The Voice Kids loses moral ground
TV dad and noted philosopher Homer Simpson once described television as a "teacher, mother and secret lover".
In truth, it is none of those. It is a harsh mistress whose spotlight can burn and for proof we need not look further than 12-year-old Romy.
The barely teen-aged contestant on The Voice Kids was left weeping on Australian television after all four coaches on the show - Delta Goodrem, Melanie Brown and brothers Joel and Benji Madden - failed to turn their chairs and select her during her audition.
All four raced to console the sobbing girl, and their concern for her welfare is clearly visible in the segment.
In its aftermath there will be hand-wringing, and questions about responsibility, duty of care and whether it was appropriate to include the segment in the broadcast of the program.
But the inescapable truth is this: we knew this moment was coming. It isn't the first time. It won't be the last.
Reality television is a brutal genre, concerned with exploiting the emotions of its subjects, and its audience, in the pursuit of ratings and revenue. Adding children to that recipe is always risky.
That is not to say the producers of The Voice Kids embarked on this particular enterprise hoping to damage their young charges. And on numbers alone more kids than not will enjoy the process.
But one clear question remains: who decided to include the segment in the broadcast, and why?
With no one willing to coach her, Romy's performance was effectively rejected from competition.
Which means its only value to the broadcast narrative of The Voice Kids was either to capitalise on the emotion of the moment, or to illustrate the compassion of the judges.
Either way, The Voice Kids seems to be guilty of the very thing which once set it apart from other talent shows that exploited, humiliated and belittled their subjects.
Lesser shows played those games, we were assured, while The Voice was something better, with a focus on music artistry instead of cheap TV moments.
Let's be frank: in the handbook of TV "moments", a sobbing child, with four celebrities racing to embrace her, does not sit at the expensive end of the spectrum.
Children and show-business are not new bedfellows. Ever since Baby Peggy, born in 1918, a child star at six and penniless by the age of 11, the entertainment industry has had a poor record of handling small charges.
With the advent of reality television, those risks have increased exponentially.
In the US, programs such as Dance Moms, Toddlers & Tiaras, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Jon and Kate Plus 8 exploit their young charges for entertainment.
And when they prove too hot to handle, programs like Brat Camp, Super Nanny and Nanny 911 are there to readjust them.
In 2007, the British version of The X Factor lowered the minimum contestant age from 16 to 14 and drew widespread criticism. They reversed that decision several years later. The Got Talent format allows children to compete with parental consent.
After a nine-year-old contestant on Britain's Got Talent, Malakai Paul, was reduced to tears, veteran British TV broadcaster Sir Bruce Forsyth weighed into the debate saying that children had no place on reality TV. "I don't think they should get young children and put them through such an emotional thing," he said.
The brittle sensibilities of young children require very specific handling. The problem is that television too often demonstrates it is barely able to do better than one-size-fits-all.
Sydney Morning Herald