Kid Nation may not be the most well-advised program the Tiffany Network ever green-lighted, but it certainly isn't living up to the controversy that surrounded its launch. Because the show places 40 kids in a New Mexico ghost town for 40 days supposedly without adult supervision (off-camera are a film crew, doctors, nutritionists, and child psychologists), it received criticism for everything from violating child labor laws to being anti-union.
But rather than feeling like an Old West version of Lord of the Flies, the show makes for a rather a comforting spectacle, especially for those inclined to believe that today's youth are little more than an ADD-riddled, Paris Hilton--admiring, violent-video-game-obsessed horde of miscreants. Instead, the 8- to 15-year-olds populating Bonanza City provide reassuring evidence that while our culture has slouched closer to Gomorrah, some kids are all right.
Though CBS undoubtedly screened out contestants with real behavioral problems, the conflicts are little to write home about. A Boy Scout is too earnest in his desire to be a good leader, irritating the other boys. One girl is a bit of a priss, announcing that beauty queens don't do dishes. Yet another boy becomes the town rebel when he writes his team's name over another's with chalk, an act of vandalism that sets tiny tongues wagging. On the flip side, while their squabbles are rarely exceptional, their maturity often is. They work together, comfort one another, and try to ensure fairness in ways that put most reality show participants to shame.
In fact, the most problematic element of Kid Nation comes from the adult producers. Shortly after they arrive, monotone and not-at-all-kid-friendly host Jonathan Karch informs the town they will be divided into four classes-laborers, cooks, merchants, and upper class-and each paid differing amounts. The upper class, he tells them, will receive the most and have the option of not working at all. The message is clear: People who are well-off financially are just lucky and don't have to earn their living. Unfortunately, not too many critics will find that angle controversial.