Saturday, December 15, 2007

Kid Nation

You know, usually I have the good sense to actually form an opinion before I try to express it, and heaven knows half the time I have nothing better to do than form opinions. I got more opinions than a bunch of inebriated socialite women at a costume party.

But I don't quite know how I felt about Kid Nation.

I know how I feel about Reality Shows. I hate them.

I hate the whole premise of them. They're everything I hate about game shows, magnified to a huge degree.

What I hate about them is this:

On a regular fiction show, the idea is generally that you take a noble character, give them a terrible problem, and despite repeated failures, they overcome and triumph.

This pattern teaches nobility, teaches overcoming your problems, and makes the world a little bit better place. It's why this form of fiction, as an art form, has endured for thousands of years.

Now, enter reality TV. And the premise of reality TV is this:

People will allow themselves to be put in situations where they could potentially be publicly humiliated, in exchange for even the slimmest chance at money.

And other people will tune in to watch people who have the potential of being humiliated at any moment.

That's generally not the starting premise, of course. It starts out with some noble premise like starting a business or overcoming fear or finding love. But the minute the cameras start rolling, these reality show producers, desperate for something exciting, start looking for any stupidity, idiocy, contention, or humiliation.

And thus reality TV degenerates into a cesspool.

Enter Kid Nation.

Now, we're not just humiliating adults by giving them a shot at money, we're getting parents to offer up their kids for humiliation in exchange for a shot at money.

It makes me sick to my stomach when I see people put their kids in front of Simon Cowell. I don't care if my daughter grows up to be the most talented singer this fine nation has ever produced--I will never put her in front of Simon Cowell. If she's that good a singer, we don't need Simon Cowell to tell her that, and if she happens to blow it, I've set her up for public humiliation on the most popular show in all America. It's practically a no-win situation.

The premise of Kid Nation is well known: they took a bunch of kids, stuck them in a "ghost town" in the southwest without any adult supervision, to see what kind of society they would set up.

At least, that was the premise. In reality, it was, take a bunch of kids and stick them in a "Ghost town" in the southwest and stick cameras in their faces all the time, so they know Mom and Dad will see every minute of it and then give them things to argue about so we can film it.

The stuff they were supposed to argue about ranged from death (should we kill chickens to eat them?) to religion (What, if anything, should we do to accommodate religion in Bonanza city?) to politics. You know--all that stuff you don't discuss in polite company. Let's haul your kids away and see what we can get them to say about it when the cameras roll.

And then, at the end of every episode, one of the kids gets a "Gold Star," a prop that means they've won $20,000. This is voted on by a town council, a group of kids that makes most of the decisions and who can give the rest of the kids someone to argue with.

I have to say, I'm not inherently opposed to the idea of competitive shows featuring kids. Like every kid of my generation, I didn't look at the kids on Double Dare crawling through the slime and think, "Stop degrading yourself! You're wading through muck for the man! And for what? A prop from the set of You Can't Do That On Television?"

I looked at the kids on Double Dare and thought, "I would totally take the physical challenge."

Kids thrive on competition. A chance to win something here and there is good for them. A chance to win or lose in front of people is good for them.

A chance to cook their own meals is good for them. A chance to be away from home is good for them. A chance to make decisions for themselves is good for them.

So it's not that I'm opposed to the idea of a show like this.

And I certainly don't have anything against any of the kids. They tried really hard, all of them, and a lot of maturity crept through.

So what was it that left me feeling so empty when the show was over? What was I waiting for that never showed up?

I don't think I realized it, right now, writing this, but now it seems obvious in retrospect. I think I was waiting for the biggest twist of all: Some sign that the producers cared. The show was done, the kids had jumped through all the producer's hoops, and I think I was just waiting for that one big final twist that said, hey, kids, we know you gave up your summer so we could make some money, and we know we sort of put you up to fighting with each other and we know things were sort of rough out here--here's a little something for everybody who didn't get a gold star.

But there was nothing like that. Couple kids got a couple bigger gold stars, and then it was over. No twist, no big finale.

Not saying the producers didn't play fair or that anybody got gypped. Judging by the way the show was edited (and who knows how accurate that is?) when the kids signed up, they didn't even know there were going to be gold stars.

I guess I just liked some of these kids enough that I ended up hoping this would be the show that would abandon the principles that make me hate reality shows.

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