We, the public, demand a lot from our Hollywood stars. We’ve certainly had our way with the buxom blonde songstresses and ditzy heiresses, and we’ve preyed unremittingly on the clean-cut, sexually-curious boy banders, A-list couples in hiding and, of course, the young, physically abusive R&B entertainers. But somewhere on this path of unreasonable privacy invasion, we learned that real people could be just as interesting.
Before the tabloid whirlwind is finally laid to rest (if that ever happens), the American public will have mercilessly plumaged right through a once-normal American household from Pennsylvania, headed by a once-happily married couple.
And we’re not the least bit sorry.
This transition from the public’s fixation from talented megastars to average nobodies was gradual. While the overnight popularity of television’s move to more reality programming may just be a catalyst, TLC’s Jon & Kate Plus 8 has taken our addiction to new heights, giving viewers a warped peek into married and family life that has ended disastrously.
Granted, the lives of Jon and Kate Gosselin and their exceptional brood were never really normal to begin with. The fact that Kate birthed twins back in 2000 and then, after wanting just one more, was surprised by sextuplets makes her quite the child-bearer — a record that only another tabloid hot mess, “Octomom,” can compete with.
Even in the show’s opening segment where Kate was humored by the concept of her and Jon’s “crazy” life, she could have never anticipated the “crazy” that was about to come: Jon and the nanny, an alleged affair between Kate and her bodyguard, family member sellouts on morning talk shows, ratings games with a greedy, money-seeking network and, eventually, a bitter custody battle and heated divorce splashed on the front covers of all six major tabloids.
But selfishly we read the stories in the grocery line and shelled out $4 to buy the magazines, never stopping to pose a greater question. On the premiere of the show’s fifth season, the one when the torn couple famously announced their split, 10.6 million of us curiously tuned in, allowing TLC to shatter yet another record — all, of course, at the expense of Jon and Kate’s Multiple Blessings (the couple’s New York Times best-selling parenting book).
So with girlfriend-juggling Jon partying in the Hamptons with another father of the year, Michael Lohan, and newly-single Kate off to a hair appointment somewhere in Beverly Hills, we should be wondering: Who’s watching the kids? Are they getting fed enough? Who’s taking them to school?
The thing is, nobody cares.
As people follow their show, the trade-off for the Gosselins is a depleting sense of empathy for their highly sensationalized situation. While some encroach on the show as pure means of entertainment and think that it could never happen to them, others take it as an ordinary and realistic depiction of an institution that has become just as a crucial to American culture as marriage: divorce.
Today, the “50 percent of all marriages in America end in divorce” tagline has become so known that it will probably never find its way underneath a Snapple cap. The TLC show’s success can be attributed to normal people projecting their personal relationship woes on a platform that was at one point most unsuspecting.
Perhaps our love for the Gosselin family is actually understandable, especially in a day when society’s marriage values are becoming more liberal, moving further away from the tired, no-longer-true concept of “white picket fence, mom, dad, two kids and a dog.”
But for some, watching the happy, all-American family thrive for four seasons only to fall apart before our very eyes still seems like a gross activity, especially considering the eight young children involved.
Well maybe, maybe not.
Divorce is by no means a light subject, but it has become a common, though less-than-ideal, lifestyle that children all across the country have had to cope with. The Gosselin clan, though ridiculously cute and adorable, is no different.
As for the parents, studies show that while people are at risk of divorce throughout their marriages, that risk intensifies in years five through 10. Even under the spotlight projected on national TV, Jon and Kate’s 10-year union qualifies. The couple’s public fallout may also be looked at as a warning or confirmation for those who are on the fence when it comes to getting married. Cohabitation, or couples moving in and having children without marriage, makes up nearly a 10th of all US households.
With changing value systems, social movements and finally reality shows, it is the American public that is responsible for perpetuating this new ideal. It proves that marriage and the institution of family is just not what it used to be. This is not a critique of the state of marriage, but as a realization of an obvious trend that is growing more apparent in American society.
With all of Hollywood’s smoke and mirrors, maybe there is actually a glimmer of reality in reality TV.
Christopher Agutos is a junior majoring in public relations and political science. His column, “Pop Life,” runs Tuesdays.