With outrage over Isaiah Washington's unexpected casting in Bionic Woman fading, a new, and dare we say much more interesting, controversy is materializing at the TCAs over Kid Nation, CBS's attempt to inject some much-needed Lord of the Flies-style fun into their Fall schedule. Earlier, TV Week reported on how the producers took advantage of subsequently tightened loopholes in New Mexico's child labor laws and classified the production as a "summer camp" (summer camps, after all, are totally fun, and not at all child-exploiting places of employment) to get the show done; today, ABC News asks a psychologist to opine on how the impressionable minds of these campers might be impacted by the stresses of reality TV:
Experts, however, who have yet to see the program but are familiar with the production wonder if it is ethical to isolate children to record how they respond to the stress of taking care of themselves, dealing with one another — and competing for thousands of dollars.
"This sounds terrible, and I think it's unethical," Geoffrey White, a psychologist who has worked on a dozen reality shows, including ABC's "The Mole," told ABCNEWS.com. "Any psychologist working on this production would be unprofessional at best and unethical at most."
White said that when put in the high-pressure situations that have become typical of today's reality shows, even adults can experience serious emotional stress.
"These shows are coercive and use the manipulative power of group pressure to bring out the worst in people," he said.
He said that one of "Kid Nation's" worst abuses of ethics was asking the children's parents to consent to filming without knowing the details of exactly how each day on the set would play out.
"Informed consent is not a foolproof process," White said. "How can you explain to someone that they will lose their capacity to make a decision? You can't say, 'Here's everything you need to know about being vulnerable to group pressure.'"
In defense of his bold, obviously misundersttod attempt at prepubescent utopia-building, the show's producer answered some of the accusations levied at the show:
The audience will discover they're watching "incredible people. ... They're young, but wise beyond their years, doing things you never could imagine," Forman said. There was no sex or drugs, he said in response to a later question.
As for the effect on the children, Forman said that "almost to a one" they consider it a highlight of their lives.
"I exchange e-mails with every one of these kids and they're doing just great," he said.
Forman went on to describe to critics the contents of a particularly memorable e-mail from one of his favorite Kid Nation survivors, where the child admitted to being initially frightened and mentally unprepared for the experience, but revealed that after he survived the harrowing ordeal of their first elimination ceremony in which a homesick contestant was driven naked into the New Mexico desert, he learned the important life lesson that he had to "stop being such a little bitch and toughen up, or else I'd wind up the Wednesday lunch special in the mess hall."
- 'Lord of the Flies' Style Show Raises Ethical Concerns [ABC News]
- The Founding of 'Kid Nation' [TV Week]
- 'Nation' Panel II: You Don't Need a Bike to Backpedal [TVWeek]