The screaming face of Macaulay Culkin, with his hands clasped to the sides of his youthful cheeks, is one of the most iconic images of 1990s popular culture, portraying a young actor commanding the screen in the prime of his life. Primed to be one of the greatest actors of his generation, Culkin’s rise to prominence and unfortunate fall from childhood stardom all came in the space of a decade, a victim to the fleeting interests of commercial western culture.
Macaulay Culkin’s Hollywood prominence truly started at the dawn of the 1990s, a decade that permeated with the promise of the new millennium. After dipping his toes into the field of acting alongside John Candy in 1989s Uncle Buck, it was his role as the young defender of the McCallister household in Chris Columbus’ Home Alone that would catapult the actor into the immediate Hollywood limelight. Earning the 10-year-old boy both a Golden Globe nomination and a Young Artist Award, Home Alone, despite only being his fifth credited role, would prove to be the very pinnacle of his acting career.
Culkin certainly kept on his toes in the years following Home Alone’s success, starring in children’s cartoon series Wish Kid whilst appearing in Michael Jackson’s ‘Black or White’ music video and acting in his second critical success, My Girl. Culkin was beginning to find his feet and was swept up, quite literally, by contemporary popular culture, hosting Saturday Night Live in 1991. A product of the decade rather than an individual of influence, Culkin would reprise his role as Kevin McCallister in 1992’s Home Alone 2: Lost in New York and play the villain in the thriller The Good Son before taking his foot off the accelerator, decreasing in stature.
Following a string of successive box office failures in 1994, including Getting Even with Dad, The Pagemaster, and Richie Rich, Culkin’s career had ground to a sudden, unforeseen stop. Culkin retreated to his personal life to recuperate, all whilst his parents were going through a bitter divorce that resulted in a fierce custody battle. Turning 18 in 1998, Culkin stated in an interview with Ellen Degeneres in 2018: “I felt like some kid worked really, really hard, and I inherited all of his money. It allows me to treat everything like a hobby. I do nothing for my dinner nowadays”.
There was a disconnect between the figurine of popular culture that was Kevin McCallister and the adolescent actor Macaulay Culkin, as the latter found re-entering the industry wasn’t as easy as his emergence in 1990. Marked only by sporadic success throughout the early 21st century in films such as 2003s Party Monster, Saved! a year later, and Sex and Breakfast in 2007, it became clear Culkin would never reach the heights of Home Alone once more.
Seeking alternative avenues to success, Culkin set up the musical-comedy group The Pizza Underground in 2013, a group that largely parodied the songs of The Velvet Underground, with notable pizza-related lyrics added in. Additionally, he also created his own comedy brand in 2018 known as Bunny Ears, intended to parody celebrity culture and their promotional products, noting in an interview with Dazed: “There’s a hole in the ‘celebrity lifestyle’ articles market, and we’re filling it with fun, unique satire”.
Popping up throughout the landscape of media, from YouTube shows to podcasts to advertisements, Macaulay Culkin would forever represent an ornament to the past, a figure of nostalgia rather than a serious acting talent. Content outside of the dazzling spotlight of Hollywood, Culkin’s career is a bizarre one, representing the fleeting nature of popular culture, along with films and TV programmes, it appears too that celebrities are easily dispensable.