Thursday, October 23, 2008

What is Exploitation?

It seems that many are confused about what exploitation really is. Exploitation is the utilization of another person for selfish purposes. The issue has nothing to do with how the kids are being treated. It has nothing to do with whether they are clothed, fed and able to have "life experiences". Just because they may "appear" to be happy at this point in their life, has nothing to do with whether or not they are being exploited.

The children are being put on display; their lives are filmed and shown for the world to watch and analyze. The children are working to support a lifestyle that their parents want AND they don't have a choice. Jon and Kate say that they are "working from home" and the show is their JOB. If this statement is believed to be true, then the children are working too. I don't see any other way around it. The real problem with this scenario is that Jon and Kate's employment is completely contingent upon their children also working.

It's been at least a year now since Jon quit his job. I don't believe that he has ever worked from home in some type of computer field. He's had trouble keeping a job, he has very minimal experience and even less motivation. How many different "job titles" has he claimed to have over the past year? The statement on the show that he is "working from home" in the IT field is about as honest as the fact that they have to "save up" for special outings or Kate spends her days cooking and cleaning or she is "exhausted" from being a mom of eight with little help.

The show is not just supplementing their income. The children are supporting their family. It is no longer a day in the life of a family with multiples. The cameras are not just following them around and capturing spontaneous moments. They are now filming 3-4 days/week to make 30-40 episodes/season. Season 3 ran January-June and they jumped right into Season 4 without a break. This is a business venture, not a documentary. Look at TLC's statement to CNN :

"Because of the show, the kids and the family have economic security and the luxury of a mom who can stay at home and raise them."

Does economic security make it right? I can think of many examples where money is the end result, but that doesn't make the means of receiving it right.

The show is about making money--bottom line. It is staged and edited for entertainment. The children are prompted by the producer to do certain things to make the episode more interesting or help create the storyline. Their lives have turned into a TV show. Endorsements and sponsorships dictate what toys they play with, the food they eat, the juice they drink, the clothes they wear, the products they use and the places they go. Is there anything that is real anymore?

This reminds me of the advice given by the surviving Dionne Quintuplets shortly after the birth of the McCaughey septuplets in 1997.

Dear Bobbi and Kenny,

If we emerge momentarily from the privacy we have sought all our adult lives, it is only to send a message to the McCaughey family. We three would like you to know we feel a natural affinity and tenderness for your children. We hope your children receive more respect than we did. Their fate should be no different from that of other children. Multiple births should not be confused with entertainment, nor should they be an opportunity to sell products.

Our lives have been ruined by the exploitation we suffered at the hands of the government of Ontario, our place of birth. We were displayed as a curiosity three times a day for millions of tourists. To this day we receive letters from all over the world. To all those who have expressed their support in light of the abuse we have endured, we say thank you. And to those who would seek to exploit the growing fame of these children, we say beware.

We sincerely hope a lesson will be learned from examining how our lives were forever altered by our childhood experience. If this letter changes the course of events for these newborns, then perhaps our lives will have served a higher purpose.

Sincerely, Annette, Cecile and Yvonne Dionne

As published in Time Magazine, December 1, 1997.

Do we ignore the warning of those who have experienced exploitation first hand?

The debate shouldn't be whether the kids are "acting" or whether they have more "things and experiences" because of the show. Do you really think matching designer clothes make children happy? Are they even going to remember the trips they've taken so far? They are growing up in the public eye. They are being used for profit by the network, corporations and their own parents. IMO, what they are dealing with, now and in the future, is even worse than child actors. Their home is the studio. They aren't playing a character, they are the characters.

Of course there are children out there who "have it worse", but does that mean we turn our backs on these children? Don't all children deserve privacy, security and the same protection? Do the Gosselin children deserve less than other children in the entertainment industry just because their show is labeled "reality"?

Is everyone going to be shocked 10-15 yrs down the road when the damage is exposed and the children are able to speak for themselves and share their own stories? Is continuing the series worth the risk? Do we ignore the warnings of those who are speaking out based on their own personal experiences? History has taught us valuable lessons. Do we wait until the damage is revealed to realize this is wrong?