Tuesday, June 2, 2009

June 2: Reality Shows Should Be a "No-Kids" Zone

By Sylvia Gurinsky

How ironic is it that the controversies involving the Gosselin and Suleman families are happening while two surviving members of the Dionne quintuplets celebrate their 75th birthday?

The five Dionne daughters, born in Ontario May 28, 1934, were removed from a potentially exploitative home and still exploited for years by the Canadian government. They were a pre-television reality show, placed into a special hospital called Quintland, where they were displayed to the public. In 1998, three surviving sisters received $4 million from the province of Ontario for mistreatment.

Cautionary tale? You'd better believe it.

When Jon and Kate Gosselin made the decision several years ago to have the cable channel TLC - which used to be known, also ironically, as "The Learning Channel" - chronicle their lives, their eight children, which include sextuplets, were toddlers and early elementary schoolers.

TLC had done family-friendly reality shows, including "A Dating Story," "A Wedding Story" and "A Baby Story" - babies, incidentally, who usually don't show up on television after they're born.

Profiling the Gosselins seemed harmless enough - until the parents started to get into the tabloids for behavior unbecoming of a family, much less a family program.

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor is now investigating whether the Gosselins' show violates child labor laws. Here's a "Yes" vote, and a suggestion that the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare might want to start its own investigation. The children didn't ask for this situation, to be constantly trailed by cameras - to become one video version of the Dionnes.

There's another potential video version, of course, in California - the 14 children, including infant octuplets, of Nadya Suleman. Naturally, a reality show is being planned. So far, at least, no pickup in the United States.

The only pickup should come from California's Department of Social Services, which should remove the children and require Suleman to enroll in parenting classes until she proves she can be a good parent. Signing up to have your children shown on television for the money doesn't qualify as good parenting.

Earlier this year, there was Jason Mesnick, the father of a young son, who appeared with his son on ABC's "The Bachelor" and also showed how not to act.

Many people want their 15 minutes of fame. If that time often comes at a price for adults - look at Susan Boyle's difficulties in Britain - how much tougher is it for children?

We already know about the travails of children like Anissa Jones, who played Buffy on the CBS series "Family Affair" and died of a drug overdose at age 18, and other young actors and actresses. They went into their situations semi-willingly. The same is not true of the Gosselin and Suleman children, who are not professional actors.

Reality programming is cutthroat television. It should become a "No-Kids" zone. The Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission need to launch their own investigations and forbid for-profit reality shows from featuring children.

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