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 being discussed is how a show like 19 Kids and Counting is 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

mad men season 7

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.

The Five Stages of Grief, As Experienced During Liz & Dick

Lohan, I wish I knew how to quit you.

And now, a brief summary of the emotions I experienced during the last 24 hours as I watched the greatest movie event of our time, Liz & Dick. Perhaps you felt the same way.
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When Beauty and the Beast Meets Downton Abbey

In just a matter of days, Downton Abbey has taken over my life. I love everything about this series and want to shout my undying love for Julian Fellowes from the Highlands. (Sidebar: Are Scotland references okay when one writes about Downton Abbey?)

When I saw Beauty and the Beast (in 3D! It was magical!) yesterday, a brilliant thought crossed my mind. Every servant in Beauty in the Beast is the animated version of every servant in Downton Abbey. So naturally, I wasted hours photoshopping pictures and shared them on Tumblr. The photo set has been received more notes than I ever expected, making me realize “Crap, maybe I should I explain my reasonings.”

So here they are: Every servant in Beauty and the Beast as a servant on Downton Abbey.

Carson and Mr. Carson

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