The Kids Are Not Alright
by Laurie Ouellette — University of Minnesota
October 09, 2007 – 03:01
The controversy over the new CBS reality show Kid Nation has focused in part on whether the TV network evaded child labor laws when filming 8 to 11-year olds sequestered “to build a new society” from a New Mexico ghost town (actually a film set). CBS claims that participating on a reality show is not the same as working a “real” job, even though a modest stipend was offered and gold stars worth $20,00 are being divvied out each episode. What nobody’s talking about is how these kids are being asked to work for mighty unfair wages as part of the so-called “experience” of being on a TV show. Based on the outcome of a weekly challenge, the kids are divided into four classes—laborers, cooks, merchants and the upper class. They scrub toilets, toil in the kitchen, stock shelves and oversee others, and are “paid” in tokens according to status. The kids placed on the lower rungs are unapologetically exploited, given only a few lousy tokens for their hard toil. In this clip, some of them spend their meager “wages” on immediate gratifications at the faux general store, while laborer Sophia enterprises herself for something more durable and costly—a bicycle. Will the other kids follow her lead by rejecting the fixed class hierarchies of old-time capitalism—not for collective bargaining or dare I say socialism, but for the entrepreneurial future? I suspect so—as CBS knows perfectly well, this is after all a reality show . . .
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