Built on Facts

Jon & Kate Plus 10,000,008.

There’s a lot of important things going on in the world. Kim Jong Il is exploding nukes and launching missiles over Japan. A Supreme Court justice has been nominated. The treasury bond market experienced its steepest yield curve ever.

Whatever. Today we talk about Jon & Kate Plus 8.

Jon and Kate, should you have happened to miss all the Sturm und Drang, had twins before they were famous. They wanted one more and were biologically predisposed to difficulty, so they used fertility treatments and ended up with sextuplets. Correctly sensing an interesting drama, TLC offered them a show. The rest is history.

For its first few seasons the show attracted quite a following. The kids were and are adorable, and their parents were certainly not boring. My girlfriend and my parents loved it, seeing it as a window into the lives of a loving and ordinary if unorthodox family.

There were always warning signs. There were also a lot of people who were not so impressed with la casa Gosselin. If I may be a little vague here, I noticed that one word in particular tended to stand out when non-fans gave their opinions of Kate. It was not a nice word. She had a pronounced tendency to be combative, short-tempered, tremendously picky, and to treat Jon like one of the eight kids. She wasn’t all bad, she was wryly humorous, protective, motivated, smart, and loving in her own way. Jon had his own issues. Though in some sense a prototypical nice guy, he could equally well be described as feckless, lost, unmotivated, unenthusiastic, and spineless. His eyes were those of an animal – not those of a lion hungrily eying his keeper, but those of a squirrel nervously assessing an oncoming bus.

If you’ve been in a supermarket checkout line recently, you know the rest of the story. Possible infidelity on both sides, Jon being seen at bars and spending time away from the family. Kate refusing to end or scale back the show despite all the pressure it put on their family, friends, and children. There were rumors of tension on the set, alienated extended family, and angry, alarmed friends and neighbors. And eight innocent, confused, and frightened children caught in the middle. On Monday there was a TLC season premiere special documenting what may be their last birthday party as a family. It was depressing. It was disheartening. It was popular. The viewing audience was around ten million people, shattering TLC records.

It’s a sad thing. I would honestly and unironically like to see Jon and Kate patch things up. I’d like to see their kids grow up in a united home. It’s clear that for all their fights, Jon and Kate originally worked well together as a couple. But kids are a tough stress on any family, multiples more than most. The kind of stress they add is even harder on couples with the personalities that Jon and Kate have. Could things have realistically gone any differently? Probably so. By all accounts they had immense support both logistically and financially from their friends and extended family, and despite the enormous expense of raising so many kids the help of their social networks along with non-exploitative opportunities to make some money from the natural public interest would have seen them through. But a TV show filming 3 days a week is not non-exploitative. It turned them from Jon and Kate Plus 8 the family into Jon and Kate Plus 8 the zoo exhibit. I don’t know that the family would have stayed strong without the show, but I know the show didn’t help.

You’ve all seen or read Lord of the Rings, I’m sure. Fame is often a ring of power. It gives you strength and opens opportunities and makes you important. It will just as surely stretch you thin and twist your mind and betray you in the end. Theoretically its malign influence is trivial to escape. Put it down and walk away. Actually doing it on the other hand…

Well, they had better. Just put down the show and walk away. Let it go, and give that whole normal family thing another try. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?


  1. #1 Uncle Al
    May 30, 2009

    For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Bernie Madoff vs. Mother Theresa? Bernie Madoff! Sign a contract with the Devil and all the pressure is off. One presumes Madoff got immortality as part of the package, then his life sentence arived in a satanic twist. Pity that he forgot eternal youth and health as codiciles.

    California has the Octomom – mor than $150K/month in social assistance benefits and not an IQ edging into triple digits. First derivatives sell books, second derivatives sell guns. Know whether your extrema are peaks or troughs.

  2. #2 Woof
    May 30, 2009

    Mother Theresa? Feh! A wicked fraud.

  3. #3 NJ
    May 30, 2009

    “One Fame to rule them all, One Fame to find them,
    One Fame to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
    In the Land of Hollywood where the Shadows lie.”

  4. #4 Adrian Morgan
    May 30, 2009

    Here on the other side of the planet, I have never heard of Jon & Kate. I also can’t recall ever hearing anyone discuss television in supermarket checkout lines. Which of these two facts tells you the most about the difference between our cultures?

  5. #5 Matt Springer
    May 31, 2009

    I’ve never heard anyone discuss Jon & Kate in supermarket checkout lines either. Rather, checkout lines tend to be places where tabloids are sold, and the tabloids love this kind of stuff.

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