Usually when people talk about putting children on reality television I envision some poor child dragged into their parent’s doomed and pathetic pursuit of fame. Toddler beauty queens. Balloon boys. Racially ambiguous octuplets. Or really, any run-of-the-mill, doe-eyed spawn of a histrionic psychopath.
You know the type.
But it hasn’t always been like this. In 1964, a young man in England sat down with a group of 14 7-year-old children and interviewed them on camera. The resulting footage was parceled into something called 7 Up, a documentary which has come to be credited as the grandfather of all reality television, and more importantly, one of the most exciting social experiments of modern time.
If you have taken a basic psychology class in the last 30 years (or just grew up in the UK), you probably watched a few installments. For everyone else, I’ll break it down: The aim was to show the lives typical British children; their homes, their towns, their basic routines. There were rich kids, poor kids, and some in-between. Some shy, some smart, some silly. Some were clearly coming from loving and supportive homes, while others were fending for themselves in a state-run orphanage or highly-privileged boarding school. A snapshot sampling of all walks of life – age seven.
Then, seven years later, when the kids were 14, they went back and interviewed them as teenagers. Did the smart one succeed in school? Was the pretty girl getting too much attention from boys? Was the littlest asshole still behaving like a jerk? Fascinating.
Then they went back and did it again at age 21.
Then 28, then so on and so on, every seven years, until today – age 56.
56Up is now in my local theater and I can’t wait to see it! It came out in the UK last year but is only hitting some theaters in the US right now. (First Downton – now this. Gahhh. Why are the Brits so anxious to make us wait? )
If you are one of the generations of followers who have been anxiously awaiting the latest installment, check the website to see when it will be near you. If you are new to the series, I recommend you start from the beginning (at least watch the first one and a couple in the middle) before seeing 56 Up. Lucky for you, they are available on Netflix and Youtube. Come on! Get a craft project going…a cat…some wine…eleventy billion hours of documentary footage…Not a bad way to spend a cold and dreary February weekend. Who is with me?
Here, I’ll get you started: