Wednesday, November 29, 2006

What's Your Child Worth?

Yesterday, Tim Challies' post entitled An Exhibitionist and Voyeuristic Culture, commented on an article in which radio listeners were calling in to take up the opportunity to give up their child for 24 hours in order to get a hold of a new Playstation 3.

The article recounts the radio's practical joke, or as they saw it, a "social experiment" asking "folks if they were willing to give up their baby for 24 hours in exchange for one of Sony's highly coveted video game consoles. More than a dozen people called to offer up their kids, but only a few realized it was all just a gag." Sadly, "people with babies of all ages — including a 2-day-old and a 1-week-old — made it on air. One of the more serious sounding calls came from a woman named "Katie," who agreed to give up her 1-month-old for three days. She wanted to sell the PS3 on eBay to make some extra money for the holidays."

Challies in his post goes onto helpfully comment on this sickening behaviour:
This is the kind of behavior that is only too common in our culture. We live in what is now an voyeuristic, exploitative society. We love to see into other people's lives and because of technology, this is easier to do than ever before. But there is more. As voyeurism has increased, so has exhibitionism. Countless numbers of people are willing to sell their bodies, souls or children for a fleeting fifteen minutes of fame and a ten thousand dollar paycheck. From world famous celebrities to absolute nobodies, we yearn to be noticed and have been only too willing to sell ourselves. Humiliation is marketed on television and a blurb in People magazine has become adequate payment for having personal problems brought before the world.

We, the consumers, feed this frenzy. When we turn on the television we want to watch celebrities, both new and old, living out their lives before the cameras or learning to dance or cook or crochet. We want to watch families whose spending has spiralled out of control try to fix their broken finances. We want to watch families whose kids are overweight learn how to eat healthy food or adults who are fat lose weight or couples who have forgotten the joys of sex to rediscover intimacy or normal people slurp down blood, guts and bugs. We want to see people learn what not to wear, to see people with rolls on their stomachs get liposuction and funny-looking noses get the perfect Hollywood nose job. We want to escape our own problems by wallowing in other people's problems which somehow always seem so much worse than our own. We want to see the sad, pathetic, tragic details of their lives, their personalities, their bodies. The more detail we get, the happier we are.

Back in March a web site made public a memo from ABC dealing with the hit show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." Looking to cast a new season, the show's producers asked network affiliates to look for families who could be on the show. Their wishlist is nauseating.

"We are open to any and ALL story ideas and are especially looking for the following:

  • Extraordinary Mom/Dad recently diagnosed with ALSFamily who has child with PROGERIA (aka "little old man disease").
  • Congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis, referred to as CIPA by the few people who know about it. (There are 17 known cases in the the U.S.-let me know if one is in your town!) This is where kids cannot feel any physical pain.
  • Muscular Dystrophy Child - Amazing kid who is changing people's views about MD.MADD
  • Drunk Driving - Family turns tragedy into triumph after a losing a child to drunk driving.
  • Family who has multiple children with Down Syndrome (either adopted or biological).
  • Amazing loved Mom or dad diagnosed with melanoma (skin cancer).
  • Home Invasion - family robbed, house messed up (vandalized) - kids fear safety in their home now.
  • Victims of hate crime in own home. Family's house victim of arson or severely vandalized."

It is clear that the show was not seeking these people primarily because they are the most worthy of help, but because they make the best stories. The worse the tragedy, the better the entertainment value...

...Reality is no longer reality. Fame is no longer fame. Reality television offers anything but reality, and yet we are drawn to it. The internet offers fleeting, exploitative fame. It is escapism and exploitation. Somehow, it seems, we have come to care about other people's lives more than our own. We invest ourselves in other people's problems, other people's joys, hurts and pains all the while ignoring our own. We escape from our own lives by caring about other people's.

When a radio station offers to trade children for a Playstation 3, it does not surprise me that people are willing to accept the offer. We live in a strange new reality where tragedy can reap generous monetary rewards and personal problems can be marketed and sold. And even if there is no financial compensation, fleeting fame seems an adequate reward for exposing even the most humiliating, intimate details. We live in a society where it makes perfect sense to give up a child for 24 hours in order to get a hold of a new playstation.

But before we get too self-righteous and say that we would never hand over our kids to strangers for material gain, the thought did occur to me that we could all make subtle, yet similar transactions. It's all too easy to allow our possessions (and more so our striving for them) to come between us and our children.

Consider the parent who is always working that extra hour to make that little bit more "for the sake of kids," but who ends up losing out on valuable family time. Or the mum at home: so intent on keeping the family abode just right, making luscious meals for the household, but at the expense of giving significant focus to her children.

It is not that good housekeeping and providing for our family is wrong, they just need to have their place. Against all our material possessions, it's a good question to keep at the forefront of our minds: what's my child worth?

No comments: