It began as a cool and lighthearted bar mitzvah tribute, a music video that friends and family of the honoree — 13-year-old Zachary Freiman of Irvington, N.Y. — could share, enjoy and praise to the skies.
The bar mitzvah ended; the video did not. “I’m Zack!” was posted on YouTube, where, at last count, it had generated more than 300,000 hits. With the adulation, however, came plenty of criticism — not so delicately expressed — by haters who slammed Zack as conceited and untalented. Others went so far as to question the 13-year-old’s sexuality. Although Zack shrugged off the negativity, chalking it up to people who “don’t know me,” his father, Scott — who produced “I’m Zack!” — ended up disabling the YouTube comments as a protective measure.
All this to-do over a bar mitzvah video?
By taking his act from the synagogue to cyberspace, Zack — and his family — essentially opened themselves up to a worldwide whammy from online haters.
Having passed the bar mitzvah rite, was this 13-year-old mature enough to handle fame and/or infamy? Is any 13-year-old ready?
“I’m Zack!”—Zachary Freiman
“To me, it seemed like the intent was a goofy 13-year-old boy and his friends trying to provide some kind of entertainment for the guests at the party. I didn’t see that as a kid or his family trying to propel him into the spotlight for the world to see,” said Cindy Appelbaum, a high-school special-education teacher who lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia. “The fact that it got posted and lots and lots of people saw it doesn’t surprise me.”
For her own son’s bar mitzvah in March, Appelbaum and her family assembled a photographic montage depicting scenes from the life of the bar mitzvah boy — something not uncommon at parties and ceremonies. However, the family did not post the montage on YouTube or anywhere else.
“But it’s cute and his friends and family are in it and everybody oohs and ahhs,” Appelbaum said.
By contrast, there was nothing even remotely private about “Friday,” the video by Rebecca Black, who lives in Southern California and is also 13. Like Zack Freiman, she enjoys performing — an interest that her parents clearly endorse, given that they spent between $2,000 and $4,000 to hire Ark Music Factory to make the video. “Friday” went straight to YouTube in mid-March, where it quickly went viral, landing Rebecca appearances on “Good Morning America” and “The Tonight Show.”
But praise for the song was hardly universal. With its Auto-Tune and bubble gum lyrics, “Friday” — for all its 100 million YouTube hits — has been dubbed the “the worst song ever written” and inspired countless parodies. For as many people willing to pay the 99-cent iTune fee to own it, there appears to be an equal number of people inclined to throw cyber bricks at “Friday,” even wishing eating disorders and death on Rebecca.
Which is what can happen when you make your life public, pediatric psychologist Pamela Loman said.
“It’s a whole different world,” said Loman, a mother of two who works in private practice in Santa Rosa. “People are a lot more brazen and confident in their online personas than they are in person. There are things they would never say in public, but they’ll say it on the computer. Online, there are no boundaries and no etiquette.”
The risk parents have to consider, according to Loman, is whether indulging their child’s declared “passion” — and any potential accompanying success — are worth the potential psychological damage that could come with criticism or rejection. It’s one thing to audition for a role and be told you didn’t get the part, but something else entirely when you put your talent on display and have hundreds or even thousands of anonymous people telling you that you suck.
“Kids this age are just starting to figure out who they are, and they’re very vulnerable to bullying and teasing,” Loman said. “Is the 15 minutes of potential fame and fortune so worth it that you risk exposing your child’s fragile self-image?”
Although she concedes that Zack Freiman looks “comfortable in his own skin,” Jennifer Wolf of Los Angeles thinks that whatever ambitions Zack’s and Rebecca’s parents had for their performing offspring may have backfired.
“My heart just went out to both of them,” said Wolf, the mother of two daughters, both of whom have become bat mitzvahs. “It’s so easy to do something and be ridiculed when you’re 13. But to have the whole world have access to it is not a good thing. I think the parents didn’t think it through.”
Time alone likely will dictate whether Rebecca Black has a musical career ahead of her or whether she will end up a 2011 punch line. Zack Freiman, meanwhile, appears to be tabling any performing ambitions at least for the time being. You can buy “I’m Zack!” but you won’t be furthering Zack’s ascent to stardom or his bank account. Proceeds from the purchase of the song, YouTube informs anyone who plays the video, benefit Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown, N.Y.
To see Zachary Freiman’s “I’m Zack!” or Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” visit this story at jewishjournal.com.