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Whose Kid Nation is it anyway?

CBS recently announced their fall line-up for 2007 and one of the network's new offerings came up as a big blip on my Kids-Vision radar.

That show is Kid Nation and it's being billed as a kids reality show. The series takes 40 kids to Bonanza City, a long-dormant mining town New Mexico, and tasks them with creating their own social structure there. The preview shows the children in quaint scenes where they milk goats, carry water and guzzle root beer in saloons. Clearly, CBS wants to sell audiences on the wacky ingenuity of plucky youngsters, like we saw in the Goonies.

Who thinks the ideal society for kids to be building is a mining town more than a century old? Do the producers of the show know that kids don't play cowboys & Injuns any more? Why not something more forward-looking or , at least, more recent?

But, the thing that really worries me about this show is these kids' extreme vulnerability to the reality TV genre's bag of tricks. Grown-ups on both sides of the screen know what to expect with these "unrehearsed" shows: savvy adult viewers (and some participants, too) are aware of kind of creative editing and pre-loaded written scenarios that inevitably turn actual people in character types. But, some eight-year-old on the show who gets turned into "the bully" or "the spoiled girl" will have to live that down for the rest of his or her childhood and maybe even their adulthood, too. Is it really such a great idea to mount a production where the kids will need counseling afterwards?

It's this kind of borderline exploitation that makes me a little disgusted while watching the hype reel for the show. Don't get me wrong: I'm sure there will be moments of uplift and perseverance. But the show's built an egregiously false premise of kids building a society. Building the infrastructure and rules for a city has never been a job for children, anyway, unless you count the Lord of the Flies. And we all know how that worked out.

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