Most people can tell the difference between reality and reality TV.
You know who can’t, though? Kids. And that’s what’s really wrong with CBS’s latest contribution to the genre, Kid Nation.
Here’s a reality show aimed squarely at the age group it features: eight to 15 year olds. In Kid Nation, forty tweens and teens reside in Bonanza City, New Mexico (a privately owned town), where they are expected to create a functioning society complete with a government, while receiving only minimal supervision and instruction from adults.
The kids are equipped with stores, a town hall, and a (root-beer only) saloon, and are divided into colour-coded teams, each responsible for some facet of running the town. To their peers watching at home, it must seem pretty cool.
But the episode I saw infuriated me. The colour-coded teams compete for their role in the town (a new competition every three days — you know, to keep things fair), as well as a salary for said roles. The Upper Class — I’m not kidding, that’s what they’re called — receive $1.00 pay for the next three days and don’t have to work. The Merchants (second place) receive $0.50 for operating the stores. The Cooks (third place) are responsible for cooking and cleaning up, and receive $0.25 for their work. In last place are The Labourers, who clean the outhouses and trek to a well outside of town to get drinking water, for $0.10.
Nice, huh? Handy, weekly lessons in capitalist and elitist versions of society, class, and value. Keep the rich rich, Kid Nation instructs its young viewers, but don’t make them work for it, and keep the poor poor, while making sure they do all the work. Each episode teaches the ABCs of exploitation: The worst work, the least ideal work, receives the least amount of pay and requires the most amount of physical energy. And class-structure is on the take-home quiz: Those that can afford luxury, those that get paid the most, don’t have to do any work because those below them will. I’d wager a bet that if CBS could get away with dividing these kids into skin colour-coded groups, it would.
I thought reality TV had reached an unsurpassable low with The Bachelor, but with the introduction of Kid Nation, it’s really bottomed out. The parents of at least one of the kids are now trying to sue the show, despite signing a contract that prohibits them from doing so. If you ask me, every parent of every kid who’s watched this obscenity should be suing too.