First: background. In case you haven't heard, the show Jon and Kate Plus 8 is a reality show produced by TLC that documents the adventures of a suburban Reading, Pennsylvania family headed by Jon and Kate Gosselin. The couple has (guess what) eight children: a set of twin girls born in 2001 and sextuplets--three boys and three girls--born May of 2004. At the time of the sextuplet's birth there were only 138 total cases of sextuplets worldwide. Amazingly, all six babies were born relatively healthy and joined their three-year-old sisters at home in fairly short order.
This meant Jon and Kate, in their late twenties at the time and an IT professional and RN respectively, had two three-year-olds and six newborns on their hands. Not, mind you, that they meant to. The couple, unable to conceive on their own, had the first set of twins courtesy of IVF fertilization and had hoped to conceive one more child the same way the second time around. When they learned a full six fetuses had begun to develop, the Gosselins made the choice not to selectively reduce. Kate lived through an unimaginably arduous pregnancy, managing to carry the babies to 30 weeks gestation.
Kate quit her job as a nurse to stay home with her mega-brood and the couple received a great deal of support from their church in the form of hands-on help as well as some financial assistance. Jon continued for a time in his IT job.
The Gosselin clan made their debut on the TLC Channel not too long after that as one of several featured families on a documentary special about couples coping with multiple births. Photogenic, articulate, and remarkably open about both how difficult the struggle as well as how great the rewards inherent in raising two sets of multiples, the Gosselins received an avalanche of fan mail, questions, and some additional support. It didn't hurt that their children: Cara, Mady, Alexis, Aaden, Leah, Joel, Hannah and Collin are all cute as bugs ears, as they say. It wasn't too long before TLC realized the potential, and thus a new reality show was (dare I saw it?) born.
The show, now it its I believe fourth season, is just plain addictive. And, for me at least, in a sort of train-wreckish sort of way. Especially in the beginning. I watched the daily nightmare of the care and feeding of eight sticky, whiny, cute, sick, poopy-pantsed, loving, darling, screaming kids with a sort of thank-god-that-isn't-me fascination. Every show is basically a day-in-the-life--sometimes a day at home, sometimes a day at the zoo, sometimes it's Christmas, etc. Sometimes the Gosselins are happy, quite often the Gosselins are annoyed but, holy crap, I shudder to think how annoyed I'd personally be in that situation. A lot of the time? Jon and Kate are just obviously really, really tired.
In the wake of the recent rumors about Jon Gosselin's supposed questionable activities in bars and on the campus of a college near the couple's Huntingdon, PA home I've done a fair amount of Google-ing the couple of late. Specifically, I knew with the press the story has been receiving, that a statement from Jon Gosselin likely wouldn't be too far behind. And, indeed, it wasn't. I think it's interesting to note that Gosselin doesn't specifically deny any of the allegations put forth in the story in his statement. But, be that as it may, it isn't the subject of this post.
What I did turn up was a great deal of controversy surrounding the Gosselin family and the continuing production of the show. This isn't surprising considering the Gosselin's level of popularity (pretty huge by now) and the fact that the internet lends itself very easily to detractors, naysayers, and downright haters. For every rise to stardom, there is an equal and opposite reaction of online (and real life) backlash. Heck, there's a whole website dedicated to hating Rachel Ray, for heaven's sake. Near as I can figure, Rachel is a cute Italian girl who likes to cook. What's not to like?
What's different about the backlash associated with the Gosselins is, in some cases, who is involved and the nature of the controversy. Specifically, Truth Breeds Hatred is a blog written by the sister of one, "Aunt Jodi" who, in the early seasons of J&K+8 made regular guest appearances as someone who would occassionally babysit some or all of the Gosselin children. Aunt Jodi is married to Jon Gosselin's brother.
Apparently, friction arose between Jon and Kate and Aunt Jodi when it was suggested that Aunt Jodi, like the rest of the Gosselins, might be entitled to a slice of the financial pie seeing as to how she was, at that point, a regular guest star. As the story goes, this spelled the end of Aunt Jodi in the television show. According to the (now removed) blog post, "No More Aunt Jodi" that you can still read here, Kate's reaction to Jodi's possible remuneration was, "NO WAY, no one gets paid but us."
You can watch a short video of the erstwhile Aunt Jodi giving a tearful thank-you to everyone for their support here.
Beyond that, TBH is of the opinion that J&K+8 is a near criminal exploitation of the Gosselin children. That, because the Gosselin children have no say in their being filmed and because Pennsylvania, unlike California, has no laws governing the extent to which children can be filmed and how, that the Gosselin children are being taken extreme advantage of by their parents. According to the site, neither of the Gosselin parents are employed other than as stars of the reality show.
Also wading into the fray is Paul Peterson, child advocate and originator of the watchdog organization A Minor Consideration. Peterson, himself a child star who began his career as a Mouseketeer in the 1950's at age 8, went on to star in the Donna Reed Show as Reed's son and morph into something of a teen heartthrob of the time. Like so many child actors, (Danny Bonnaducci, anyone?) Peterson would eventually become obsolete with the advent of the 60's counter culture and ultimately be forced to (brace yourselves) get a real job. Because of his experiences, Peterson founded AMC as a means to help former child performers dealing with substance abuse and other issues often inherent in falling from grace in The Business, as well as work to protect the rights of children currently facing "exploitation". In Peterson's opinion, the Gosselin children fall squarely into that category.
According to Peterson and Truth Breeds Hatred and a whole slew of other people, the Gosselin children are the equivalent of trained monkeys, human beings exploited for the financial gain of their parents who have gone a bridge too far with this whole reality TV thing.
[Insert my conclusion here.]
The trouble is? I'm not sure I have a conclusion.
Here's the thing. It's not like the Gosselin children are expected to break into a choreographed rendition of "So Long, Farewell", VonTrapp like, in every episode. Quite the opposite in fact. The kids are frequently seen screaming, playing, jumping, sitting in time-out, whacking the crap out of each other. Jon and Kate are frequently seen tired, pissed off, annoyed, happy. J&K+8 sure looks like a regular family (albeit one with an unnaturally clean house for one with so many kids in it) with cameras pointed at it.
Granted, the show has made a slew of money, granted the show is supporting the Gosselin family--is this a sin? Like it or not, the Gosselins are an anomale. They are going to be stared at. Their situation, by its very nature, presents HUGE unnatural challenges. Given the financial burden that having and rearing 8 children constitutes (for an RN and an IT professional), should the Gosselins absolutely be expected to forgo the possibility of a million dollar income and financial security in the interest of privacy? Is it really not preferable that the income generated from the show support both parents being hands-on with their children the majority of the time as opposed to the Gosselins struggling for every last Lego set and stocking stuffer? Is that not worth something?
On the other hand, yes, all children need and deserve some privacy. I mean, where are we headed here to the "Mady and Cara Get their Period" episode? At some point enough is enough. But are we really there? Have the Gosselins been there all along?
My gut says no. At the risk of having to read Cara and Mady's tell-all book, "Our Childhoods were Hell and TV Ruined our Lives and, damn you, Suzanne, and that Blog Post that Three People in Paducah Read you Insensitive Twit" in twenty years, I don't think the Gosselins are there yet. Ultimately, like it or not, all children are dependent on their parents to make decisions and choices that will change their lives forever one way or the other. It happens all the time every day. It just doesn't always happen on TV. The Gosselins are an unusual family in an unusual situation. Will this impact their children? Most definitely. Are they making mistakes? For sure, all parents do.
Will these children suffer as a result of their upbringing? Yep. They will also reap likely reap amazing rewards.
They already are.