Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"The Baby Borrowers": New reality show on NBC, with no prizes


The Baby Borrowers is a rather daring new reality show, premiering tonight on NBC (at 9 PM EDT). I’m not sure that I get the byline “It's not TV, it’s birth control”, but let’s say it has a little of the spirit of Oprah’s recent “Big Give.” There is no “you’re fired” and no “elimination room” in this social experiment, and no prize at the end. It's just a dose of "real life." The link for the show is here.

Five teenage couples (they are 18 and 19, I think) from various states (Texas, New Hampshire, California, Georgia) move into new houses in an unspecified location on a cul de sac, and will take care of the babies (less than one year) of other couples, who can watch them by remote viewing (I mean cameras, not CIA-funded astral projection for extraterrestrials). I think I heard a preview this morning on Today say that the homes are in Boise, ID. There is one African-American couple, but there are no same-sex couples. The latter idea could have made things even more interesting, especially in LDS-influenced Boise (with its history from the 50s).

The show sounds designed to hit hard the subject of intergenerational responsibility. There will be subsequent episodes with pre-school toddlers, grade school kids, tweens, and teens (who will “tp” the block) and finally, an experience with eldercare. Of yes, there will be intimate contact. One elderly person is shown asking for a shampoo.

The experience starts with a bit of honeymoon, but two days before the babies arrive, the women have to wear artificial bellies simulating the weight of pregnancy. Then the cribs and baby gear arrive. The cribs are kits, and the couples have to figure out how to assemble them. They go to the hospital, where a natural birth is simulated with lifelike mannequins. The couples start to quarrel. The couples are told they would be taking parental leave at work. (Non-parents and singles would do their work?)

Then, early the next morning, the biological couples bring the babies. The parents quickly find out, “it’s not about you, it’s about the baby.” The babies require constant physical attention. One natural mother comes over and reprimands a couple for not changing the diapers again and putting the baby into pajamas – not giving enough attention. The natural mother chides the boy for referring to the baby as “it” and the boy says that his phraseology is a “joke” but it isn’t funny. One baby vomits back a feeding. Of the five couples, the California couple (from “Summerland”) seems to be the most comfortable.

One point is very clear: these are couples with already established relationships, and couples who apparently want children. (The show does say, however, that this is the first time each couple has lived together.) The parenting bonds are supposed to grow out of their relationships. They don’t appear out of nothing. With two of three of the couples, I got the impression that they would have been much more attentive with their own children ("flesh and blood") than "other people's children" -- a point that would interest conservative author Philip Longman ("The Empty Cradle"). The couples might also be more comfortable with the extreme demands of parental child-care if they were legally married.

Public school systems teach child care. Sometimes it is offered in home economics, and mannequins are used. The Arlington (VA) Career Center has a child care class, and substitutes are sometimes assigned to them without realizing that this will happen.

The next day, June 26, the Dr. Phil show was about "teens having babies" often with parents unaware of their pregnancies for months. The mood of the show was back to the idea of responsibility for your own "procreation" rather than that of other people -- a double edged concept, it seems. The link is here.

The series continues with a two-hour segment on July 2. Actually, the first hour seemed like a repeat. The second hour had one person in each couple going to work at a menial job, though one couple had someone get sick and have to go without the play money.

The last segment (July 30) showed four of the couples taking care of seniors. One senior required physical personal care.

At the end, the show showed what happened to the couples, who by and large didn't stay together and all said they were not ready for marriage and parenthood yet.

Some people have criticized the show for using unpaid babies and kids, rather than child actors, in a reality experiment.

(The picture is HB Woodlawn secondary in Arlington; some of the special education programs are run there.)

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