In watching this morning's show, I was struck by the connection between two stories we did in our 7:30 half hour -- they both dealt, in one way or another, with questions of morality. I'm talking about the labor dispute over the upcoming CBS reality show "Kid Nation" WATCH VIDEOand the latest on the Michael Vick dogfighting situation. WATCH VIDEO
First, the "Kid Nation" discussion. CBS is producing a reality show in which 40 kids, ages 8 to 15, were placed in a New Mexico "ghost town" for 40 days to see if they could create a functioning society without adults.
I'm not a particular fan of reality TV shows, but I have to admit that when I saw the promos for this one, I was intrigued. It sounded like an interesting thought experiment, a real-life (in so far as reality TV is "real") Lord of the Flies scenario. But knowing how things worked out in William Golding's book, I got a little queasy at the thought as well.
Legal issues have emerged as to whether the producers of the show violated child labor laws. The New York Times reported this morning that the kids were required to do "whatever they were told by the show's producers, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or risk expulsion from the show," according to a contract between the producers, the kids and their parents.
The contract also "specifies that while the children could be paid for their participation, those payments or the agreement to be fully under the producers’ direction did not constitute employment under the producers’ interpretation and therefore was not subject to any state or federal labor laws."
What would motivate parents to permit their kids to be put in this situation? Fame? Money? Or is this really no different than sending your kids to summer camp -- only in this case, with cameras rolling 24 hours a day?
As for the Michael Vick case, there are few who would dispute that what Vick is accused of is reprehensible. If you saw the recent HBO "Real Sports" segment on dogfighting, you'd be disgusted. And I think that anyone who defends dogfighting is misguided, to say the least.
But I think it is worth asking whether the NFL should allow Michael Vick back into the league should he end up pleading guilty and serving time for his role in this case. R.L. White, the president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP took a lot of heat for saying, among other things, "We believe that once he has paid his debt to society, society should be able to forgive him and allow him to resume his career."
On the one hand, if he serves his time, I could see some NFL owners willing to give him another chance (the cynic in me says he's way too talented on the football field for him not to be given another shot). But on the other hand, playing in the NFL is a privilege, not a right. And I could see the NFL attempting to ban him altogether on moral grounds (cynic: public relations) -- though I'm not sure if that would be legally feasible. Would someone who is not a professional athlete lose their job for something like this?
One other point to address here -- New York Knicks guard Stephon Marbury seemed to defend the culture of dogfighting, saying, "We don't say anything about people who shoot deer or shoot other animals. You know, from what I hear, dogfighting is a sport. It's just behind closed doors."
But if, for the sake of argument, we were to remove hunting from the political context in which it lives in this country, I think it's a fair question to ask -- is there a moral difference between killing an animal for sport and training two animals to kill each other for sport?