Sunday, November 2, 2014

My Time Watching the Duggars

Since I'm now working 8 hours a day instead of 14 (and 5, not 7 days a week), I'm finding myself with a lot of downtime, and On-Demand cable.  For some reason, I developed a fascination with 19 Kids and Counting, the reality TV show about a family in Arkansas with 19 kids.  The innocuous way that it is described is behind the fascination, and also why I can't not watch this show.

The way that TLC packages the show, it's a family with strong Christian values, but other than that, they're just like you!  But more of them!  But as harmless as this sounds, the lives of these children, and increasingly, young adults, is absolutely nothing like the way that the average American family lives, including those who subscribe to a version of fundamentalist Christianity.  Granted, I married into a large family practicing a version of fundamentalism (kind of Mennonite-lite), where aunts with 9 or 10 children is not uncommon.  To make this work, there appears to be two options- either the dad has the type of job that allows for 6-figure income to pay for this size family, or there is poverty.  In the first case, the kids are told that they will have to be self-sufficient, leading to early preparation for careers.  In the second, God will provide, but not with an education that will allow these kids to escape the precarious position they had been in, and causing the cycle to continue.  The Duggars have the income of the first, but the mentality of the second.  It's a dangerous mix, and undermines the premise of the show.  There are no struggles, at least no economic struggles, because TLC is paying them money to be on the show, and the show allows the whole family to have the type of Reality TV Star jobs that somehow make money - speaking engagements, writing inane books, and selling more episodes to TLC.  Plus, Jim Bob was lucky to have real estate investments in place in NW Arkansas right when Wal-Mart expanded. 

But, that's not really the story.  I was actually pretty horrified to watch Jill's Wedding special the other day.  200 volunteers made the day possible.



TLC no doubt had paid money to the Duggars for the rights to film the wedding.  I'm sure there was a production meeting at some point where a discussion of how Jill and Derick would be compensated for their roles in this televised special.  The wedding was a TV production.  Profit was made.  So why wasn't that profit distributed to the 200 people who made the profit possible?  

My major problem with the Duggars is that they impose externalities on those around them.  The full cost of the wedding was not part of the amount that Jim Bob "paid", nor was it part of what he was paid by TLC. This seems to be a recurring theme in episode after episode.  The Duggars not only want to save money by not paying for anything, but they also expect to receive services in return for free.  Those services appear to be returned only because 1) they have as many children as they do, 2) because the have this reality TV show (and therefore are paid to live this volunteer-dependent lifestyle), and 3) they are related to these guys.  If the Duggars *only* had 10 kids, you probably wouldn't see this volunteering and TV money that allows them to have this type of lifestyle.  It's the TV money that makes this possible, and it's possible because of the TV money.

Which leads me to ask again... why weren't the volunteers at Jill's wedding paid for their work.  And with Jessa marrying yesterday under similar circumstances, was her wedding made possible as well by unpaid labor?  Sure, there's a lot to analyze and criticize... mainly that this is one set of Christian values, that other Christians may find abhorrent... but can we talk about why the Duggars devalue work performed by anyone who isn't a Duggar?

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