Base, degrading, and morally offensive? An Ontario radio station defies critics and launches a fertility-treatment giveaway contest.
Why do we find the physical and emotional pain of others entertaining? More importantly, why do we do so in sufficient numbers that companies can exploit this human trait to make a lot of money? I am thinking, here, of the “legal hits” in hockey and American football that off the field of play would be counted as assaults. I am also thinking of the vicarious thrills that audiences experience when anger and aggression between players spill over into rank violence, bringing individual spectators to their feet, feverish with excitement as fists fly and blood flows.
But not everyone is drawn to these displays of brute force. For some people, it is the emotional trauma of broken hearts and teary-eyed confessions that seems to provide the greatest fascination. I am thinking, here, of certain talk shows that showcase stories of infidelity, rape, incest, and other human treacheries. I am also thinking of certain reality TV shows where viewers take great delight in the humiliation and degradation of willing contestants. And, more recently, we have witnessed the emergence of reality radio shows that have similar hopes of entertaining listening audiences with tales of woe.
A public radio station in Ontario, which will remain nameless here (as I don’t want to provide it with any more free publicity), has recently launched a “Win a Baby” contest. The prize is “up to” three fertility-treatment procedures within a 12-month period. The approximate cash value is “up to” CDN $35,000. Unlike the controversial British “To Hatch Lottery,” which is set to offer £25,000 worth of in vitro fertilization treatments as the prize, there are no tickets to purchase for this “Win a Baby” contest. Contestants need only complete a brief questionnaire, submit a photo of themselves and their partner (if applicable), and craft a 100-word essay that explains why they deserve to “Win a Baby” (or, more precisely, win a chance to create a baby).
A panel of judges will review all submissions and select the Top 5 Finalists. These Finalists will be announced the morning of Sept. 30, when their stories will be aired on the radio and displayed, along with their pictures, on the contest website. Listeners will then have until Oct. 9 to vote for the Finalist they think should win, and those votes will help determine the winner, as chosen by the Judging Panel.
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This contest has been described as “offensive,” “in poor taste,” “appalling,” “unethical,” “insulting,” and “degrading.” Ironically, the contest instructions stipulate that contestants’ written submissions must be “in good taste.” But how does one write something in “good taste” for a contest that is “in poor taste”?
Applicants are further advised: “Above all else, you must BE HONEST! Any answer may be verified for accuracy. Don’t answer a question hoping to give us the answer we ‘want’ to hear.” But how could a serious applicant do otherwise? The point of this contest is to entertain. The listening audience knows this, and so do those who complete the application form. Creative writing skills, not parenting skills, are going to ultimately determine the winner.
The fact is, all contestants are likely in the same situation: They want a baby, but they can’t have one without medical assistance, and fertility treatments in Ontario can be very expensive, so it would be great if someone else paid the bill. In itself, however, this isn’t a winning story. In order to woo judges and voters, contestants will need to embellish this story without including false or misleading information. This will involve choosing which facts among many would most appeal to the judges (and the radio audience). Will they be interested in details about the specific cause(s) of infertility, the financial burdens, the marital strife resulting from the stress of being unable to conceive, or other, more salacious, details of their personal lives?
The “Win a Baby” contest is morally offensive in many ways.
First, it trivializes what is, for many, one of the more important of human experiences: creating and nurturing another life.
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Second, it extends the disturbing trend that began with reality TV, inviting audiences to be entertained by the misfortunes of others. It thereby contributes to the normalization of morbid voyeurism.
Third, it exalts one of the many problems with crass capitalism: the “anything for a buck” mentality that permeates our business culture. Alongside the idea that “anything goes” is the idea that there is “no such thing as bad publicity.” The radio station seems pleased with the international media attention it has received, despite the fact that much of it is critical.
Fourth, and most disturbing of all, concern for the well-being and welfare of the future child is completely absent. Having a child, whether through sexual relations, adoption, or assisted human reproduction, should, first and foremost, be about the best interests of the child. With this contest, the welfare of the as-of-yet unborn child is not a paramount consideration (if it is any consideration at all). Instead, the contest entrenches the commodification of children, such that children are seen no differently than any other consumer product that might be offered up as a prize in a lottery: a television, a car, a trip to Disneyland … or a baby. What’s the difference?
In the best of all possible worlds, this contest would fail or be cancelled. But I don’t expect either of those things to happen. What does this say about us as a society?
Photo courtesy of Rasha Bradic.