cannot fight or flight, a baby stuck in a crib on its back hearing parental discord in the next room can only “move into a third neurological state, known as a ‘freeze’ state … This freeze state is a trauma state” (Childhood Disrupted, pg.123).
This causes its brain to improperly develop; and if allowed to continue, it’s the helpless infant’s starting point towards a childhood, adolescence and (in particular) adulthood in which its brain uncontrollably releases potentially damaging levels of inflammation-promoting stress hormones and chemicals, even in non-stressful daily routines.
I also now know that it’s the unpredictability of a stressor, and not the intensity, that does the most harm. When the stressor “is completely predictable, even if it is more traumatic—such as giving a [laboratory] rat a regularly scheduled foot shock accompanied by a sharp, loud sound—the stress does not create these exact same [negative] brain changes.” (pg. 42)
Decades before reading Freud’s theories or any others regarding very early life trauma, I’d always cringe at how producers and directors of negatively melodramatic scenes—let alone the willing parents of the undoubtedly extremely upset infants and toddlers used—could comfortably conclude that no psychological harm would result in the baby ‘actors’ screaming in bewilderment.
Initially I’d presumed there was an educated general consensus within the entertainment industry on this matter, perhaps even on the advice of mental health academia, otherwise the practice would logically compassionately cease. But I became increasingly doubtful of the accuracy of any such educated consensus.
(And why even designate them as ‘actors’, when true actors are fully cognizant of their fictional environment?)
Cannot one logically conclude by observing their turmoil-filled facial expressions that they’re perceiving, and likely cerebrally recording, the hyper-emotional scene activity around them at face value rather than as a fictitious occurrence?
I could understand the practice commonly occurring within a naïve entertainment industry of the 20th Century, but I’m still seeing it in contemporary small and big screen movie productions.
As just one relatively recent example, in the movie Hustlers (with actress Jennifer Lopez), a toddler is clearly actually distraught, wailing while caught in between a screaming match between mother (“Destiny”) and father characters.
Within the last two years, I’ve emailed, and left a voice message with, the Union of British Columbia Performers numerous times on this matter, all to which I received no response.
Meanwhile, in January of 2017, a Vancouver dog-rescue organization cancelled a scheduled fundraiser preceding the big release of the then-new film A Dog’s Purpose, according to a Vancouver Sun story, after “the German shepherd star of the film was put under duress during one scene.”
The founder of Thank Dog I Am Out (Dog Rescue Society), Susan Paterson, was quoted as saying, “We are shocked and disappointed by what we have seen, and we cannot in good conscience continue with our pre-screening of the movie.”
(This incident created a controversy for the ensuing news week.)
While animal cruelty by the industry shouldn’t be tolerated, there should be even less allowance for using unaware infants and toddlers in negatively hyper-emotional drama—especially when contemporary alternatives can readily be utilized (e.g. a mannequin infant or digital manipulation tech).
P.S. The actors guild has yet to reply to my query (sent multiple times, over the last two years or so), a copy of which is included below. That indicates to me that either I have a point, or I'm way off and not worth their time.
Are infants/toddlers who are not aware they're in a fake environment still used in the production of negatively melodramatic or hyper-emotional small and big screen entertainment?
I'd think the practice would've been discontinued by now, due to current knowledge about the susceptibilities of the developing infant/toddler brain, but I'd like to know for sure.
Thank you for your time.