By Ellen Goodman
When they write the cultural history of childhood in 21st-century America, I hope they leave room for a few unkind words about Kid Nation.
CBS' latest new reality show-that wonderful oxymoron-is about 40 kids from 8 to 15 years old who are dropped into a ghost town in New Mexico with only a production crew to call their own. The kids' task, we are told in the best go-team fashion, is to "try to fix their forefathers' mistakes and build a new town that works."
Their real job, of course, is to attract viewers who want to see what happens to the "first ever kid nation." Will kids left to their own devices create a democratic idyll or a savage anarchy?
There is nothing particularly new about the conflicting images of children as innocents and children as beasts. It's as old as mythology. It lives on in the heart of every parent who's seen her child turn from a screaming sociopath at the supermarket checkout to a philosopher king at the beach: "Who painted the sky blue?"