UP TV producers decided it would make for uplifting television to put low-income children in a situation where they would have to choose between helping themselves and their parents while being morally judged, and the news media agreed.
This headline describes the scenario well: “These low-income kids were given a gift for their parents and for themselves. But they could only keep one.” In a move reminiscent of this year’s similarly offensive TV show The Briefcase, a child was presented with their dream gift, and their parent’s dream gift, and forced to choose just one to take home. The camera watched as they struggled with the decision while eyeing the camera and producer. Each ultimately chose to selflessly forego their own gift and bring one home to their parent.
But that choice was engineered to put the child in a difficult situation solely for viewer’s amusement. It was later revealed they would be able to take both gifts home.
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What was the purpose of this? The stunt was created by UP TV, a small network that says its mission is to “always uplift you.” The video is part of the campaign “uplift someone” with the theme of “give it up”, encouraging a spirit of self-sacrifice and giving.
The most galling part is that wealthy people are the ones with actual power to ‘uplift’ large numbers of people by giving up a larger percentage of their wealth, and they do the exact opposite. So the producers’ choice to focus on lower-income people rather than training their cameras on wealthy kids is telling. It’s especially strange because there is already copious evidence that poor people give a larger percentage of their money to charity even when they aren’t on TV, and rich people give a smaller percentage, even if the dollar amount is higher because they have more money. The media loves to tell us ‘surprising’ stories of people who don’t have much being generous to others. Most don’t engineer exploitative situations to be captured on video like this, but the idea is that we should be encouraged that humans are overall very generous. People of good-will will fight poverty on their own.
And while poorer people are more likely to be generous, wealthy people use their immense political power to hold onto money at the expense of programs that help others. The richest people and corporations in the nation have unprecedented control over the political system, Republicans and Democrats alike. And we know what they use that power for. They get the government to spend less on virtually every program that aids low-income people, and they keep the tax money that would have paid for those things.
A show testing the generosity of the wealthy would be a lot more revealing, but wouldn’t restore anyone’s faith in humanity. And of course, rich people don’t need stuff or money badly enough to expose themselves making difficult decisions on TV, so it likely wouldn’t be possible.
This video distracts us from that, and instead focuses our attention on figuring out which poor people are deserving, which ones shouldn’t be in poverty because of some inherent goodness. Desert is a conservative idea that our economic system rewards people for their hard work and virtue. But anyone who supports our capitalist system has to accept it to some degree. Otherwise it would be impossible to accept the huge number of people living in absolute economic misery while the rich hoard the resources that could make others’ lives easier. Even if the system isn’t perfect, desert theory says, good hardworking people should generally rise while bad people fall.
UP TV singles children out for praise because of their selflessness in front of cameras. But that sets up the opposite possibility as well: that a child would be considered unworthy if she chose to take her own gift home.
Our society is constantly putting poor people’s choices under a microscope, especially for people who receive some type of public assistance. When society decides a person’s choices were wrong, it then deems them undeserving of those benefits — and even of our sympathy.
All people deserve security, comfort, health, and yes, gifts. Judging children for how they grapple with unacceptable poverty does not make for good entertainment.