Ottawa Citizen
Friday, February 22, 2002

Exploiting deprived children for entertainment is sickening

Dave Brown
The Ottawa Citizen

In a rare look at afternoon television this week, I found deprived children being used for their entertainment value. The experience left me with a sick feeling.

While channel surfing looking for Olympic coverage, I happened upon the Maury Povich Show, and stayed there for the better part of an hour. For the benefit of those who aren't exposed to afternoon television, here's an example of what you're missing.

Mr. Povich has found DNA testing is an entertainment tool. Mothers of fatherless children are invited to go public to get the cost of a DNA test covered. They name the man they believe impregnated them, and the ball is in play. The man is tracked down for a DNA sample and is interviewed. They show denial and great fear of paternity and the financial responsibility that goes with it. Refusing the sample may be a good idea, but that wouldn't get them on television. These guys have not been taught to get their thought processes above their zippers.

In the first sample, the mother had unpleasant things to say about the father. If the test proved he was the dad, she was asked, would she want him to play any role in the life of her child. She said no. She just wanted the money. Court-ordered support payments are much higher than welfare. That fact is one of the come-ons that encourage young mothers to make a public spectacle of themselves and their babies.

The child frequently appeared on screen. According to a disclaimer printed on the screen, he could not hear or see what was happening. Cute kid. Marketable.

Accused dad and his girlfriend were interviewed away from the set. He said he wanted to get married and raise a family, but if he was the DNA dad he wouldn't be able to afford to. His girlfriend had ugly things to say about the other woman. The studio audience hooted and jeered.

The child's face appeared again as the couple was led onto the set where mother waited. There was an explosion of obscenities and the audio portion was reduced to a series of beeps.

Working up suspense like a presenter at the Academy Awards, Mr. Povich slowly opened the envelope with the test results. He dragged it out. The test showed the accused was not the dad. There was much hugging and cheering and celebrating.

The mom rushed away. She was broken-hearted and crying. Mr. Povich caught up to her and consoled her. He told her they would keep trying.

It was the seventh man she thought could be the dad. All had admitted to sex with her around the time of conception.

The child's face flashed on screen again. Smiling. He's being raised by a parent who has no dignity, honour, sense of shame, or appreciation of the role of a father in the raising of a child. If she has a capacity for love, it isn't evident. She's raising a child alone and in poverty in a society where any number of wannabe moms and dads in loving relationships would adopt in a flash.

Contestant No. 2 gets nailed by his DNA. This time mom whoops for joy as dad storms off, angry and determined not to pay. His child is on screen, looking cute. Congratulations kid. We've found your dad. He doesn't want anything to do with you and he's likely not going to pay. But wasn't it fun? He was the fourth attempt. Mom guessed wrong on the first three players in this odd game of Russian roulette.

As the credits rolled I was numbed. This is entertainment? Children at risk being used as bait to bring in viewers? And as one who believes life imitates art, is this not giving the message to young people that this kind of carelessness is acceptable?

There are still teenagers around our house, so I did a little survey. All were male and familiar with the DNA television game. They thought it was kind of neat. A child should know who his dad is. They had no concept of the financial obligations. The show doesn't go into that end. If it did it would seriously cut down the number of possible contestants.

I clicked off the TV and talked, one-way, to my dad. He died 50 years ago when I was 13, but he's still my hero. He taught me to be proud of being a man. He taught me to respect and protect women. He said I had a duty to protect the helpless. I had just watched children in need of a hand-up and couldn't help. So did millions of others.

Writing about it is all I can do. Sorry, Dad.

Dave Brown is the Citizen's senior editor. Send e-mail to dbrown@thecitizen.southam.ca Read previous columns at www.ottawacitizen.com