Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Kid Nation Sponsors -- Come out, come out whoever you are...

Reality television is repugnant. (I mean, duh...) Still, up until now, I've been able to mollify myself with the knowledge that the contestants, maligned as they may be by the double-jeopardy of decontextualized editing and orchestrated disharmony, have at least signed away their own dignity for some ignoble experience and its paltry prize.

Trust CBS, then, to up the ante by pitting kids (far too young to manage their own self-image let alone the censure of a judgmental nation) against one another and against a bevvy of natural and organized obstacles. Sure, it may well be that these children have noble moments. Some of them may in fact be well-served by their experiences on this televised experience and, yet; will these potential moments of greatness be worth enduring various pitfalls and griefs -- both made miniscule and magnified by -- the watchful and often malicious eye of the American reality teevee audience? Do we really want to feed these pop culture vultures -- these connoisseurs of the basest human condition -- the titillation of little children relegated to pittance wages under dangerous, unsupervised conditions that beg comparison to an Upton Sinclair novel?

And for what?

Never mind the question, "Where are the parents?". It should be obvious by now that people have either become resigned to or have welcomed with gusto the concept that anything, including the dignity of little children, is for sale to the highest bidder (or in this case, for a dismal $5,000 and not a penny more unless the child won something, even if the child were to have died trying).

To be sure, some of the parents must have believed the experience could benefit their children. But really, what's the difference? The question of parental judgment is relevant, but for now, let's leave that particular albatross to the parents, their children, and the mental health counselors the kids may or may not need as a result of this particular "summer camp."

That Kid Nation exploits children in order to generate high ratings and subsequent advertising dollars is a given. A more interesting question is, what actual product does CBS purport to achieve on the backs of these children? What are the goods produced by this sweatshop labor? What are the services? What's the end product? CBS says entertainment, of course, but also touts the "life lessons" such a program might impart upon its participants and viewers alike.

Spare me.

What CBS is really peddling is the voyeuristic pleasure of watching human nature, poked and prodded by the the usual reality teevee staples of hunger, sleep deprivation, homesickness, fear and illness, this time adding in adventures with facial burns and bleach, the fear of monsters real and imagined, things that go bump in the night, and the larger-than-life questions and terrors that surely must dwell in the musings of children alone at night. All of this all to slake our vile thirst for discord, drama, and human folly in the one bastion we should have left sacred: little kids.

Like many people, I am repulsed both by CBS' latest contribution to the ongoing mass debasement of our human experience and by the fact that so many Americans are likely to gleefully play audience to this show, which is just further evidence that our whole society is circling the collective cultural drain.

Depressing. But what to do?

For starters, I'm not going to watch this trash. As for you, I don't want to tell you what to watch on television -- that's not my point. Neither am I interested in censorship as an answer. I don't think that CBS should be forced by non-market forces to yank this program off the air (unless, that is, it is indicted for breaking the law, which would be another story).

That said, those individuals feeling outrage over this ought to punish CBS by turning our backs on this show and, (for those of us who can get by without Letterman, and I'll be honest -- I'm not sure I can), maybe we ought to turn our backs on CBS altogether. In viewing this program, however passively we do so, I believe we become morally complicit and diminish not only those kids, but ourselves. If this seems okay to you, or if you disagree, go ahead and watch it. I'm not stopping you. But I just want to put it out there that I don't like this show. And I want CBS to know it. And I don't want to stop there. I want the sponsors to know it. So maybe I won't just stop watching CBS. Maybe I actually really will boycott the sponsors. After all, why should our punitive pocketbook actions stop with the network?

I'm certainly not the first to note that CBS' Kid Nation itself should be boycotted. What I find to be most shocking is the lack of public outcry over CBS' refusal to disclose the show's sponsors. That CBS has declined to do so to date is not surprising, given the controversy surrounding the show. Corporations choosing to sponsor Kid Nation have opted to remain mum on sponsorship as well, lest they get caught up (deservedly so) in the maelstrom of negative publicity surrounding the show.

Could it be that we've finally found an instance where "any" publicity is NOT "good" publicity? Possibly. But it seems most sponsors are still playing that one by ear.

CBS acknowledges advertising on the program is low going into the season but predicts sponsorship dollars will flow readily -- and grow steadily -- once viewers start demonstrating their typical penchant for this kind of demeaning crap. Given the hubbub surrounding this stinker, audiences are likely to tune in in droves, if for no other reason than to see what all the fuss is about.

Nonetheless, other would-be sponsors have begun to publicly distance themselves from the show. Of its usual big-time sponsors, many have declined to sponsor CBS' first episode of Kid Nation, though vague language in some of these corporate statements, coupled with a reticence to discuss future episodes, suggests these winds may change along with perceived public reaction to the show and, of course, as those ratings roll in. Typical CBS sponsors who have announced they will not advertise during the initial episode include:

Taco Bell
Ford
Verizon
Pepsi
Anheuser-Busch
GM (GM was the only corporation to acknowledge it will be using a "wait and see" strategy for the rest of the season).

Among other top CBS advertisers, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, , AT&T and GlaxoSmithKline could not be reached for comment by an online advertising magazine reporting on the issue.

I'm very curious to see which advertisers will take a chance on this show. Seems like a bad idea to me.