John Walker's Electronic House

Kid Nation: Finale

by on Dec.21, 2007, under Television

So it survived its full 13 episode run, and the controversy was all nonsense.

In fact, it was something really special. Horribly over-produced, laboriously forced, and certainly had nothing to do with the premise: 40 kids left to build a town. Instead it was 40 kids in a controlled environment, clearly surrounded by a crew of adults, being set a series of challenges to work through. And in doing that, it succeeded.

It’s funny. The controversy before the programme was broadcast – dumping kids in the middle of nowhere and filming the results for entertainment – has been revealed to be of a peculiar prejudice. Somehow because they were children, it was assumed to be exploitative or cruel. This assumption was an insult to kids. They were all perfecty autonomous individuals, each given the option to go home whenever they wished, living in a confusing mix of a childhood fantasy and nightmare. It was 40 days long, and that’s a fair stretch. But Americans send their kids to camp for a week or two every summer – being away from home is a healthy part of childhood. They got homesick, but this always resulted in the others surrounding them and caring for them. A few left, more considered leaving, but most accepted that it was tough, and worked hard.

There were some stand-out children on the programme. Kids who took leadership positions by their wisdom, and that wisdom being recognised in others. There were bullies, who by the sheer force of opposing numbers found themselves challenged and dramatically changed by the experience. There were kids who spend their home lives being bullied who found themselves being celebrated for their weirdness or eccentricity. It was all heavily edited, each episode forced into a theme purely by showing the selected less than 1% of what would have gone on each day, but they couldn’t hide the changes in people from episode 1 to 13.

Some didn’t change at all, some remaining spoilt little brats throughout. Others powered away in the background catching neither the attention of the masses, nor the film crew. If there was any significantly “wrong” thing about the show, it was failing to give a number of kids any amount of screen time – how awful to get home, watch the show, and barely see yourself.

I’ve found myself wishing for a follow-up episode where we see the parents discussing their reactions to watching the programme. It would be fascinating to hear their thoughts about their own kids, what surprises them, upsets them, or makes them proud. And it’s that final part that stands out. Somehow the show allowed the participants to earn pride. My pick from the beginning as one to watch, Sophia, was remarkable throughout, and was given a total of $70,000 in rewards by the other kids – more than anyone else received. But so many others were just really decent human beings in a way reality TV doesn’t often see adults exhibiting.

I think despite the cloying nature of the themes, and the forced subjects they faced often going too far into indoctrination (an enforced class system being the stand-out oddity), the result was something that offered a small amount of value. Kids behave differently from adults, despite mostly acting on mimicked adult behaviour, and those differences seemed to offer insight into better means of relating to people, dealing with conflict, and authority. I’m sure it’s sociologically worthless because of the intense adult interference, but on a very simple level, it seemed to offer a message. I’m glad they did Kid Nation. I dread to think how they’ll destroy it by trying to up the ante for a second run.

Comments are closed.