Apparently this September, CBS will air a show they shot last spring called "Kid Nation". The premise for the show I think was kind of a "Lord of the Flies comes to life" where kids ages 8-15 were dropped into a remote movie location in New Mexico to organize themselves into a "town". Of course there was a lot of supervision of the children as provided by the show's producers, but parents themselves were not permitted on-site for the duration of the taping. Children received $5000 is they were able to survive the 40 day shoot, with the chance of one child getting the chance to win $20,000 if they were elected by their peers as the "gold star participant".
One of the parents who signed her child up for the show is now complaining that New Mexico's child protection laws were skirted during the show, and that her child was injured during the event (you can click here to read the article). In her complaint, it has come to light that parents had to sign a 22-page contract that included a clause stipulating that (according to the article) they had to "waive their rights to sue the network or production company if their children died or were injured. The agreement also acknowledged that the participants 'will have no privacy' except while using bathrooms or changing rooms." While companies that use children as actors in California have to follow strict guidelines as to the number of hours a child can work a day, as well as allow parents to be on the set with the children (as mandated by child labor laws and the Screen Actor's Guild), no such comparable laws existed in New Mexico during the taping (a situation that was changed in June of this year after furor over this production began to rise, and the New Mexico legislature took action).
The show will be promoted and advertised as an experiment where children were given all the power to make their own decisions. As an exercise where children could learn more about themselves, while we get the chance to see, left to themselves, how kids would fare on their own. I'm sure the show will be spun as a way of helping kids understand how good they have it living with their parents, and ultimately, how much the participants learned from the experience.
But really, given what we know about the show, what did this show really reveal to us about ourselves?
It's becoming clear now, as the state of New Mexico scrambles to change their law as a means of making sure that nothing like this production happens again on its soil, that while the show might highlight humanity at it's best, it also lowlights it at its worst. The production company, while continually defending how it conducted itself, obviously played semantics with New Mexico labor law in an effort to get the product it wanted. No way would a minor as young at 8 years old be permitted to work non-stop, which is essentially what the kids were doing if they were constantly being filmed even while sleeping. And too, now that's it come to light that the families received only $5000 for the 40 days of constant taping, one can't help but wonder what was going through the minds of those parents while they essentially waived their parental rights and ultimately the life and death of their children for over a month to an entertainment company and television network. I mean, even if there was the possibility of $20k for the ultimate "winner", how far did parents think that was going to go toward college, or for that matter anything else?
And how much would $20k be worth if something happened to your child?
The fact of the matter is that this show highlights how little power these kids actually had in the course of this project. There's no possible way an eight year old could make a well-thought out decision about his or her participation in something like this. What's more, knowing what was at stake, pressure was put on the children, even if they didn't want to stay, to stick it out as a means of "winning the prize". So kids, not really knowing what they were getting into, were then put under intense pressure to tough it out under the end.
Ultimately, these kids were totally at the mercy of the producers who had essentially in their own interpretation of New Mexico state law, were able to ignore child labor regulations and use the kids as they pleased. And that, friends, really rubs me the wrong way.
In any event, don't go looking for the Buchers to watch "Kid Nation" or for Max or Xavier to be on "Kid Nation 2" anytime soon. For this is a lesson in power I'd rather they not learn at such a tender age.