Common sense: Kids should be rewarded for good, not bad, behavior. The adults in their midst have a duty to discourage their anti-social, crazy, and excessively goofy tendencies, and to moderate any wild imaginative flights that could lead them to dishonesty, or to a permanent disfigurement of their budding worldviews. Most of all, adults must be square with them; mustn’t molest their cosmologies or affirm their infantile tendencies in such a way that the children will be mentally crippled or stunted. That’s my opinion.
Also my opinion: For the reasons above and probably several hundred more, Chip Coffey is one bad dude. Check out this clip from his show, Psychic Kids, the second season of which began airing last month, and continue reading after the jump. (I'd have embedded the vid, but its hosts have disabled that option. Probably to keep it from getting posted here.)
There is something almost goofily cynical about the show — about Coffey & Kids’ apparent lack of interest in providing even specious evidence for their claimed abilities. Shows about psychics were once based around the psychics’ “hits”; in Psychic Kids, the hits come only occasionally, and with little fanfare. It appears that the show’s producers believe our brains have been so tenderized by years of psychics and spirits that our already-meager reserves of skepticism have been drained completely. They see no need to sell us what we’ve already so eagerly bought.
So we are expected to nod wisely when co-host psychic Chris Fleming and a pubescent medium, apparently independently, both detect a “female” spirit at the top of a staircase; or when one of the kids, channeling Coffey’s dearly departed mum, says something that makes Coffey smile. “That’s just like her,” he says. If this is an attempt to convince us of something, it’s breathtakingly lazy. In these moments, Coffey reminds me of Michael Jackson in his guise as the Pied Piper of Neverland; gaily leading children into a fantasy world of their mutual devise. It looks harmless, like two lonely and immature souls bucking up each others’ lovely delusions. In fact, Coffey often seems like the loneliest, most immature person of them all. Walking his charges up the darkened staircase of an allegedly haunted house, holding aloft a tiny lantern as though it were the only thing staving back the devil himself, he stubbornly ignores the question posed by one young medium: “How come we always have to wait until night to do this?” Because, sweetie, nobody’s afraid of the monster under the bed at high noon.
I cannot say with certainty whether Coffey’s Kids are psychic, deluded, dishonest, or what. But it seems surpassingly unlikely that they are all psychic, especially since Coffey and Co. are so loathe to test their claims. For that reason, it is only in a world in which children are incapable of dishonesty or craziness that Psychic Kids make sense. If even one of the children to appear on the show is exhibiting not psychic power but pathological attention-seeking behavior, then Chip Coffey is responsible for informing that already-sick child that the way to get on television is to lie, lie, lie — and that if you lie enough, rich grownups will fawn over you and tell you you’re special.
At the end of most episodes of Psychic Kids, the children are put in touch with grieving non-psychics who’ve lost a loved one, either literally (as was the case with the season premiere, which featured a family whose son had disappeared) or figuratively (as in the episode linked to above, in which the little girls counsel a woman whose father has died). Watching it, I try to imagine how I’d feel if I was one of those kids, realizing suddenly that the progress of a missing persons investigation may partially rely upon my deployment of abilities I’m pretty sure I don’t possess. I know that this is the moment when I should come clean, yet — there is the TV camera; and there is the director, giving me a thumbs-up; and there is Chip Coffey, smiling kindly —
The kids make their choices on camera, with heads full of every adolescent insecurity, and live with those choices off-camera ever after.