Friday, June 18, 2010

Does this change things?

When I wrote this post about Abby Sunderland, I realized that some people were bound to disagree. I've learned as a parent that some parents have a much greater tolerance for their children's potentially dangerous adventures than I do. Then again, I only have daughters, so it's perhaps not all that strange that they are naturally more cautious than sons might be, or that I see my role as easing them into the world, not letting them set sail at 16 on a solo voyage to see how it all goes.

I haven't mentioned the somewhat disturbing wrinkle that developed in Abby's story:
Reality check: After nearly losing their 16-year-old daughter Abby to rough seas on a solo sail around the world, did Laurence and Marianne Sunderland try to cash in with a television reality show, "Adventures in Sunderland"? [...]

Laurence Sunderland told the Los Angeles Times Monday that he had cut ties with Magnetic Entertainment, the company with which he had planned to do the show, because he was not happy with the direction it was taking.

"There is no show at this time, nor will there be," he told the newspaper. "They were assuming Abigail was going to die out there. They were relying on her dying, and so we cut the ties."

Magnetic Entertainment's website is, as I write this, a placeholder. But a cache of the page shows the "Adventures in Sunderland" blurb--and did when I checked the website earlier this week. Exactly when plans to feature the Sunderland children in a reality show fell through is unclear--but there is still talk that hints that Abby might write a book about her adventures.

I didn't rush to write about this, though I was interested in it, because I wanted to give Abby's family the benefit of the doubt. But it seems clear that at least at one point, there were plans to shop a reality TV show about the family--about Zac Sunderland's voyage, about Abby's voyage, or perhaps a combination; or maybe the concept would have evolved into something else entirely.

So, does that change approval for the degree of risk the Sunderlands are willing to allow their children to undertake?

For me, it doesn't make much of a difference; I already said that I don't think sixteen-year-olds should be attempting solo circumnavigations, and it seems that several sailing associations might agree, as they no longer officially recognize any records set by such young sailors. But for those who were more inclined to defend the Sunderlands, I have to ask: does the fact that there was even talk of a reality show--even if it didn't get anywhere--change your opinion? Can parents be dispassionate enough to make sound parental decisions when somewhere in the background, somebody has an idea for potential fame (and, possibly, fortune) based on the child's adventures?


Anonymous said... seemed a given, that there was some element of the spectacle about it. On the one hand, however, perhaps the justification was that the (presumably) large amount of money to change hands was expected to pay for the equipment and college? As well as the gazillion dollar insurance policy. (From past experience, life insurance policies often don't cover such activities as parachuting, hang-gliding, mountain climbing, ? solo circumnavigation).

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Not many seem to be answering, which leads me to believe the only honorable thing to do -- having found some merit in letting Abby try -- is to attempt to answer.

The possibility of cashing in on your child's attempt to do something inherently dangerous is always disturbing. However, this is not "Balloon Boy." It appears, short of knowing the family personally, that Abby really did enjoy sailing, really did have confidence in her ability, really did have a reasonably well equipped boat (that means her family must have had some dough already -- or Abby had sponsors, with all that that entails).

I still think this is one of those things on which we may each have opinions, and voice them, but there is no way to make it a matter of public policy that parents must always or may never allow their children to do such a thing. And I do admire the family cutting off the show when it became morally repugnant to them.