19 Kids and Counting: Why A Duggar Spinoff Could Work

I’ve never understood this marketing campaign.

I’ve never understood this marketing campaign.

The Duggars of 19 Kids and Counting are many things. They are an unorthodox family. They are Conservatives. They are public Evangelicals. They are hypocrites.

In the week since InTouch Weekly published the police report about Josh Duggar’s acts of child molestation, tabloids, advertisers and networks have been quick to respond. You can no longer stream episodes on either Hulu or TLC.com. The latest issue of People, typically the Duggars #1 fan, also covers the scandal.

Casually pretending to not have a symbiotic relationship with the Duggars.

People Magazine: Casually pretending to not have a symbiotic relationship with the Duggars.

There are also rumors that TLC is considering developing a 19 Kids and Counting spinoff, which would focus on daughters Jill and Jessa.

I know what you’re thinking. How can TLC possibly be considering a spinoff? Hasn’t this family already gotten away with enough hypocrisy?

First, as I have previously written, 19 Kids and Counting is TLC and Discovery’s most profitable show. The network and mass media company will go to great lengths to keep any Duggars on television. Second, a spinoff centered around the Duggar daughters could be intriguing reality television and a potentially genius move.

For those not up on the lives of every Duggar, Jill and Jessa are both married and starting families. (Jill gave birth in May; Jessa is due in November.) They are also presumed to be two of their brother’s victims.

Jessa Seewald and Jill Dillard

Jessa Seewald and Jill Dillard

After 200 episodes, 19 Kids and Counting has become boring reality television. Like really boring. When the Duggars 2.0 began courtships, engagements, and families of their own, the show’s plots became redundant. There are only so many wedding and birth episodes a viewer can take. Even before the scandal broke, the show needed a major shake up. Obviously a child molestation scandal is a terrible way to generate new story material and interest in a long running series, but that is exactly what is happening. (Or at least, what TLC is presumably hoping will happen.)

Now consider this. The Duggars have gone to great lengths to keep much of their public lives and agenda separate from the image purported by their reality show. Even as the Duggars 2.0 began using social media (something they can’t do until they begin a courtship) and revealed their strong conservative political/social beliefs, the show itself remained rooted in the idea that the Duggars are just an abnormally large family living the American Dream. But the truth has come out and the aftermath is potentially devastating for both the Duggars and TLC.

For a spinoff to be successful and worthy of any viewers time, Jim Bob, Michelle and Josh must be removed completely. Josh Duggars deserves no platform to redeem himself. Neither do Jim Bob or Michelle, who have little purpose on their own show. (Their oldest daughters do most of the actual child rearing.)

If the focus does shift to Jill and Jessa, then the sisters must be as open and honest about their past as possible. The spinoff cannot keep any secrets from audiences anymore. Abuse is an unspoken reality about life in as an Evangelical. Because Evangelical churches are patriarchal institutions, abusers are protected from ramifications. For any Duggar to publicly discuss their experiences as abuse victims would rock the house of Bill Gothard, so to speak.

19 Kids and Counting has spent nearly a decade masking extreme patriarchy behind a veil of Christian family values. So yes, a Duggar spinoff centered around the Duggar women would be revolutionary. And if handled properly, it is the kind of show that might actually earn the (some) Duggars actual respect.

(An alternative scenario for a spinoff, and there are many, is perhaps more likely. But I prefer to imagine a Duggar spinoff as close to Breaking Duggar as possible.)

The Unseen Realities of 19 Kids and Counting

“Reality TV promises its audience revelatory insight into the lives of others as it withholds and subverts full access to it.” — Laurie Ouellette and Susan Murray, Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture

19 kids and counting

It finally happened. After almost a decade of being America’s favorite oversized Evangelical family next door, the Duggars of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting are experiencing a scandal for which there might actually be repercussions.

Here is (some of) what we know so far:

  • On Thursday May 21, InTouch published a police report indicating allegations that oldest son Josh Duggar was accused of child molestation in 2006. His father Jim Bob waited more than a year to report the accusations.
  • Josh Duggar has since apologized and resigned as Executive Director of the Family Research Council (FRC).
  • Various blogs and websites are now uncovering many of the less often discussed aspects of the Duggars religion and lifestyle. Buzzfeed, for instance, has a post on the homeschooling practices the Duggars promote via 19 Kids and Counting.
  • Other media outlets have reported that the allegations about Josh Duggar have been circulating on the Internet for years. (This is true. I first heard about the allegations some time ago.)
  • TLC has pulled, not canceled, episodes of 19 Kids and Counting. You can still watch full episodes on TLC.com and there remains significant demands for cancellation.
  • As of May 27, 19 Kids and Counting has lost advertisers including General Mills and Walgreens.
  • While it seems that the scandal has simmered down over the long weekend, expect more news to spiral in the coming days until TLC makes a definitive decision on the future of 19 Kids and Counting.

Coincidentally, I wrote a final paper on 19 Kids and Counting for my Media, Culture & Power in International Communications course two weeks ago. (Snaps for grad school.) For the past month, I have been researching everything from the Duggar family and the Institute of Basic Life Principles (IBLP) to representations of extreme lifestyles on reality television to the branding of TLC and Discovery Communications. Needless to say, I have been following this scandal more closely than I ever paid attention to the similar fallouts that occurred with Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Jon & Kate Plus 8.

Much of what is being written across the Internet right now focuses on the scandal itself – especially the cringeworthy behavior of various Duggars over the years. Yet what is not happening enough is actually looking at how a show like 19 Kids and Counting in an integral part of a complex media system.

When you examine a show like 19 Kids and Counting, you quickly realize that more is going on than you could ever imagine. These are the main points we should focus on when we talk about the Duggars, the media empire they’ve built, and what is at stake for TLC/Discovery Communications.

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On Mad Men

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Mad Men has generated an inordinate amount of think pieces this week. It’s overwhelming to say the least. While I certainly don’t need to contribute another aside to the story, a few thoughts about this show keep percolating in my mind.

For one, there is something different Mad Men’s public discourse – every commentary is able to find a different angle about the show or to highlight one last piece of hidden meaning that is still lingering behind each frame. This culture of commentary speaks to the complexity and nuance of each episode, every word of dialogue, each painstakingly, slow, frustrating bit of character development. (Come on, Trudy. Don’t let Pete play you like that, again.)

In many ways, I think the critiques a single episode of Mad Men can generate might be its best legacy. This series about a specific time in media history and American culture has not only elevated the medium of television itself but also taken television criticism in new directions. A decade from now, when every culture critic revisits the legacy of Mad Men, the conversations we have been having today will remain as thought-provoking as ever. (I can almost guarantee it will be Peggy Olsen and her story – not Don Draper’s – we will be most concerned with by then.)

Don Draper, more than any other Mad Men character, isn’t a character at all. He’s a symbol, something created and embellished through advertising. So much about him – his past and his future – is left unanswered.

This is why Mad Men has generates legitimate conspiracy theories and it is these conspiracies that separate Mad Men from Breaking Bad or The Wire. These conspiracy theories make the public discourse surrounding Mad Men fascinating and surreal. The theories range from absurd to completely plausible. They’re funny and carefully thought out. Above all, they are an expression of basic human desires.

We are naturally driven to be curious and seek out the truth. There has to be more to every story. (This is partially why fanfiction exists. The writers left something out and it becomes up to fans to fill in the blanks.)

But the beauty of being human is that you can never know everything. It’s impossible. And yet, that can’t be all there is. There has to be some hidden, profound truths behind a glass of red wine spilled on Don Draper’s white carpet.

The desire to know every detail about Mad Men, to find meaning behind every prop, to craft unlikely scenarios, also says a great deal about the nuance of the show itself. Mad Men relishes in time and banality and the ordinary nature of space. The slowness of an episode’s structure is deliberate and it drives audiences insane. For those of us who have spent 92 episodes devouring every detail of Mad Men’s world, there has to be more. Except there never is more.

I have my own ideas how Mad Men could end but none of them are likely or worth writing about.

As the series comes to an end tonight, I see this show as nothing more than a profound reflection on every day life. Mad Men may be set decades in the past but the feelings and experiences are immensely relatable for today’s audiences. (Human nature, like the story arcs on Mad Men, slowly evolves.) The characters will continue existing in this fictional universe we won’t be privy to anymore. Any similarities to Sharon Tate or D.B. Cooper are just coincidence. And that’s it. That’s how it all ends. But we’re all better for having experienced the subtle richness of this television show. It’s hard to imagine there will be any series like Mad Men again.

What I Learned From… 9 to 5

I want this hat.

I want that hat and that cherry lapel pin for my Jane Fonda-Lily Tomlin-Madeline Albright Theme Parties

Once again, I’ve neglected this blog. As an apology, I’ve decided to write a new What I Learned From…

In the following post, I will reveal snarky insights about a popular movie. Several months from now, someone will stumble upon this post via the Google and think I am completely serious/clueless about the movie I’ve watched and what I’ve written. (Why else would a post on The Godfather – Part 3 from 2012 still get so much traffic?)

In anticipation of Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin’s new Netflix series Aaron Sorkin inspired FanFiction Grace and Frankie, here is what I learned from 9 to 5. Continue reading

The Problem With The Oscars

selmaThe 87th Academy Awards are in just a few hours. Boyhood will win Best Picture but that doesn’t matter.

As always, the Oscars telecast will be one of television’s great spectacles. Too much attention will given to what actresses are wearing, to how Jennifer Aniston will be breathing the same air as Brangelina, and to whether or not Neil Patrick Harris lives up to the absurd expectations we set for emcees. (No NPH, you can’t top Ellen’s selfie. Don’t even try.)

What we won’t discuss – at least not for any longer than we need to – is the incredibly flawed system (and Academy) that determines the so-called best movies, performances of a given year.

Every year the Oscars nominations incite people and this year that has anger resonated more than anyone could have predicted. The lack of recognition for Selma, its director Ava DuVernay and star David Oyelowo is deeply wrong, damaging and glaringly political. Equally disheartening are the overwhelming number of nominations for white men for the movies they made about white men, their lives and their problems.

Welcome to Hollywood.

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A Guide To The Perfect Galentine’s Day Party

Happy Galentine’s Day! I celebrated the greatest day of the year this past weekend by hosting a craft party for all of my favorite ladies to enjoy. Although I hate sharing DIY tips (that’s why I’ll never make it as a lifestyle blogger), I have made an exception for Galentine’s Day. Here are some ways you can celebrate the best ladies in your life.

1. Spend an unnatural amount of time at Michaels.

That escalator leads to my happy place/personal hell.

That escalator leads to my happy place/personal hell.

Surprisingly it only took three relatively painless trips to my local Michaels to pick out a craft project, find appropriately tacky decorations and not go completely overboard. Hah. Who am I kidding? At this point, I’m basically Abbi at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

2. Send out questionnaires.

How can you provide beautiful gifts for your favorite ladies if you do not know every detail about their lives? My highly analytical survey (who’s your feminist icon? Favorite female politician? Favorite Book? Girly cocktail?) resulted in some custom party favors. Throw in some random questions (What’s the last book you read? Favorite color?) just for fun.

3. Pre-craft 

Galentine's Day 1

Feminist icon cupcake toppers are must for any Galentine’s Day party.

 

Pre-crafting is just like pre-gaming. You eat, you drink, you knit, you cut and you glue furiously until 3AM. You should always pre-craft so much that you need to take Alleve the following morning.

4. Create unique gift bags.

I’m not Leslie Knope. I actually sleep. I do not have a binder creator on retainer. I’m not skilled at making mosaics out of your favorite diet sodas. But I can search every store for the perfect gift bags swag.

Galentines Day 2

What I came up with: Pinwheels; I Think You’re Sharp Pencils; Bubbles; Lip Gloss; Knitted Heart Puff stuffed with dried lavender; Chocolates in Handmade Heart-Shaped Gift Boxes; Conversation Hearts; Condoms.

5. Kick it breakfast style

Ideally your Galentine’s Day celebration takes place during brunch. Ideally you only serve waffles. If you know anything about Galentine’s Day, you don’t need me to tell you this.

6. Craft!

Galentine’s Day Craft Parties are not Paint Nite. (I hope. Please never let it become Paint Nite.) The key to successful craft party is to find something everyone can make and will actually want to use or gift to someone else. And allow your guests to do whatever the hell they want.

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DIY Chalkboards are relatively simple to make. Hot glue some magnets on the back and you’re in craft business.

 

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Notorious RBG not included

 

If you follow these steps, Galentine’s Days parties are a fantastic way to cut loose in February and enjoy the greatest holiday that really should be a national holiday.

What I Learned From 2014

This is not a “Best of 2014” list. This is an obituary for a blog.

“On December 31 2014 , the final post of For Cinephiles by a Cinefille miraculously appeared on the Internet. It had terrible SEO and even worse grammar. Thanks to a grand total of seven blog posts all year and after a nearly five month absence, no one bothered to read it.”

Just kidding. This blog isn’t going anywhere.

It isn’t necessary for you to read this post. It is more necessary for me to just write something, anything, on the final day of 2014, to force myself to get back to blogging. Continue reading