Kids have it nice here in the future. What with their hover boards, hover ponies and hover sexting. They get their whole lives handed to them on a silver platter (that hovers).
It wasn't always so easy. Back in the day, people had only one reason to produce offspring: To force them to do the abhorrently awful work no grown person would dare to. And if you think child labor didn't get any worse than dirty-faced children in Victorian shoe factories, well, you apparently haven't heard about...
Oh, man. You know by the name this isn't going to end well. Castrati.
The thing is, today the theater struggles to retain audiences. In fact, the only thing that draws folks back to the aging whore that is the stage is the chance to see live, 3D nudity. And even that's getting quickly replaced.
Your move, Shakespeare.
But the 1600s were a different time. A time when hookers were honest and the stages were free from all those icky, heathen women. In fact, no woman was allowed in the choir or stage production in the 17th century. Theater houses were like those ball pits at McDonald's... you know, if those little plastic balls were actual balls.
Nonetheless, playwrights and composers kept writing female parts. To keep the songs from sounding like a barbershop quartet comprised of bulky Hungarian dudes, the choir masters would give the womanly roles or alto parts to prepubescent boys. And, every so often, one talented scamp's melodious voice would catch the master's ear and become the prize pupil.
But of course, all good things come to an end. Flowers bloom, caterpillars turn into beautiful butterflies and boys go through the often traumatizing experience of puberty.
Just ask Macaulay Culkin.
But for those boys whose sopranos were sweet enough to make a mob boss weep, a minor surgery could preserve their voice, joining them to the ranks of the castrati. In fact, 70 percent of stage performers in the 17th century were castrati.
A fad that reappeared in the 1970s.
And how did one become an illustrious member of the castrati? You already guessed, you just won't admit it to yourself. It was via the process of cutting blood supply to the testicles, or more commonly amputating them altogether.
How did they perform such an invasive--and not to mention traumatizing--surgery on a six- to 12-year-old kid? By giving them a bath. They simply soaked them in a tub of water to soften them up, and then performed the surgery when they were rendered unconscious. We assume the unconscious part came from telling the seven-year-old that they were not, in fact, receiving candy for this public bathing but actually getting their balls chopped off.
Then castrati might hope for a good 10 year run as a performer, after which the boy would only be 17 and rethinking the long term strategy of a castration career. Of course, settling down and getting married wasn't an option, unless the boy could find that one in a million girl turned on by non-existent erections.
I think I just felt- no nevermind. Just a breeze.
Eventually, castratis fell out of fashion in the late 1700s, not because of the ridiculously brutal violence visited upon little boys, but because the Italian soap opera plots they performed in became too silly to watch. The audiences didn't mind the castrations; it was the authenticity of the scripts that turned them off. Hear that, M. Night Shyamalan? No amount of castrated boys could save your films from sucking.
Coal remains one of the most vital sources of energy the world over, but mining the stuff continues to be an ugly, incredibly dangerous business. So picture how rough it was prior to the 20th century when coal provided virtually the only power source, and the height of safety technology involved ropes, carts and yelling, "Run!" when stuff blew up.
Or if they were really rad, they would simply walk away calmly.
You couldn't imagine worse working conditions. Explosions, shaft cave-ins, asphyxiation, black lung; it was all in a day's work for Ye Old coal miners. To put it in perspective, we have more than once left work early because we felt "itchy."
Of course, the only way to ensure any measure of safety and success back then was to rely on the most experienced and well-trained coal miners. Or children. Yeah, screw it, children will do.
They would have used bunnies, but they were resistant to learn the trade.
From ages as young as four, children were employed in the art of hurrying: pulling giant sled loads of coal through tiny shafts. Children made perfect carriers because their short stature allowed them to crawl around two foot tunnels in the bowels of the Earth for 12 hours a shift. You might wonder why midgets were not employed. Because midgets are people too, jerk.
Evil, evil, little people.
Oh, and did we mention the children were often forced to do the work naked? Perhaps clothes were forbidden because loose articles might catch on shaft walls. Or perhaps the idea of a fully-clothed child crawling on their belly in an ink black hole deep underground came off as too dignified.
The fact is, there was no physical need for mine shafts to be constructed that small, and therefore no need to employ children. Building shafts over 24-inches wide just cost more. It's simple Supply and Demand: people kept supplying disposable children, and mining companies kept demanding those kids to shimmy their little asses down the scary, dark hell mouth.
If Hollywood taught us anything about life at sea it's that it's rough, dirty and a little sexually ambiguous. If you were a strapping young lad in the 18th or 19th century and wanted to experience life on the high seas firsthand, you simply volunteered for the position of Loblolly Boy.
Alternatively, be in a Disney movie.
Considered the lowliest position on the boat, a Loblolly's day included serving food and cleaning medical instruments. Oh, and cleaning up blood and severed limbs.
See, the Loblolly played the roles of janitor, waiter and nurse on a ship. The position's name derived from the name of a thick oatmeal gruel or porridge, perhaps with a bit of meat or some vegetables in it that the boy was in charge of serving. The Loblolly stew was also called spoon meat but likely no one wanted a "Spoon Meat Boy" on board.
First, there was the simple job of cleaning, which sounds like fine entry-level work, except it mainly consisted of cleaning up motion-sick rider's barf and throwing sand over the blood and guts covering the deck during a battle.
"Mind the wet floor, gentlemen. Don't slip and hurt yourselves."
But even that had to be less traumatizing than the Loblolly's role as assistant to the ship surgeon, considering this wasn't exactly the days of blue scrubs and sterile operating rooms. The job included collecting up amputated limbs, pouring hot tar on wounds and cleaning bed pans.
We're going to guess that there were more than a few "mercy" killings.
And the reward at the end of a good day's work was a punch in the face. Probably.