Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Building A Kid-ocracy Takes A Lot Of Kid Labor

According to the promos, CBS's upcoming Kid Nation is the most inspiring reality show ever to draw comparisons to Lord Of The Flies. But, surprisingly, you can't just rent a bunch of kids and leave them in a New Mexico desert with some cameramen for 40 days anymore without everyone yelling, "Child abuse!"

From the NY Times:

For 40 days the children cooked their own meals, cleaned their own outhouses, formed a government and ran their own businesses, all without adult intervention or participation.

To at least one parent of a participant, who wrote a letter of complaint to New Mexico state officials after the show had completed production, the experience bordered on abuse and neglect. Several children required medical attention after drinking bleach that had been left in an unmarked soda bottle, according to both the parent and CBS. One 11-year-old girl burned her face with splattered grease while cooking.

The children were made to haul wagons loaded with supplies for more than a mile through the New Mexico countryside, and they worked long hours – "from the crack of dawn when the rooster started crowing" until at least 9:30 p.m., according to Taylor, a 10-year-old from Sylvester, Ga., who was made available by CBS to respond to questions about conditions on the set.


Leaving bleach around in coke bottles, unsupervised cooking, and hauling wagons are one thing. But brainwashing kids to use canned farm-speak about roosters crowing is quite another. That is definitely child abuse.

Who would have thought that signing your kids over to be raised by a televison network for 40 days would be a bad idea?

But at least the kids were paid for all the kid labor they put into making a kid-ocracy. Except, according to CBS, they weren't technically working, and were therefore exempt from child labor laws:

[CBS] also said that state labor laws did not apply. "The children were not employed under the legal definition," he said. "They were not receiving set wages for performing specific tasks or working specific hours."

But the parents were told before the children left to go to the set that they would receive a $5,000 stipend for their participation. The children also had the opportunity to earn a gold star that was given at the end of each episode – or roughly every three days of filming – that at the end of the session could be turned in for a $20,000 check. In addition, the children were assigned tasks and were paid for those with buffalo nickels, which they could then use to buy items at a dry-goods store or a candy shop or to buy drinks at a root beer saloon.

Five thousand dollars, gold stars, and fake nickels? That's definitely worth selling your children to reality show producers. Why didn't they just pay the kids in Crayola scented markers and regret?

Still, at least the kids learned something about the value of real work to make a fake nation for a reality television show:

The children's definition of work is somewhat different. "Everyone usually had a job," said Mike, an 11-year-old from Bellevue, Wash., who participated in the show. Among them were cooking, cleaning, hauling water and running the stores, where, he said: "It was hard work, but it was really good. It taught us all that life is not all play and no work."

Taylor, from Georgia, agreed. "I learned I have to work for what I want," she said.

Yes, Taylor. You really do have to work, especially when your parents sign a kid rental agreement with CBS on your behalf.