For several years I’ve been strong critic of the television show Jon and Kate Plus Eight. This popular program follows the day-to-day challenges of Jon and Kate Gosselin as they raise their eight children, six of which were the product of the same pregnancy. I objected to the premise because of what I suspected it would ultimately cause, if the show turned out to be “successful” (i.e. a big money-maker), namely the celebritizing and sensationalizing of the Gosselin family and all of the devastating pressures and temptations this would inevitably bring. Well, now having just begun its fifth season, those pop culture chickens are coming home to roost, as the season premier (viewed by 9.8 million people) has revealed the depths of John and Kate’s marital problems. As the Marxists used to say about capitalism, from the start the whole Jon and Kate television project contained within itself the seeds of its own destruction.
Lest we pity them too much, we must remember that this was a choice they made. No one forced them to put their lives on display before millions. For the Gosselins, the price was right. Or so they thought. And now, well, they’re paying the price for volunteering themselves and their children for the American celebrity machine—which is more like a soul-eating monster. It’s just a shame that they have also served up their children as a meal.
This program is, as they say, wrong at so many levels. It promotes many lies and vices, and here are just a few.
J&K+8 perpetuates lies about fame and wealth. One of the enticing aspects of the show is its insinuation that the resources the program provides the Gosselins could help them in raising so many children. “Look how they are able to take all of those trips and have so many wonderful experiences that they otherwise couldn’t have!” viewers remark. Such an attitude naively overlooks the myriad problems caused by celebrity. Here someone might retort, “Ah, but don’t the Gosselins’ problems actually remind us of the fact that fame and wealth don’t bring happiness?” To which I reply, “At what price? The mental health and moral well-being of their children?” Furthermore, it is doubtful that viewers will see the implosion of their marriage as anything but mistakes made by the Gosselins independently of their fame and wealth. Alas, the real lessons here are lost on most viewers, and the lies are only reinforced.
J&K+8 invites gossip. When I hear people recount the salacious details of the Gosselins’ troubled marriage, I can’t help but conclude that something is terribly awry. Would we talk openly about the marital problems of church friends or neighbors? And in front of our kids? Good grief, no! Yet because J&K+8 plops it all right in our laps, we are invited to chat about it all in frank terms. And if we can do so regarding the Gosselins, then why not about anyone else? J&K+8—like so many reality-TV shows—makes the gossip mentality contagious.
J&K+8 is essentially child abuse. Yes, those are strong words, but hear me out. All of the research indicates that severe marital problems and divorce are harmful to children. I need not count the ways here. To create a situation in which a marriage is aggravated by the trappings of celebrity (e.g., constant intrusions and loss of privacy, temptations of self-importance, increased time away from one’s kids, etc.), thus compounding the already difficult challenges of raising so many children, is cruel and abusive. And to justify this in the name of entertainment and advertising dollars (despite the euphemisms one might use to rationalize it) only makes the whole racket more pernicious. The Gosselin kids are being harmed by all of this, as nearly ten million Americans glibly look on, too preoccupied by their own amusement to recognize the moral and psychological carnage they are witnessing.