Review: From “Kid Nation to Caste Nation”

“…words like class and wealth have become nearly synonymous in contemporary society.” (Meloy, 2009)

One could argue that a show like Kid Nation, which premiered to some controversy in 2007, serves as a positive example for children; offering them insight into the reality of community structure and support and giving them an idea of what it takes to become a responsible, contributing member of society.  Therein we might find television to be a solution to some of the problems that face modern American societies, wherein technological and informational advances have left many parents wondering if their children will develop the necessary strength of character and moral fiber to be good and honest people when they are adult citizens who are expected to survive and succeed via honorable methods in a world which forever tempts them with the trappings of greed, the glamor of crime and violence, and the sensual hedonism of drugs and sex, at least, as far as television has lead them to believe.  In reality, more and more today’s youth want nothing more than to be famous, to attain the perceived trappings of a well known celebrity.  This goal may be even more dangerous and damaging, to the individuals who strive to achieve such, the societies which develop from such individual desires, and the institutions which clamor to feed into these delusions while growing large and prosperous via their perpetuation.

Meloy’s principle argument is that “representations of class systems on television have changed fairly dramatically since the advent of reality television” and further suggests that this is due to the changing definition of social elitism in the mind of the American television viewer (2009).  As the reality television industry farms the perceptions of its viewers (and potential viewers) for insight into how to keep the attention of their audience, they find themselves leaning toward narratives depicting a social mobility system with fluidic qualities wherein the agent has equal and easy opportunity to ascend the ladder of social success and reach the coveted ranks of elitism.  The public yearns for such a reality, it appears, as well as an easy way to buy into it.

Kid Nation’s gamedoc utilizes a 4 team caste system, complete with an “upper” class and a “laborer” class (no doubt specifically not refered to as the “lower” class to avoid the connotations that are otherwise unavoidably implied).  A neoliberal agenda is heartily enforced in scenes, it is said “…Karl Marx couldn’t have made up” per Ellen Goodman in the Boston Globe.  Highest power is in the hands of the consumers, lowest in the hands of the producers. To have failed in a capitalist endeavor, as represented by the accrual of wooden nickels via one task or another, is to have failed socially in the eyes of the community, warranting branding with labels and color coding.  This agenda is impressed upon the contestants throughout the game, not only through the mechanisms of the gamedoc, but the production process as well, as children from lower and higher income families were subject to the stereotyping and narrative shaping that have become par for the course in the arena of Reali-TV entertainment, narratives which paint them certain roles and duties based on their parents income, and ultimately dooms them to a cycle of social typecasting. (Raphael, 2009:123)

Reinforcing a neoliberal agenda in the minds of the young is not a new phenomenon, it is just one upon which not much light has been shed.  Therefore, the clamor and controversy over this particular show perhaps stems less from the concern of adults over the physical strain or emotional hardship of the children involved, but their distaste for such a public pageant of neoliberal morals.  Much as we shy away from publically disciplining our children, as well we tend to keep private those social lessons we offer our children.  Indoctrination, though public in its effect, is private in action, it appears, and as such, one should not make a spectacle of what is less a game for these children, and more an important simulation and training ground, wherein they learn the life lessons which will carry them on to success as the consumers of tomorrow.

1.)    What dimensions should be considered in measuring the perceptions and desires of the television viewer?
2.)    Given the nature of the creative process, how much weight should really be given to the desires of the viewing public when allowing artists to develop entertainment?
3.)    Where is the line between “art” and  “commodity” within the realm of reality and entertainment media?
Meloy, Mike. “From “Kid Nation” to Caste Nation.” Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture Spring 8.1 (2009). American Popular Culture. Spring 2009. Web. 09 Feb. 2011. <;.

Raphael, Chad“The Political Economic Origins of Reali-TV” Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture. New York: New York UP, 2009. 123-40. Print.

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