Kid Nation

CBS is currently running Kid Nation, a reality show with 40 children (ages 8-15) by themselves in an old ghost town in the Old West.  Think Survivor except the kids don’t get voted off.  They can leave if they like, but only by their own choice.  The only adults are the film crew, who don’t interfere.

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The kids go through various challenges, mental, physical, emotional, etc.  The show’s producers rachet up the drama with various competitions, rewards, etc.  I’ve watched all the episodes so far and it is very entertaining.  All episodes are available for free at Kid Nation, and also on YouTube.  But is it moral?

Is there a moral problem with giving kids emotional pain to let us watch for entertainment.  These kids manipulate and control each other . . . at times there is abusive language and the beginings of physical fights (but none have really materialized on screen yet).  For example, the town’s chickens become pets for the younger kids, a source of friendship and emotional security.  Then, the older kids decide to eat the chickens and so they chop off their heads with everyone standing around.  Some kids crying.  Is that a valid source of entertainment?  This is not just something that happened, it was staged for our entertainment.

What do you think?  Does this show cross some sort of moral boundary? 

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5 responses to “Kid Nation

  1. I can’t immediately think of any particular moral issue at stake—I’m assuming the kids aren’t in any mortal danger or at risk for long-term psychological trauma—but the show does strike me as somehow distasteful. If I had kids, I probably wouldn’t let them participate in that sort of thing.

  2. I guess what I mean is . . .

    Of course this kind of thing happens to kids all the time anyway. Kids get hurt on playgrounds everyday. But in this show, we are intentionally hurting children for the purpose of entertainment.

    Think of a hypothetical “reality” TV show where a very large person goes up to kids on a playground and pushes them so hard that they fall into mud puddles and get all dirty. Then the kids cry and we all laugh. How is Kid Nation different morally? It is certainly more interesting and entertaining, but is it different morally? I’m really looking for good dialogue here, because I’m not real sure . . .

  3. This one’s easy. If you want a precedent there’s the Jenny Jones Schmitz/Amedure controversy. In a nutshell “televised reality leads to real murder.”

    But

    I think most people who watch Kid Nation will fall back on the “well, it’s really happening, and this really happens all the time” rationalization. And they might take it as some sort of sociological experiment and bring it up in conversation (“I was watching this wonderfully insightful program, and it turns out, kids are assholes”).
    And for the most part, people will find nothing amoral about this. It’s almost scientific, right?

    Oh, but when the commercial break starts, and there are ads for medication, toys, video games, fast food, shoes, trips to theme parks… hopefully some of us will be disgusted with the actual level of exploitation taking place.

    Who’s to blame? The parents whoring out their children? The producers providing the experience? The corporations taking the viewer’s money? Or the eager audience making it all worthwhile?

    I could see this turning into a very Swiftian movie.

  4. I have to say that this is really good entertainment.

    And what the heck….they’re eating each other now..

  5. What is more morally bankrupt, teaching a child that chicken is something your get with fries and a coke at KFC or teaching a child that the reality of tasty chicken comes from the reality of chicken slaughter?

    I think children need to understand that food does not originate packaged in a supermarket.

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