How tickled was I, just a few months ago, to finally discover the guilty pleasure called TLC’s Jon and Kate Plus Eight? The show focuses on the Gosselins, a Pennsylvanian family comprised of two parents, two pre-’tweener twin girls, and a set of (now) four-year-old sextuplets. Beyond the obvious kiddie cuteness factor, it is tough to articulate the show’s appeal. This is particularly true for me, since I do not generally find the children of other people to be interesting or reliably endearing. But I think if you are a new parent, there is something inspiring about watching Kate try to juggle 8 kids in diapers. It allows you to think, “Eh, I’m not doing so bad, am I?” And the appeal is not just limited to the mommy set, even Mr. Right-Click got sucked into the Gosselins’ web and after emptying our Tivo of back episodes, I think we both are out of new episodes to watch.
Welcoming the Gosselins into our home offers Mr. Right-Click and I an opportunity to show off our shiny progressive liberalism. You see, the Gosselins are Christians. Not just Christians, but Born Agains. Like any good urban intellectual, I figure this is fine for them, and don’t begrudge them their screwy beliefs as long as I don’t have to hear about it at length. Apparently, the producers at TLC feel the same way: other than one episode featuring Jon and Kate in nosebleed seats at the bread and circus they call “church,” the faith angle has been significantly downplayed. After a season or two, Jon and Kate finally figured out how to exploit visual media and index cards displaying Bible verses started showing up on the kitchen cabinets. In a particularly shrewd maneuver, Jon has started wearing clothing from Abreadcrumb & Fish–sigh–a move that adds a sartorial element to Jon & Kate’s emerging layered dogmatic symbolism.
But whatever, Christians will be Christians.
And I have indulgently looked the other way at the fact that the Gosselins–whose progeny is the result of two overly successful rounds of fertility treatments–ignored the medical advice that must have been given for selective reduction after they discovered that the Goliath sized, flesh-colored watermelon attached to Kate’s stomach was carrying six viable embryos. That is their faith at work, and even taking into consideration the strain these domestic choices have placed upon taxpayers, it is none of my business. Besides, I don’t live in Pennsylvania.
Having said that, tempering my enjoyment of the show was a lingering suspicion of the parents’ motivations for putting their children on TV. Of course, I have this question for many reality tv show participants, so why should the Gosselins be any different? Also, having been a full-time stay-at-home mom myself, I hypothesized that it might be nice to have a crew full of adults in the home with me all day–you know, just to keep me from going totally insane. Plus, the crew comes in handy when they’re trying to load and unload the kids from the hotel shuttle they use as a family car.
I do find it heartwarming that people everywhere try to help out the Gosselins–even to the point of donating plastic surgery for Kate’s “dog jowl” stomach (her term, not mine) and, more recently, hair plugs for Jon. But there was a hint of disingenuousness to the Gosselins’ explanation for doing the show as supplied to Oprah (“To allow people to see what our lives are like, because they were so curious,” and, even better, “To document our kids’ childhoods, because we are so busy we miss a lot of it”), and as the freebies continue to pile up, this suspicion deepens along with my inevitable perk inspired jealousy.
Anyway, I have been very tolerant thus far, as I’ve been saying, but the latest episode, “Sextuplets Turn 4,” challenges my thusfar benevolently patronizing attitude towards Jon and Kate. First of all, the plan for the sextuplets’ birthday this year (after a backyard carnival last year with ponies, jumping castles, and the like) was to decorate cupcakes at a local bakery (hello, product placement? this is Jon & Kate), a rather lame and anti-climactic choice to begin with, but which soon turned into a travesty of justice when the sextuplets were not allowed to eat their cupcakes. Not only were they not allowed to eat the cupcakes at the bakery, but even later, after dinner, many of the kids were still not allowed to eat their cupcakes because of failing to finish their Sarah Snow designer organic dinners.
What could be worse than making 4-year olds spend the day spreading frosting on cupcakes they will never get to eat? Wait, I know, watching their father eat the cupcakes right in front of them. Gaah! As I gaped in horror at Jon wolfing down Joel’s cupcake while he sobbed in front of him, my unquestioning superfandom of Jon & Kate started to waver. How could I get behind these people, how could I ever look at them the same way, after this?
It didn’t help that in the interview segment of this episode–the bit where Jon, Kate, and their thinly veiled hatred for each other are crowded onto a love seat and asked to deconstruct the events depicted in the episode–Jon was wearing his Isaiah 40:31 t-shirt. For those not familiar with the slogans of the faithful, Isaiah 40:31 reads:
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Meanwhile, Kate is sitting next to Jon, dressed in her Whore of Babylon getup, and scolding him for thinking of their lives in terms of “seasons” (i.e. John says: “You have been telling me I’m fat for three seasons”). Based on the ill-placed tan lines exposed by Kate’s halter top, I’m guessing that the Gosselins must have been renewing their God-given strength in the Florida Keys again. Oh, assault on my senses! How could I have been so wrong about these two?!
I adore the kids, and a chief draw of the show is getting to see how much they all seem to enjoy and love each other. (Well, maybe all except for Colin, who might end up the family’s Uncle with Aspberger’s.) But I’m a little worried for them now. Perhaps this whole cleanliness thing with Kate is moving out of the realm of loveable quirk and into the realm of personality disorder. Maybe Jon feels trapped and is eating to mask his pain. And what happens later, after the cameras are gone, and Joel comes to terms with his sexuality? Will his parents accept him as he is, even when they can’t limit his dressing up to fatigues and police uniforms anymore? Will Mady’s obsessive jealousy and anger management problem blossom into full-blown alcoholism in her teens? And what is the deal with Alexis and her Aldergator?
It might be cruel to hypothesize about the lives of young children in a public space, where they could easily find it or be told about it. But these are children who have been whored out for free melamine plates and plastic surgery since they were six months old. And who has served them up to me like characters ripe for deconstruction? Their parents! As much as I sympathize with the financial concerns of the Gosselins, and cannot blame them for trying to make a better life (materially) for their children, I think the show might be getting out of hand.
Naturally, I will still continue to watch.