It's our host's birthday, and to celebrate, he's showing his friends a bootleg of an HBO documentary titled Living Dolls: The Making of a Child Beauty Queen. The documentary isn't available through traditional channels; it gets pulled from YouTube on a regular basis. So devotees go old-school, copying the film and passing it around by hand. Our host warns the audience that while the movie is funny, it is also gut-wrenchingly sad. For a drinking game, he suggests we chug our beers every time we want to call Child Protective Services.
Appropriately enough, Living Dolls begins with a birthday party. This one is for Swan Brooner, a barely 5-year-old girl who has been on the child beauty pageant scene for a year. Swan's mother, while sucking down cigarettes, laments her daughter's "late start" in pageant culture; later on, we'll see months-old babies with hair extensions and makeup paraded past the camera. (Chug! Chug! Chug!)
Watching Living Dolls requires the emotional and social fortitude of a party. That drunken support network reminds you that you're not the only one horrified by the parents who paint their daughters' faces into ghastly parodies of adult sexuality. (It also helps to dull the pain of watching some of the most tasteless gay men in America pile on to the child abuse already in progress.) When it finally ends, our host thanks us: "We all share this cultural touchstone now," he says. And we all share a common need to drink the film out of our heads. So we do.
Want The Stranger to feel bad for laughing at a contestant's hobbies—"playing in the dirt and watching Unsolved Mysteries"—at your party? E-mail the date, place, and party details to email@example.com.