In Defense of Kid Nation
September 20, 2007
Let me just say that I do not have children of my own. If I did, my view of the new reality based television show from CBS about 40 tykes in the New Mexico desert might be different, but I doubt it. Having watched the premiere episode, it seems obvious these brave kids have taken on an adult-sized challenge with courage and passed with flying colors. Kid Nation just might be poised to become the next big hit, as well as do something that TV seldom does – enlighten and inspire its audience. Unfortunately, the production was criticized as soon as the premise leaked. Critics alluded to violation of child labor laws, blamed greedy parents and warned of potentially life threatening situations even before a single minute had aired. Newsweek’s Joshua Alston has said that Kid Nation is an example of “how low popular culture can go” and made the inevitable comparison to William Golding’s 1954 classic novel, Lord of the Flies. A group of children, left to fend for themselves in the wilderness with no adult supervision. What will happen? Will chaos ensue? Will the children turn on each other and start dropping boulders on kids they want to “vote out”? As it turns out, chaos yes… boulders on kids, not so much.
Although we see the occasional bouts of anarchy (hey, these are children), what shines through is how well the children adapt. Led to an abandoned town in New Mexico, these 40 kids learned how to function as a society for 40 days without the benefit of parents, teachers or even guardians. The adult host and the camera crew would appear to be the only supervision given, but the show’s producers also provided for instant, around the clock medical attention and counseling for any child that required it. Reports do indicate that several minor injuries occurred on set including a sprained ankle, a burn due to cooking with hot oil, and one child ingested bleach accidentally. Ask any parent and I’m sure they’ll tell you that a single injury is one too many, but in exchange each child got a guaranteed $5K, chances to win $20K more, plus a once in a life-time opportunity to learn responsibility, make new friends and challenge themselves.
Kid Nation succeeds because it has just enough structure to keep the children focused running the town and working towards those coveted golden stars. Prizes and challenges aside, best part of the show is the kids themselves. The parents of these children should be proud, and with good reason. Sophia, age 14 helped feed the entire posse even though she’s never cooked before. Greg, age 15 helped another child who had a muscle spasm onto the back of a wagon and pulled him into town. Michael, age 14 stood up during a shouting match and lent a calm opinion to the town’s ruling council. And Taylor, age 10, resisted the urge to return to her family, and instead helped lead her yellow team to victory over older and stronger kids to become the town cooks. All of these children are remarkable and I’m delighted that their parents have allowed us to get a sneak peak at their pride and joys.
I’m sure in the weeks ahead, it won’t all be teamwork and high-fives in Bonanza City. Problems will arise, just as they do in real life, and these resourceful sons and daughters will have to figure out how to deal with them. They have already shown the type of resilience that many adults can only dream of. If I did have children of my own, I would let them participate and gain as much from the experience as they possibly could. Today’s kids are coddled, fawned over and more often than not, spoiled. Kid Nation might be a game show, but at the end of the day, these young ones will take home much more than just prize money. They will have the satisfaction of knowing they were a part of something life changing. They will look at themselves and other children in a different light, and perhaps all of us watching at home will too. I suspect TV viewers will see the good parts of the show, forget the burn and the bleach, and reward CBS with a winner. Nothing would be a more fitting tribute to these kids’ brave nation.