Posted on April 17, 2012 ยท Posted in Social Media

Let me preface this by saying that I’m not criticizing Caine at all, rather this post is looking at how he is being managed and whether expectations are being set too high for someone who a week ago was just an average kid.

Caine’s Arcade has become the feel good story of 2012. For those who don’t know, a 9-year-old boy in East Los Angeles constructed a cardboard arcade one summer in his dad’s auto parts store. The only problem was that no one played it because there wasn’t much foot traffic in the area. That all changed during a chance meeting when a young filmaker came to the store looking for a door handle, saw the arcade and became Caine’s first official customer. Last week an 11 minute short film was released online showing the arcade and how they setup a flash mob to give Caine the best day of his life.

It’s nothing short of heartwarming and when you see him light up at the sight of a large crowd wanting to check out his arcade, it gives you a great feeling, a validation of all those childhood ideas and play projects that never became reality.

Over the last week, Caine has become a celebrity and that bothers me more than other child viral video stars. The problem is that Caine now has a big college fund and now the aptly named Caine’s Arcade Foundation which in my opinion is putting a lot of pressure him to perform. We’re forgetting he’s a 9-year-old kid, not an engineer – yet we’re already looking at him and imagining the possibilites of him designing mile high skyscrapers, Fifth Element type cars or figuring out perpetual motion.

That’s not to say it isn’t possible and with the right mentors he could very well build amazing machines or design works of art but the most likely scenario is that he won’t be the next Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison and I worry that people will be disappointed if he isn’t solving the great engineering dilemmas that will confront mankind.

I cringe at the thought of the internet 9 years from now should Caine choose not to go to college or ends up taking classes at a community college. I can only imagine the teasing and backlash of an internet community that was expecting accomplishments he’s all too human to deliver.

But that’s just one component, the second side is the people that are managing him and setting up foundations and international interviews. Looking at how his Facebook page and social media accounts are being handled, I get the sense that there is a sense of entitlement by the people who “made” Caine and thus believe they should profit. Yesterday for example Toyota ads began showing up on the Youtube video for Caine’s Arcade and his Facebook page was shaming Toyota and asking the company to donate all ad revenue to Caine’s Foundation ASAP. They also called Google to the carpet demanding a full explanation and immediate removal of the ads. To me that sounds like a PR professional wanting to stay on message more than trying to keep things ad free.

Most commenters agreed that they were overstepping their boundaries and it was mentioned multiple times that bandwidth and servers cost money and that YouTube was just trying to cover costs on a popular 11-minute HD video. They later backed off but it really made me wonder whether Caine has a voice in anything that’s going on. Does a 9-year-old really need a foundation? Is he really comfortable suddenly appearing on the news and answering questions? Does Caine have the power to take a day off?

Furthermore what will he do for Act II? The arcade is going to get old and the media and internet will inevitably want the sequel. We’ve already indirectly set expectations through his college fund and some are already clamoring for another hit. There will be pressure to come up with the next great DIY project that’s both cute and innovative but he’s lost the appeal of a young kid that made an arcade on a dream. He’s now a stock and he needs to continue to perform.

I know this is a poor analogy but I can’t help think of Jessica Dubroff, a 7-year-old whose love of flight was pushed too far by handlers and a media that wanted her to set every aviation record imaginable and in doing so led to her tragic death.

Don’t forget … he’s just a kid