If I’d asked a random sampling of people as recently as a month ago if they’d ever watched Jon & Kate Plus 8, they’d stare at me blankly – but that was BT, Before Tabloids. BT, Jon & Kate Plus 8 was a half-hour weekly reality show on TLC that followed the lives of the Gosselins, a family of twins and sextuplets. We saw them doing the mundane—from breakfast to potty training—as well as the exciting—trips to Aspen, Hawaii, and Disneyland, paid for, I assume, by the sponsoring resorts in exchange for publicity.
Now, AT—After Tabloids—almost everyone’s heard of the hypocritical, shameful, exploitative—choose your poison—Gosselins: Jon’s “affair,” with a teacher he met in a bar, Kate’s “affair” with her bodyguard, Jon’s immaturity, Kate’s bitchiness. In the space of a few months the Gosselins have gone from being a much admired, church-going Christian-values family to a pair of child abusers and their little victims. I do not exaggerate: Kate’s book pages on Amazon bear this kind of commentary. On forums and chat groups all over cyberspace they’re talking about the Gosselins. People who’d never heard of the show before tuned in to watch the season premiere, giving the show the biggest share of the Memorial Day tv audience. A good many of these new viewers confess they feel uneasy, like voyeurs, watching “this train wreck.”
I have no such qualms: I’ve been watching the show since its inception three years ago. It’s the only reality program I watch: I ran into it surfing and fell instantly in love with the sextuplets. Now five, Alexis, Hannah, Leah, Aaden, Joel, and Collin, are the most adorable munchkins I’ve ever seen. If there were just one of them, or even two, as in the case of their older twin sisters, Cara and Mady, they’d still be gorgeous, with their mixed Korean-Caucasian heritage—but it’s the group dynamic that makes them so captivating. They don’t look alike, and their personalities are each unique–but they’re roughly the same size, and when they’re running around chattering and playing with each other…as I said, I’m in love.
As much as I enjoyed watching the kids grow up, at some point I began to wonder how these children were going to feel when they were old enough to realize that their lives have been meticulously documented and publicized. My own kids have given me grief for some of the pictures I took of them; how was Alexis going to feel, as a teenager, seeing reruns of her potty training on national television? How will Collin feel when his first girlfriend says she saw him rubbing chocolate pudding all over his naked belly as a toddler? I assuaged my fears by reasoning that the show would end once the kids passed the age of adorable—coming any minute now—and maybe reruns would end by the time they become teenagers. At least I hope so. I seem to have become heavily invested in the fate of these children.
One of the constant themes on the program is Kate’s domineering control—of her kids, the food they eat, her house, and Jon. She’s a major control freak, phobic about germs and dirt: she told a potential housecleaner that she washes the kitchen floor three times a day. The stuff with Jon, though, is what gets everyone bananas. At times I ‘ve winced, she’s so bad: interrupting him, ridiculing him, correcting his grammar, criticizing his parenting, throwing him out of my kitchen. Jon would roll his eyes or make droll remarks that seemed to pass right over Kate’s head. Once, she attacked him for breathing too heavily next to her ear; he responded with a gentle tongue-in-cheek, “I’m sorry for breathing, dear.”
During the course of the program the Gosselins outgrew their digs twice and moved; they now live in a huge country mansion on acres and acres of wooded land. Kate once said when she found out she was having sextuplets she’d lie around staring at her outsized belly, thinking, We won’t even be able to afford to take them to an amusement park. Hah! The sextuplets have been to more upscale resorts in their first five years than I’ve been to in my entire life. I don’t begrudge them the money, though, not a whit: they need the humungous house, I’m glad they can afford organic food, and I’m sure they’re socking some away for college educations. Of course, much of the public invective against the Gosselins has been about the money.
Get over it, people! Stop your knee-jerk, self-righteous judging and take a look at what’s really happening to this family.
It’s true that Kate spouts annoying Christian homilies—and I give the producers credit for keeping the religious jargon to a minimum. She also claims everything she does is for the children, when it’s clear that Kate herself is thriving on the career she’s been handed as Sextomom (If Octomom’s a word, isn’t Sexto?) I don’t begrudge her the career, the money, or her enjoyment of it. I do, however, find fault with the hypocrisy.
Early on it occurred to me that separation of these parents would be devastating on every level. I come from the 1970s, when divorce was all the rage and we justified it by claiming kids were better off with divorced than unhappy parents. What bullshit!--which I learned when I jumped on the divorce bandwagon myself; many studies have subsequently backed me up. I no longer regard divorce when kids are involved as a great option, but as a last resort. For these particular parents, everything and anything should be tried before going that route. And one thing that should really be tried is to get the hell off television.
The papparazzi have taken up permanent residence across the street from the Gosselin’s fabulous new home. Everywhere Kate and the children go, the ghouls follow with their cameras. She taught the kids to call them “P”, not wanting five-year-olds to get a false sense of self-importance, or to tell people “The papparazzi follow me.” On the premiere, as the entourage walked into a store to buy birthday decorations, the ghouls were out in full force snapping their cameras: yesterday the picture was on the cover of Star with a headline saying something like Kids beg Daddy not to go! Afraid of Control Freak Mom! Right. Little Joel is afraid of Kate. Alexis is cowering under her bed. Oh, Puh-leez! Anyone who believes this claptrap has to be pretty dim.
Things can only get worse. Even if Kate and Jon patch things up, he isn’t happy living his life out loud anymore, while she’s adamant about continuing for the kids, despite the fact that she obviously can’t handle this kind of fame. More important, the children are being enveloped in a toxic atmosphere. Mady and Cara are pre-pubescent. They must surely be aware that the whole world is judging their parents, calling Jon immature and Kate a holy bitch.
Off screen, Kate could still have her Sextomom career, writing her books and speaking to church groups and such. Jon complains about being stuck home alone with the kids when she tours, but they can certainly afford help. And if he hates it so much, let him go back to work—he had a good job before fame and fortune induced him to leave the mundane work world behind. Jon’s the kind of guy who’d be happier in that mundane world than as a stay-at-home-dad. And at this point, he could probably name his own terms.
I’m probably no better than the rest of the yentas, weighing in with my opinions and judgments. In my defense, I really do care about the kids. I don’t fully blame Jon or Kate for the way things have devolved; how many of us can say we’d do any better if suddenly thrust into a worldwide spotlight? How many of us could handle the intense scrutiny of others? I’m certain I wouldn’t be as graceful as Kate under her circumstances. Not to mention raising eight kids! Hello, strait-jacket!
Jon and Kate, it’s probably none of my business, but by being public with your lives you’ve made it so. I really hope you guys can work things out. Get the hell off the boob tube. Go see a counselor—and not a priest, for godsakes, but a skilled marital therapist. Be brutally honest with yourselves and with one another. Your kids deserve it. You deserve it. If it turns out you simply can’t stay together, so be it—at least you’ll be able to say you gave it your best shot.