"17 Kids and Counting" is a reality TV show that broadcasts Monday evenings on TLC. It's the conservative, homeschooling, big-family answer to MTV's The Osbornes. Instead of the rebellious, unhappy, swearing, rock n' roll Osborne kids, the Duggar children are cheerfully obedient and gladly join in family sing-a-longs. It's astonishing, compelling and downright fascinating TV.
It's also lucrative.
With a family of their size, the product placement possibilities are endless. Laundry detergent! Antibacterial hand wash! Tater tots!
Holy cash cow, Batman!
On last night's show, Jim Bob (the dad) did a not-so-subtle product pitch for a bathroom cleaning detergent. Works great and doesn't scratch surfaces!
Note to producers: Jim Bob needs some coaching on looking natural.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoy the Duggars' show. They're debunking the postmodern myth that children are a burden, family life is tedious and women who choose this lifestyle do so for lack of options. Good for them! They deserve to make money from this valuable public service. I just wish it could be a little less obvious. And a little more honest.
Here's why: the Duggars are a unique product. They are controversial--which translates into higher ratings. They are still growing and their first son is getting married---really high ratings.
And the kicker? The Duggars have a perfect life. At least, as far as I can see. It's what I can't see that troubles me.
Because while I enjoy watching the Duggars organize their household, do their chores, load up for trips--I often wonder: yeah, but where's their real life?
Where's the prodigal son who defies his father and runs away from home? Where's the daughter longing for a college education? Where are the children who meltdown in the grocery store? Where's the mother who admits that sometimes she feels like a failure?
Instead, we get a lot of Jim Bob telling everyone to "LOAD UP!" And everyone falls in line.
That saddens me. Because The Duggars, unlike The Osbornes, are representing Christianity. In some small way, they are selling the gospel. If Christians pretend to live perfect lives, we make a mockery of our faith. And worst of all, we proclaim to a hurting world our glaring lack of compassion.
"We're Christians! We're happy! Everything is great! PRAISE THE LORD AND LOAD UP!"
Perfection is a burden none of us were meant to bear.
Imagine how heavy it is for the Duggar children. Is the family testimony (and dollars?) at stake? Do the Duggars have a vested interest in making conservative, homeschooling families look good? One might even say they are being paid not to fail.
The thing is, if the Duggars allowed their real life struggles to play out on TV (think Jon & Kate plus 8), they wouldn't lose their audience---they would gain a stronger following. Because there are deeply conservative families all across this nation who are struggling with real-life. Some are discouraged. Some have children who have fallen away from the faith. These families would like nothing more than to live the perfect Duggar life.
See, I'm not suggesting the Duggars need to air their dirty laundry (maybe they really are perfect). In some ways it's unfair to impose my postmodern narrative on their clearly anti-postmodern lifestyle.
I'm just saying the Duggars are being paid to share their life. In fact, I may buy products they endorse. That is precisely why I think the Duggars have a responsbility to be more honest--for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of their children.
It's not difficult to let people see your frail humanity. But it does require humility.
The Duggars have the guts to be on TV. Do they have the guts to keep it real?