Probably the only thing most viewers learned from the reality show “19 Kids and Counting” is that the Duggar family has enough children to populate a small village. And the Duggars would probably peacefully exist among the Puritans because even for fundamentalist Christians, they are pretty rigid.
Recent revelations that Ma and Pa Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar’s eldest son Josh, 27, molested five underage girls — including four of his own sisters — could lead TLC, formerly known as The Learning Channel, to cancel the now-suspended program — but not before the network helped enrich the family and spread its backwards, cultish religious beliefs. The Duggar offspring — with rumors that he had abused girls notwithstanding — was also able to secure a job at a foundation called the Family Research Council in 2013 through his family’s notoriety, though he has recently resigned in light of the allegations.
If you are someone who can’t see any irony in Duggar being hired by a conservative Christian group and lobbying organization such as Family Research Council, you probably should stop reading now. You have likely been blinded by the light of your own belief in God and cannot find the forest for the trees — which is sad, but unfortunately common.
Anyone who watched “19 Kids and Counting” has more than a simple, guilty pleasure to explain. To begin with, this family is just annoying. All of the children’s names start with “J,” and for some reason their 19th child Josie, born in 2009, was given the middle name Brooklyn, though I’m pretty sure the family might disagree with how almost every resident of this most-famous and commodified borough actually lives.
But people weren’t turned off when this come-to-life version of the Flanders family from “The Simpsons” infamy was put on television. When the world got a chance to see into the Duggars’ lives, people liked it. The show became one of TLC’s top-rated programs, which only further proved that people would watch about anything.
In television networks’ all-consuming quest for profits, TLC saw the Duggar family as a way to make money. Perhaps more troubling though, TLC, by putting a family like the Duggars on television, became complicit in how they live. Discovery Communications, which owns TLC, helped the family complete their house and provided some help furnishing and decorating the home. The family is also paid for the series.
Those who prop themselves up as living correctly according to their interpretation of the Bible or God’s law usually act aloof about the choices they make. This haughtiness often leads to a fall from grace — and that’s in the Bible somewhere, too:
“Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.” — Proverbs 18:12
The Duggars’ evangelical Christian beliefs are akin to that of the Quiverfull movement, which promotes procreation and renounces all forms of birth control. Like most hypocrites, the Duggars’ conveniently pass over the above verse in favor of another that encourages believers to have large families:
“Lo, children are a heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.” — Psalm 127
This dissonance is similar to how many Republicans who favor themselves conservative Christians also like the death penalty. Does the Bible not say “thou shalt not kill” as one of the Ten Commandments?
After Josh’s molestation admission, “19 Kids …” lost many advertisers. When the sponsor money dries up, the program can’t be long for this world. Still, some ultra-conservative religious groups and individuals sympathetic to the family now want the network to promise the program will return.
However, second chances are for those who not only apologize, but will also live their lives differently in the future. In order to not repeat the same heinous, abusive behavior, the Duggars’ kids — especially the boys — need to be taught that females are their equals, which is something their orthodoxy will not allow.
As compared to scripted comedy or drama, networks love reality shows because they are cheap, popular and require little investment. Though activists have claimed sitcoms with bawdy humor lead to bad habits and a widespread perversion of youth, a show like “19 Kids and Counting” gives a platform to a family like the Duggars — and that is far more destructive to America than something with actual wit, humor or substance.
Scandal-ridden programs like “19 Kids …,” its since-canceled fellow TLC show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” and A&E’s “Duck Dynasty,” which will have its season eight premiere on June 24, feature undereducated people and provide a platform for their beliefs, ideas and cultures. In presenting these worlds in a reality format instead of as a documentary or drama, the networks promote these subjects as models to be avoided, but also give people who live similarly a reflection of themselves that allows the cycle to continue.
And there seems to be no end in sight as TLC has not only not outright canceled “19 Kids and Counting” after the scandal broke, but is actually considering continuing the show as is or without Josh. There are even rumors of a possible spinoff focusing on newlywed sisters Jill, 24, who has one child, and Jessa, 22, who is pregnant with her first.
Noah Zuss is a reporter for TheBlot Magazine.