Kid Nation: Lord of the Flies never looked so questionable

Kid Nation: Lord of the Flies never looked so questionable

Kid Nation
Directed by J. Rupert Thomson
60 minutes (with commercials)
CBS, 2007

Halfway through CBS’s new reality series Kid Nation, it’s not entirely clear why the network chose to dump 40 kids, aged 8-15, in Bonanza City, a ghost ra…

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Kid Nation
Directed by J. Rupert Thomson
60 minutes (with commercials)
CBS, 2007

Halfway through CBS’s new reality series Kid Nation, it’s not entirely clear why the network chose to dump 40 kids, aged 8-15, in Bonanza City, a ghost ranch in western New Mexico, for six weeks. To prove that parents aren’t necessary? To verify William Golding-esque theories about pre-pubescent politics? Leadership training?

“I think that what Kid Nation proves is that even though we may be younger and smaller than adults, we can still do just as much as they can,” theorizes Mallory, the cherub-faced 9-year-old who cries when she hears another kid’s foul language and wins a two-pound golden star in episode three. This prize, worth $20,000 and awarded to one participant at the end of each installment for hard work and good sportsmanship, serves as both an incentive and a point of division for the 40 kids, all of whom have to chip in to cook, clean toilets, do laundry and heavy labor, fetch water, and care for animals in order to keep from starving.

Ridiculous as it is, Kid Nation is strangely addictive, not only because we get to see children aping our own bullheaded behavior (several participants in the show compare themselves to George W. Bush) and petty acts of self-interest, but also because of how different the kids are, from each other and from we, the viewer. From Laurel, the red-headed Boston girl on the Bonanza “town council,” who talks like a Kennedy and mothers the younger kids, to 15-year-old Greg, a mop-haired brute who works hard, but embodies all that is gross about adolescence, the only thing they all seem to have in common is how pampered they are. Phone calls home find caring parents in spotless homes crying and sighing “I love you’s” to the camera. Maybe the kids were selected for this background, so that they would seem all the more like brats in barren Bonanza City, but wouldn’t it be great if some kid from a housing project were to win the golden star, and have no one to call home to but a crack-head aunt and a parole officer? Because of the class homogeneity of Kid Nation, in the end, it really doesn’t seem to be able to teach us anything at all.

Utopian experiment? More like a CBS sweatshop.

—Robbie Whelan

Related: Amassed Kid Nation reviews from MetaCritic.

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