Thursday, July 14, 2005

Why Was This On TV?

I didn't watch all of the two hour premiere of ABC's new series Brat Camp. I was suffering from a sever headache and an hour of the show was probably an hour more than I could handle but that's how far I got with it. I channel surfed around and eventually found Larry King talking with several members of the cast of Dancing With The Stars.

There's a tremendous amount of irony in the fact that Brat Camp will be replacing Dancing With The Stars. Aside from the fact that both shows are based on British originals, the two shows are diametrically opposed to each other. No matter what else you might say about the show you have to admit that Dancing With The Stars was light and fluffy and meant to be entertaining. The same can't be said for Brat Camp - it is heavy and deadly serious. I suppose on should ask whether we're supposed to be entertained by this because the notion that we are supposed to be entertained by it is in a very real way disturbing.

The series takes nine teenagers who are described as "out of control" by their parents and ships them off to the Sagewalk Wilderness School in the wilds of Oregon for a minimum 40 day program to teach them self discipline and to break them of their bad behaviour. Out of control has a variety of meanings, ranging for one kid who refuses to take his ADHD medication and so swears and yells and is destructive, through the usual run of drug addiction, stealing and sexual abandon to one kid who has a severe anger management problem to the point where his mother fears that he'll hit her. It's not hard to see that these are seriously messed up kids. The Sagewalk School is more like a combination boot camp and "Outward Bound" type experience. The personnel at the camp all go by a pseudo Native American "earth name", like Glacier Mountain Wolf (the Field Operations Manager) and Stalking Cougar (Head Field Instructor). The field instructors actually deal with the kids, imposing a sever discipline. Rule infractions are dealt with by penalties that suit the infraction. Swearing for example earns the transgressor the punishment of having to pick up a rock and carry it in their pocket for the day. Each such word earns them another rock. If a person throws up their breakfast (unsweetened oats) or other meal they have to dig a hole to vomit into. There are long hikes with 40 pound packs and similar activities. The field instructors are supplemented by clinical psychologists who visit twice a week for one on one meetings with the kids to evaluate their progress.

Here's the reason why I don't like Brat Camp and even hope that it fails badly. I don't feel comfortable watching it. Part of the problem is that it doesn't entertain me and while I hope to hell that it wasn't intended to entertain me in the way that Dancing With The Stars was, what I want from a TV show that isn't a news program is entertainment. Even some of the afternoon shows, particularly the "court shows" like Judge Joe Brown and the rest have an entertainment component, if only for the fact that we can marvel that these idiots are in these situations in the first place. This lack of an entertainment component is one reason why I don't watch shows like Dr. Phil. Even worse, in the case of Brat Camp I feel intensely uncomfortable watching it. The show makes me feel like a voyeur. These kids are having their instability revealed to us, and even if it is with their permission - and since they don't want to be there and they are minors I can't imagine they gave their permission at lest not when filming was in progress - I have to ask why it should be offered to me as what amounts to entertainment.

The big question is this. As we all know by now ABC decided not to air their reality series Welcome To The Neighborhood because of protests from groups as diverse as the Family Research Council (who expected the show to attack Evangelical Christians), GLAAD (who were were worried about how a gay couple on the show would be portrayed), the National Fair Housing Alliance (who felt the show violated the Fair House laws), and Hispanic groups (who were worried about the way a Hispanic family was shown). I'm sure there were others. The point is that there were groups which objected to that show because they felt that it didn't portray people properly. Why should their rights be defended successfully but the rights to privacy of these juveniles are not being defended? Is it because their parents signed away those rights to get them into (and onto) the program? I can imagine that when these young people get back to the "real" world they will become notorious now that this show is on the air. And if the network feels comfortable airing this show - which apparently they do - why did they back down on the protests about Welcome To The Neighborhood? Maybe that particular squeaky wheel just wasn't squeaky enough to get the grease. As for me, I'd much rather watch anything instead of this - even The Cut.

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