July 16, 2007

"It's hard to find good adult reality characters. They all know what they're supposed to do. You need participants who didn't grow up on this stuff."

That is, you need children to exploit. But isn't it wrong to expose children to mockery? Isn't it evil to take advantage of their lack of understanding of reality show editing? And exactly how did CBS steer clear of violating child labor laws and compulsory schooling laws when it filmed "Kid Nation"? They left 40 kids in a ghost town and filmed all their waking hours. The kids had to take care of themselves and solve their own problems -- for our entertainment. And there were no teachers, even though it was not summer vacation time?
How’d they do it? By literally declaring the production a "summer camp" instead of a place of employment; by taking advantage of a loophole in New Mexico labor rules [exempting TV productions] two months before the state legislature tightened the law, and using a ghost town that wasn’t exactly a ghost town....

"We would wake up the kids at 7 a.m. and were shooting them until sometimes midnight," said a member of the production crew....

"We were essentially running a summer camp," Mr. Forman said. "They’re participants in a reality show. They’re not ‘working.’ They’re living and we’re taping what’s going on. That’s the basis behind every [legal] document for the show."...

"We were basically camp counselors that followed the kids instead of led," Mr. Forman said. "We were the safety net if things had ever really got out of hand."...

"The kids loved it," one crew member said. "Some have been depressed returning to normal life."
Next season? Factory camp! Come on kids! It's a big fun game! And you can live in this run-down tenement building! No parents! No teachers!

25 comments:

Mortimer Brezny said...

This does sound like exploitation.

If kids were left alone in a ghost town, there would probably be drinking and sex. I doubt there was drinking and sex because the TV crew prevented it. That suggests the kids weren't free to do what they wanted, which means it was work for the benefit of the TV crew. Hence, it was exploitation.

They only way the TV crew could prove it wasn't exploitation is if they produced footage of kids drinking and having sex, in which case, they violated child porn laws, which means they exploited the kids, anyway.

Tim said...

Gulag Realityshowpelago.

No self-respecting adult should reward CBS by watching this.

bill said...

Wouldn't this pretty much apply to any of the reality shows that involve children? Aren't there a few mommy swap shows that must film huge portions of a child's day that would not be legal if they were "actors"?



Best reality show ever was BBC's Castaway 2000:

Castaway 2000 was a slightly different kind of reality TV show, as there were no prizes on offer - not unless you count the chance to live on a remote island in the Outer Hebrides for a year as a prize in itself. Billed as a "social experiment", Castaway left 36 people (said to be a cross section of the British public) on the island of Taransay in January 2000, for an entire year. They had to try to build a community, live off the land and use alternative energy sources.

Best reality show currently is the Tour de France coverage on Versus.

MadisonMan said...

I doubt self-respecting adults are the target audience.

P. Rich said...

If this isn't exploitation, then I'm gonna sue my dictionary publisher. Need work, Althouse?

Ann Althouse said...

bill said..."Wouldn't this pretty much apply to any of the reality shows that involve children?"

I've seen "Wife Swap" and think it is wrong to expose children like that. I don't think they understand the way they are being used (to cry and whine and misbehave on camera).

Joe said...

Most states allow persons under 18 to void contracts at any time, even if a parent also signed. The reality is that this show could be deep sixed overnight by a handful of the kids involved.

(The interesting thing is that this law was originally named after a child actor who challenged his studio contract upon turning eighteen. This is a big reason film and television producers cast actors 18 or older for younger parts--the risk is just too huge.)

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Would there be as much outrage if this had been a PBS series, akin to Frontier House or 1900 House?

Is it because a commercial network can't be trusted to do a social experiment without adding 'entertaintment'?

I was initially considering watching this show (and I normally avoid reality entertainment, as it is seldom either) based on the posiibility of it being a social experiment. Now I wonder.

bill said...

I've seen "Wife Swap" and think it is wrong to expose children like that.
Well, yeah, but that doesn't address the legality of the filming. Maybe the Swap and the Nanny shows evade the child labor laws because of the naturalistic settings? More like filming a documentary, even if that isn't the outcome. This new show, by creating a fake environment to film the kids, I see as more of an improv acting situation than a documentary. So my current gut instinct is that "Wife Swap" does not violate child labor laws but that "Kid Nation" probably does.

I don't think they understand the way they are being used (to cry and whine and misbehave on camera).
And this is the fault of their parents. I'm not sure if whoring out your children for emotional pornography should be illegal, but it should at least get you branded an unfit parent.

Ann Althouse said...

Bill, I'm not suggesting that "Wife Swap" violates child labor law, only that it's immoral to use children this way.

bill said...

Ann, I don't think we're disagreeing. Yes, I agree it's immoral to use children this way. But immoral isn't always illegal.

*I* am suggesting that "Wife Swap" probably doesn't violate child labor laws and that "Kid Nation" may violate child labor laws. As a nonlawyer type, this would seem to hinge on how exactly "child actor" is defined for each project; and, I'm assuming, this definition will be different by state.

Mortimer Brezny said...

No, this would, in theory, violate child labor laws. The hours children may work is limited, usually to 7 hours per day. These children were filmed for 14 hours at a time. If the "living at summer camp while being recorded" was really "work," then they were working for more than 7 hours per day. Which is why it matters whether they were doing what they wanted or were performing tasks under crew direction.

AJD said...

A-House Ethics, explained:

Exploiting kids for reality tv = outrageous!
Exploiting adults for reality tv = entertaining!!

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Does the show involve Ralph, a leader, Piggy, a bespectacled intellectual with asthma and a pig's head on a stake?

Eli Blake said...

Of course this is exploitation.

But what they are counting on is that there is no longer much outrage in the world, certainly not in the United States.

They've made darn sure of that. They've made sure that most people (or perhaps I should say most 'money sources,' because that's how they view 'people,') are so mind-numbed sitting there listening to their reality shows and the rest of the trash that's out there, that they will yawn when they hear something like this, or perhaps feign outrage but not bother to actually go so far as to turn it off or change the channel.

They've created a society where people want 'cool,' even if it means cruel to somebody else (like the kids chained to a loom in Asia and forced to make their 'cool' duds.)

They've created a society where 'fashionable' is more important than 'fascist,' as in if their fashionable clothes are made in a country where multinationals have far more rights than the citizens of those countries have.

So should we really be surprised now that they are bringing their open flouting of human rights to America? Television networks are big business, and if it equals enough dollars-- well, they know darn well that outrage in America is 1. unlikely, 2. transitive when it does happen, and 3. generally on a scale that won't hurt them very much.

Eli Blake said...

To which I would add,

Bread and circuses.

People who gawk at this stuff are really just the modern day equivalents of the grown-lazy-and-stupid second, third and fourth century Romans who were content to watch slaves fight to the death and lions eat people in big stadiums during the declining stages of the Roman Empire. It was not they who made Rome great, it was their generations which allowed the greatness they had inherited to slip away because they assumed it would always be there, and so they just didn't give a darn. And history will judge us no better than it has judged them.

Art Hackett said...

Not having seen the show I'm leaving myself wide open by commenting on it. However....
What if it shows the kids generally behaving themselves, organize things, and build facilities with the materials at hand.
The world is full of adults anxious to create more jobs as supervisors of kids, or lockups to incarcerate the infamous "super-predators" for life.
But believe it or not there are a lot of decent kids out there. This sounds much like the model they teach you in Boy Scout leadership training. Give the kids a basic framework, watch to make sure they don't kill themselves, but otherwise, stay out of the way and let them figure it out.

Eli Blake said...

art hackett:

Not disagreeing that these are laudible goals, but where does it require that it all be televised? I remember going to boy scout camp, and I learned a lot. But how does putting it out there on TV make it better?

This was not about developing leadership, or developing kids talents or anything else like that. It was about earning a lot of money for somebody, and it wasn't the kids. I don't know what they are getting paid, but I'm sure it's very little if anything, like most Reality Show participants-- I have no problem with Daniel Radcliffe portraying 'Harry Potter,' though ironically we are having this discussion one week before Radcliffe turns eighteen because he has earned $50 million so I don't consider that he was exploited. But some child actors have been before.

Eli Blake said...

Wait!

I just realized-- isn't the last Harry Potter book out ON July 23?

I wonder if they picked the date because it is Radcliffe's birthday?

If so, is that exploitation?

no, wait. It's on July 21. So if Radcliffe is asked to do any events on the release date, be careful, he's still a minor.

Mortimer Brezny said...

Radcliffe is over 17.

He's also British, and I hear they have different laws over there.

Angela said...

Even if they didn't violate NM's completely lame child labor laws, how did they get around their AFTRA contracts? Game shows do it because the contestants aren't employees, only fraction of those on camera get money. In this case the kids were on salary - just at an absurdly low salary, about 1% of union scale.

Revenant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Revenant said...

Exploiting kids for reality tv = outrageous! Exploiting adults for reality tv = entertaining!!

It is slightly disturbing that you're baffled by the idea of adult-child relationships having different rules for ethical behavior than adult-adult relationships do.

Just a hint to guide you through all the confusion: don't try inviting the 14-year-old back to your apartment for drinks and a romantic movie. Trust me on that one -- I know you've heard it is ok to do that sort of thing with adults, but kids are off-limits.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

I wonder if this is just the kind of controversy that will make Althouse blog it. [Remember the Survivor teams assigned by race?]

Daryl said...

The liberal agenda: treat full grown adults as if we were all 12 years old.

That's why Hillary wants to be President: so she can be the mommy-in-chief.

No thanks. We don't need a mommy (Hillary) any more than we need a stern, moralistic daddy (Romney).

We don't need their idiot slacker son (Dubya) or his overachieving bulimic sister (Obama).