Monday, August 20, 2007

Kid Nation Puts CBS in the Hot Seat

A quick post today to draw your attention to the latest YPulse Daily, wherein anastasia relays some troubling news about new reality show Kid Nation. From anastasia's "YPulse WTF Files":
I've blogged earlier about how CBS's new reality show "Kid Nation" seems like a recipe for child exploitation (and calling out the parents for letting them participate). Now the show is drawing claims of possible child abuse. From the New York Times article, reg. required:

Several children required medical attention after drinking bleach that had been left in an unmarked soda bottle, according to both the parent and CBS. One 11-year-old girl burned her face with splattered grease while cooking.

The L.A. Times piece, reg. required, reported:

On July 16, Television Week revealed that sources in the New Mexico Department of Labor claimed the children worked as many as 14 hours a day and were taken advantage of because of statutes on the books that protected theatrical and film productions from child labor restrictions.

But what's really unnerving is this quote from a CBS executive (Ghen Maynard) in the L.A. Times about how the show was greenlit with the hope of creating buzz:

"I thought it could be a way to try to get some attention on a broadcast level for a new kind of show, one that really put young kids to the test," he tells the Los Angeles Times. He also says that criticism from media scholars (who the paper talks to) and others is "reasonable."

Of course they're already planning the second season....WTF?

For more info, you should also read an earlier post about the show by Izzy Neis, this article from, the LA Times article, and some of activist/child advocacy activities going on at Ethics Scoreboard and A Minor Consideration.


Anonymous said...

I CANNOT wait for this show to start!!!! My son (15yo) sent in his application and video for Kid Nation 2 in July and has already been contacted by the assistant casting director!! From the 4 minutes of video I have seen the "work" these children did was nothing more than what is done on a working farm every day. We laughed hysterically when one young participant said, "I'm a princess I don't do dishes!" UNBELIEVEABLE!!!!! No wonder our society's work ethic is going down the drain. People baby their children, give them whatever they want, do everything for them and then release them into society totally unprepared for the "real world" - NOW THAT'S CHILD ABUSE!!!!
My son is praying he is chosen so he can show the nation that there are kids who know what it takes to live on their own and be role model and helper for those who struggle.

Anonymous said...

The problem is the "nation" doesn't care about what a group of kids can accomplish on TV. It's not a social experiment. It's reality TV that will surely come with all of the angst and controversy that compels people to watch reality TV in the first place.

There are laws and standard business practices in place for a reason. Without them, people take advantage of children.

I'm all for adventure camp, and physical work for children - but not when it comes at the expense of real children being portrayed as themselves however the editor chooses on national TV while CBS' gets to enjoy a VERY profitable result.

Anyone reading this blog who thinks the problem stops at.. "Oh no, this little princess might have gotten a blister" doesn't understand the complexity of this issue.

I hope the talented, gifted, driven, compassionate children in our country today find a much better purpose for their talents than a "fake" purpose reality TV show and 15 minutes of fame.. or shame.

Sara M. Grimes said...

I also think that there's a big difference between kids' doing chores, farm work, and creative work (such as acting) and the type of thing that seems to be going on in "Kid Nation." The purpose may not be to teach them skills, pass down knowledge (as in farm work), or even necessarily to showcase their talent, but rather to put them in situations and scenarios where their very lack of experience will be used to generate ratings. There are two issues I'd like to "chime in" on - the nature of the work, and the nature of the venue.

First off, I think that most people would agree that children being forced into 14 hour work days is unacceptable in any scenario, as is exposing kids to materials and situations where they could get hurt without proper warning, training, and monitoring. A farming family that pulled their kids out of school and put them to work for that amount of time, in potentially dangerous and unmonitored conditions (well, except for the camera-operators, but that's another issue altogether), could also be charged with violating child labour and education laws, or at the very least get a visit from the local social worker. This is not a group of fifteen year olds learning to work hard during a summer on the farm. The group includes 8 year olds as well, and the skills and tasks may or may not even fall within the domain of what's reasonable (or useful) children's work. While we have to wait and see if these specific accusations have any substance, the long history of abuse of children's rights -- to proper education and compensation, for example, as well as unacceptably long hours -- within the entertainment industry more than justifies the adoption of a critical stance in this case.

The second issue involves the context. Generally, I think that reality shows are pretty complex things - on the one hand, we cheer contestants along and celebrate their triumphs. On the other hand, we also take a certain pleasure in watching contestants fail, and pass judgment on their mistakes or weaknesses. As the second anonymous commenter suggests, both narratives are highly scripted during the editing process, which determines heroes and villains, storylines and plot twists, by picking and choosing which scenes to broadcast and therefore shaping how the characters and events will be perceived by the audience. This is in addition to the "scripting" that occurs at the audition stage, where groups are picked to reflect various types...which will include hard-workers like your son, anonymous one, but also "princesses" who will add to the drama and perhaps even fulfill the role of 'villain'. Should kids be accountable for how they act and are portrayed on TV? The "Star Wars Kid" springs to mind, but other cases of bullying that centered on the victim's vlog, YouTube video or other form of online content are also relevant.

Does this mean that kids can't be a part of reality TV? Not in the least - I watched a great series this summer called "Shaq's Great Challenge" that managed to address a very sensitive topic (childhood obesity) while still treating its child participants with quite a lot of dignity and respect. I'm just not convinced that "Kid Nation" has applied a comparable level of awareness and many of you, I'll be keeping an eye on this story as it develops.

Sara M. Grimes said...

Oops - make that "Shaq's Big Challenge".