Sunday, July 05, 2015

Exploiting kids

My July 5, 2015 column.

The Movie and Television Review and Classification Board has summoned the people behind the latest reincarnation of the Pinoy Big Brother show on ABS-CBN to a “developmental conference” supposedly to discuss issues related to the protection of the rights of the children featured in the show. I am not sure if the MTRCB officials have what it takes to stand up to a media giant such as ABS-CBN, but after watching just a few episodes of PBB, I am mightily glad it has decided to finally intervene, for various reasons.
We all know that PBB is that kind of show that legitimizes exploitation under the guise of presenting reality supposedly as it is (the fact that everyone else actually lives in the real world seems to be lost on the people behind the show). In the few editions of the show that I caught this and last week, the show’s host talked incessantly about how the show was doing the whole world a great favor by providing opportunities for everyone else to get to know the pains and joys of the younger generation. And to do just that, the show has been putting the current housemates – most of whom happen to be minors – to various physical, mental, emotional, and psychological tests.
As a human resource management professional who also happens to conduct all kinds of learning and development programs for a living, I have many things to say about the way the show conducts its various structured learning activities. Let me just say that no trainer or facilitator worth his name would deliberately put learners in a negative situation just to wring out some life-affirming lessons.
It is very obvious that PBB conducts “learning activities” mainly to generate emotional highlights, or at least what is referred to as “teachable moments.” Thus, there is the general tendency to wring every possible bit of drama that can be squeezed out of every situation. This was less objectionable when the housemates were people who have reached a certain level of emotional maturity. But it’s an entirely different story altogether when the housemates are minors (one is barely 12 years old!). So yes, I am glad that the MTRCB has stepped in.
One of the disturbing things about the current edition of PBB is the way the supposed “bromance” between two male housemates has been played up. The fact that this angle has surfaced immediately after the Supreme Court of the United States made its historic ruling affirming same-sex marriage cannot be merely coincidental. ABS-CBN has taken pains to condemn netizens who supposedly started the malicious rumors about the blooming romance between two male housemates, one of whom happens to be the 12-year old boy. The network is washing its hands of culpability, forgetting that they actually featured the story in the show and, in fact, gave it a cliffhanger treatment, which created more fodder to the rumor mill. They could have quashed the rumors quickly and effectively, but no, they chose to use it as a possible hook for the show. And now that there is a backlash, they want to assign the blame somewhere else. They have already shut down the live streaming of the reality show, but until then, it was the station that broadcast the images that started the intrigues.
PBB also asks viewers to pick favorites and encourages supporters to rally around their chosen housemates. This results in situations where certain housemates suddenly find themselves the recipient of so much hatred from so many people without even knowing why. One of the kids in the current edition has been unfairly judged and is the subject of vilification in social media just because she revealed that she already had a string of boyfriends at such an early age, and despite having an inchoate notion of what love is. Again, this would not be so bad if the housemates were people who have already reached a certain level of maturity, something that the kids who comprise the current crop of housemates, clearly do not have.
I think even shows like PBB can still impart some valuable lessons if the people behind the show learn their own lessons too, particularly about how not to treat people like pawns and puppets who can be manipulated for the sake of ratings.

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