Currently, there is a surfeit of horrifying happenings on television, but TLC takes the cake (the low-fat, non-cake type of cake that’s acceptable for toddlers trying to make it big). This channel runs the gamut of shows, from “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant,” to one chronicling untrained tattoo artists starting a shop, to the show that takes the word exploitative to the extreme: “Toddlers & Tiaras.”

When “special juice” and padded butts aren’t being depended upon for the toddlers’ success, they have to rely on their dance routines and personality. This season there is a clear title-taker of personalities, and it very much borders on creepy — Carley, or rather, Carley’s alter-ego: Darley or Darla. “I’m not a diva, Darley is,” Carley says , her mother beside her, proud as can be.

The part that makes this even more pathetic is how vicariously the moms are living through their daughters — something that possibly shows up even more obviously in a similar show called “Dance Moms.” While that show airs on Lifetime, this vicarious living is definitely a characteristic of “Toddlers & Tiaras” as well: “Carley is as close to an exact replica of me as there could ever be,” the toddler’s mother tells national TV. “I feel like her and I are the same person. We live the same life, and we’re best friends. I just feel like that is me on stage.”

Watching baby beauty pageantry is an immensely odd fascination of our generation, along with a number of questionable enthrallments including Lolcats, diet protein shakes and www.morphthing.com, but it’s undeniable … and unavoidable for cultural characters like Tom Hanks to poke fun at.

Hanks produced a short spoof on “Toddlers & Tiaras” introduced on Jimmy Kimmel Live. As he prepares his make-believe daughter Sophie Hanks — whom he named Sophie because it rhymes with “trophy” — for Miss Ultimate Sexy Baby Nevada competition, the satire rings rather loudly.

Hanks screams, “Sexy feet! Sexy feet!” at his daughter as she tries to imitate his exemplary pageant walk, sprays her away when she tries to eat a cookie and adorns her with a wig and excessive makeup until she appears “Just like a Bratz Doll!” If you didn’t know it was a spoof yet, shame on you, but you’d have to realize it when Sophie Hanks loses the title to none other than Rhonda Howard, “daughter” of Ron Howard (“The Andy Griffith Show”).

It puts me more at ease with the way our society is headed to know that famous figures publicly humiliate programs like “Toddlers & Tiaras,” but after four seasons of the show have aired, it’s impossible not to question how the public’s interest has sustained itself.

What is most amusing but also terrifying to ponder is: Who are these bejeweled toddlers going to be when they’re adults? Will they fit in the real world, will they try out for “The Real World” or, because of the presently astounding superficiality in today’s culture, will they assimilate just fine into the normal working world?

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