Monday, September 17, 2007

Kid Nation/Sad Nation

I understand that reality television is now entrenched in American culture, but I don’t watch it. Believe it or not I don’t even watch American Idol. I don’t have to. It’s become so mainstream all I have to do is watch the news or listen to conversations around me to know who was voted off or who did what. Why waste time watching?

Kid Nation is the latest reality show offering to be seen shortly on CBS. I believe with any media craze there are lines of decorum and what is proper. I believe the production of Kid Nation has crossed that line.

There are several instances surrounding this Lord of the Flies redoux that don’t seem to be following best practices.

*I find it disturbing that a group of program creators sat around in a room brainstorming new programing ideas and decided it would be a great idea to take a deserted ghost town in the Santa Fe desert and drop 40 kids there simply to see what would happen. Let me repeat that……to simply see what would happen.

* I find it sad that people employed by various networks cannot come up with any type of creative programming other than shows that often humiliate participants and help to feed voyeur tendencies. Hollywood unions have also begun to charge reality television is merely a greedy ploy by production companies and media outlets to avoid expenses for storylines and scripts. In a recent AP article union officials charge that reality shows do have writers that should be compensated according to union guidelines and that some of the contestants/performers/participants could be covered under collective bargaining agreements. If charges like this is what it will take to finally end garbage television (not that it was that great to begin with) I’m all for it.

*It disturbs me greatly that parents signed away their rights including decisions regarding medical attention for the sum of $5,000. A New York Times article reported parents had agreed to allow their children to “do whatever they were told to do by the show’s producers, 24 hours a day, seven days a week or risk expulsion from the show.” Decisions regarding medical attention were left entirely up to CBS and producers. As a parent I find this fact appalling considering four children drank bleach. There had to be a cameraman around…..why didn’t someone stop them?

*I’m also disturbed that in order to film the episodes students had to miss several weeks of school including the month of April. That’s testing time in my neck of the woods, and in my district I believe those six weeks of absences would be unexcused. Oh, but wait. Silly Me! Sorry Mr. and Mrs. Parent----nevermind----- it’s ok because your child is going to be A STAR!

*Screen Actors Guild representatives became involved after complaints from parents, members, and former young performers who were “appalled at the way [the] kids [from the Kid Nation show] were treated.” After taking a look at the contract the Kid Nation parents signed the deputy national executive for SAG said, “it’s been a long time since we’ve seen such egregious provisions for any performer, let alone children.”

This article from September 5th discusses the contract parents signed a bit further. The lanuguage of the contract prevents parents from suing CBS even if their child died during the “inherently dangerous” shoot.

The article continues: The contract said that the show was “inherently dangerous” and could expose the minor children to “uncontrolled hazards and conditions that may cause serious bodily injury, illness or death.” In the first paragraph it reads, “By signing this Participant Agreement, I represent that I have read, understood and voluntarily agreed to abide by it’s terms and conditions and have explained to the Minor the contents and the meanings of this Participant Agreement to the Minor.”

Just in case Junior didn’t grasp the legal ramifications explained to him, the contract posted at goes on to say, “I acknowledge that by signing this Participant Agreement, I will be giving up certain legal rights on behalf of myself and the Minor.” Parents also signed a clause that released liability in case of “emotional distress, illness, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, pregnancy and death.”

*A May article in Variety states: the goal for the children is to build a functional society. They have to pass laws, choose leaders, and build an economy. There are situations where children are given choices between things they need and things they want. The producer, Tom Forman, suggested real-world tasks such as preparing a group breakfast, doing hard physical chores like fetching water, and making group decisions constituted an educational experience in its own right. While many educators simulate economic situations in their classroom to teach the basics of economics, I wonder how many of my colleagues would still be teaching if we allowed even a modicum of the things we see presented in the show's trailer?

*There are no eliminations on the show and children can leave anytime they want, but a five pointed carrot is waved in front of participant’s faces. The ultimate gold star is given away in each episode…….it is worth $20,000. Even my very young students would understand how helpful that would be to family finances. Should this sort of pressure be placed on children twelve and younger? I don’t think so.

If mom and dad want to be reality tv stars and air their dirty laundry so be it, but it is a sad day in America when we allow children to be the focus of a “What if” experiment.

My policy of not watching reality television will continue.


loonyhiker said...

When I first heard of this show, I immediately thought of the book Lord of the Flies. It scared me to think we were putting kids in this position on purpose and then actually considering it entertainment. I didn't watch the show either.

diane said...

Evidently people are also ready to sell their daughters as brides. And I wouldn't be surprised if, some day, that bogus European competition to win transplant parts becomes a "real" TV show.

(I was pointed here by Secondhand Thoughts. Nice to meet you!)

Jane said...

I wasn't going to watch, but one of my friends who is also a parent said that he looked forward to watching with his son. Then I caught the kids talking about it on Ellen. I decided to see what it was all about. Have to say, I was really impressed with how the children conducted themselves. Or, rather how it was edited to portray the children. The kids came off as smart, well mannered and thoughtful. I hope it continues to portray the kids in a positive light. Interestingly enough, not one of my third graders watched it.

30plusteacher said...

Thanks for visiting everyone. It's nice to have some comments.

ambdillev said...

I have throughly enjoyed watching this show. It may be the editing that was referred to in an earlier comment, but I feel that these children are coming off as responsible and intelligent...great role models for my 3rd graders! I love the 1st episode where they are given the choice of between outhouses and a TV as a reward...and they chose the outhouses!!! I have recommended them watching this show each week, and we have lively discussions regarding their take on what has happened. I am looking forward each week to see what happens, ans so are my students.
As for parents allowing their children to participate, I think is is obviously their choice. I teaching in a lower economic area where the parents have the kids during this (and more) each day with no pay! Some of my students at the ripe old age of 8 (the youngest age of children on Kid Nation) are already cooking, cleaning, taking care of their brothers and sisters, and just already being adults. I think some people need to have a reality check and consider that it's OK to teach our children some work ethic. Adults are there on location for emergencies as they arise...the contracts are to cover their behinds in a sue crazy world!

Jim Doughty said...

I have read the Kid Nation Participants Agreement in its entirety – I have never seen such a poorly put together document. It appears to be cobbled together from other boilerplate documents; in the process, it gets lost in its [un]stated purpose – to define the rights, obligations and limitations of all parties involved. Nowhere does it state precisely just what the kids are expected to do – it is real good at saying just what they cannot do.
It is painfully obvious that whoever wrote this document has no idea of how to deal with kids and with the various state and federal laws relating to kids, their legal rights, their legal protections regarding physical and emotional medical needs, and the simple fact that they are not to be treated as adults. If a kid gets hurt, he/she can be patched up [eventually] and made whole. If a kid dies as a result of being under the control of someone else, that someone else will have to bear some responsibility regardless of the Participants Agreement.

Because they are under the control of someone else, they must be considered employees of the production company. By no stretch can they be seen as individual contactors who assume their own risk for their well being, such as stuntmen who come in for a relatively short time period to perform a specific task. Because these kids are employees, the producers are facing a real hornets nest of legal obligations that this so-called Participants Agreement utterly fails to address – therefore, that document is null and void on its face. If need be, the parents can move however they feel they must to obtain legal redress.

I have watched every segment of the show that has been broadcast. I am impressed with how the kids have handled themselves and been able to respond in a manner far beyond their years to create a functional society. The producers do deserve credit for establishing a basic structure – the four tier workers system, the four group system that gives the kids a bite size group with whom to relate, and the well planned contests that can push the kids a bit without blowing them away.

I find myself a bit jealous of not having had an opportunity such as this when I was younger to get up close and personal with other kids. This is a wonderful opportunity for them to gain and hone social skills that will be with them for the rest of their lives. I have heard that the producers will have a hard time finding a site within the borders of the U. S. to make any more Kid Nation shows. If they can adopt a more conciliatory attitude and openly work with the parents and the states, I am sure they can get all the approvals they need to continue this work. I really hope that happens – the show portrays such good basic human values, I would hate to see it disappear.



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