Last week a diverse collection of Boston-area star made headlines. Ben was the Oscar winner. Tom was the superstar team player. And Lil Poopy was the music prodigy. Who is Lil Poopy? Read on... Lil Poopy, aka Luie Rivera Jr., is a 9-year-old resident of Brockton, Mass. The fourth grader, who earned his stage name due to some impressive diapers when he was a baby, is now an artist with Cocaine City Records. He raps about doing drugs and having sex with women. His videos show simulated sex acts for money, and he's paid thousands to appear in nightclubs and perform. Not surprisingly, the boy's father, Luie Rivera Sr., is being investigated for child abuse by the Department of Children and Families at the request of the Brockton Police Department.
"Lil Poopy" took to his Twitter page to rage against the investigation writing, "LOOK AT SANDY HOOK Y THEY OUT HERE HURTING CHILDREN IM JUST SINGING HOOKS IANT OUT HERE HURTING CHILDREN."
Some may wonder why Lil Poopy's father is investigated when no child protection agency (that we know of) has investigated the mothers who appear on Lifetime's Dance Moms. Every week the show features girls around Lil Poopy's age crying because of nasty comments made by a teacher who puts them in revealing costumes and choreographs often age-inappropriate dance routines for them (one memorable one involved them portraying "topless" Vegas showgirls). Similarly, child beauty pageant moms -- especially those featured on TLC's Toddlers & Tiaras -- are frequently accused of abusing their kids. One mom, who dressed her four-year-old daughter in a Dolly Parton outfit complete with fake breasts almost lost custody of her daughter to her formerly incarcerated ex-husband as a direct result of her daughter's pageant participation, as I discussed last year at Slate, though the two parents now share custody.
The difference between these stage moms and Lil Poopy's father is that while many of the moms clearly have questionable parenting habits (which very likely could do emotional harm that will haunt their daughters later in life) they are not doing anything illegal with their kids. Meanwhile, Lil Poopy is promoting activities that are not only illegal for kids, and but also for adults. One of his lyrics, "Coke ain't a bad word," speaks for itself.
A lawyer for the Riveras has suggested that this investigation is racist. The Riveras are originally from Puerto Rico and there are obvious racial undertones when Luie Jr. is criticized for rapping, an art form traditionally associated with African Americans.
But if we're going to think in terms of social categories the sociologist in me finds it more interesting that the first time a child's out-of-school activity has led to such a public criminal investigation is when it happens to a boy. Do we care more when a male is the subject of exploitation? For example, viewers have been particularly outraged that Lil Poopy's shirt is lifted up by an older woman who grinds up against him while dancing. But this type of thing happens all the time with young female performers.
It's possible to imagine a defense of Luie Sr. that says that child actors play roles that feature illegal activity all the time, and their parents aren't accused of abuse because of it. But the key difference here is that child actors are portraying a character and not themselves. Lil Poopy may be an alter ego of Luie Jr.'s, in the same way that Beyoncé invokes Sasha Fierce, but his Twitter feed and YouTube account exist in his name. (That it's actually against the rules for a 9-year-old to have his own Twitter account goes without saying, though it's not formally illegal.) This has also been an issue for children involved in reality television, who "play" themselves and not a character. As I have written about at USA Today, kids in reality TV are largely unprotected when it comes to work conditions and finances but, again, they usually are not promoting illegal activity.
So are the Riveras doing something that will mean Lil Poopy is removed from their home? Hopefully not, but we won't know for sure until the investigation concludes. Should this situation worry us? Absolutely. Lil Poopy is just the latest example of kids growing up too fast, trying to be famous, and creating online personas through social media to create a public personality that now needs to be over the top to get attention.
If the goal was to get attention for Lil Poopy, it obviously worked, though it may come at a severe cost to his family and future. Words you may never have thought before: Perhaps Honey Boo Boo's mother, June Shannon, can give some parenting lessons...