This morning I read an article in The New York Times about a new reality show called “Nine By Design” featuring a couple that has seven children and make their living refurbishing and selling million dollar homes. Sigh. Why is this on television? There is strong evidence that TV normalizes behavior and in developing countries has even been intentionally used to shift family planning norms to make smaller families more acceptable.
Has anyone stopped to consider that celebrating a family with seven children (or in resource terms, more like 63 children, as the average American child uses the resources of 9 low-income country children) may be, in subtle ways, ratcheting up the normal family size in the United States?
So here’s my pitch for a new reality show that will educate as well as entertain: find an attractive couple that is about to have their first—and only—child and plans to raise this child super sustainably: wearing cloth diapers and used clothing, playing with hand-me-down toys, eating homemade baby food (mostly vegetarian of course), and growing up in a small home in a walkable neighborhood (why is it assumed that having a child mandates having a car in this country, even in a well-planned city?).
Sure, they’d have lots of TV-worthy conflicts: fights over baby names, arguments over whose turn it is to rinse out the diapers or to make the baby food, debates over where to draw the line: do you return gifts unopened to family and friends who ignore your requests to give nothing new or do you just donate them to charity to subtly make the point while kind-of protecting their feelings?
And of course, there would be regular doses of social pressure to have another baby, which the couple could fend off and hopefully reinforce to viewers both with their words and actions the value of having just one child—environmentally, economically, socially, and psychologically (only children typically have more access to parents and are therefore smarter, and no, there is no psychological evidence that they are more spoiled—for a good review of this see Bill McKibben’s Maybe One).
And while I’m an idealist, I’m also a realist. The business of television makes its cash from product placements these days, so let’s place the truly best products in the show. Organic cotton cloth diapers, Dr. Bronners magic soap, one of those baby carriers (second hand of course), baking soda as a key cleaning product (what do you say Arm & Hammer, you interested?), a really durable blender to make baby food (perhaps even a bicycle-driven blender though I don’t think these are on the market yet)—in other words things that are truly necessary (not simply marketed as such), consumed only as needed, and draw attention to the most sustainable ways of living.