Ethics Dunces: The Learning Channel, and Us

Remember “Jon and Kate Plus 8,” the late, unlamented TLC cable hit that managed to  destroy the Gosselin family, turn a mother of eight young children into a single mom, and raise troubling questions about child labor and the exploitation of kids by the entertainment industry? Apparently the only thing the Learning Channel remembers about it is all the money the channel made from the show, because it has recruited yet another family to exploit and destroy. It is the Hayes Family; the clan’s ten children are 13, 11, and 5 (two sets of twins, and sextuplets); and the parents have been enticed by the lure of national stardom and potential riches to give over their young charges to the American fame machine in a new reality show called “Table for Twelve.”

What can you say about something called “The Learning Channel” that has a flat learning curve?

Let me defer to an expert in this field, Paul Petersen, a successful former child star himself and currently the leader of a national effort to protect child performers and prevent their exploitation, who saw where “Jon and Kate Plus 8” was headed before the family came apart at the seams. He just posted this warning to the Hayeses on the website of his organization, A Minor Consideration:

“…Jon and Kate sold their family for a song and didn’t even know that child labor laws applied, something TLC conveniently neglected to tell them. Naiveté’ and ignorance of child labor laws will most certainly be exploited by major broadcast companies. It’s in their interest to keep you in the dark when they profit from the unpaid labor of twelve children. Here’s a tip: There most certainly ARE child labor laws in New Jersey specific to Entertainment…just like in Pennsylvania…and pretending that the children are just “participants” will not prevent the Piper from asking to be paid.

“You owe it to your children to become informed about the world you are entering, Mr. and Mrs. Hayes. The Industry is not obligated to educate you. In fact, it is in the Industry’s economic interest to keep you in the dark as long as possible…”

Paul Petersen is right, and I was wrong: TLC has learned all too well. The ones with the flat learning curves are all of us, who for years have applauded, laughed, and marveled at the performances of children who grew up to be damaged by their experiences in show business, yet still we don’t acknowledge our  accountability for their fate.
In the film “Untraceable,” a serial killer sets up a sadistic system whereby the volume of curious visitors to the website on which he shows his suffering captives actually triggers his victims’ executions. The family reality shows are something like that. The more we watch, the more damage a show does to the starring family and its child stars, until all of them are transformed into tabloid fodder, their dignity, reputations and emotional stability permanently scarred.

At least the parents have a choice before they make their Faustian bargain. Their children have none.
For their sake, we need to learn not to watch.

One thought on “Ethics Dunces: The Learning Channel, and Us

  1. Ethics Dunces…excellent choice of descriptive words.

    Jack…let’s take that a step further. TLC actually put together a documentary not about 8 young children and their “real every day lives” but instead and educational TV shows to show, with examples to the the public of HOW the industry exploits children!

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