If you've been out of the country on safari for the last few weeks and have missed out on the latest reality show scandal, let me catch you up.
Jon and Kate Gosselin, of TLC's reality show, Jon & Kate Plus 8, are a couple with eight children: twin 8-year old girls, and 5-year old sextuplets (three boys, three girls) and a reality show that follows every tantrum, toxic argument, and tooth fairy moment.
Cameras have been trailing the family for five seasons. So far, it's seemed like a pretty good gig, at least from the outside. The kids seem pretty happy. The Gosselins just moved into a million-dollar home. The family has received goodies ranging from free trips to Disney and Hawaii, to teeth whitening, tummy tucks and hair plugs for mom and dad.
Then, a few weeks ago it appeared that superdad Jon might be having an affair with a 23-year old third-grade teacher named Deanna Hummel, when photographers spotted them coming out of a bar together at 2:30 in the morning. Before long, Deanna's brother not only confirmed the affair, but US Weekly also obtained video of Jon leaving Deanna's house at 7:30 am, walk-of-shame style, on March 13, a full month before the bar photos emerged.
What followed has been six weeks of US Weekly and People magazine covers, an appearance on the Today show and a Jon & Kate Plus 8 season premier so scandalicious that it drew nearly 10 million viewers dying to find out what would happen next.
Both Jon and Kate have talked publicly about the stress of living in a fishbowl, and having the paparazzi following them around. The media and public response has been a lot of "well, wah-wah, you knew what you were getting into when you signed that TV contract."
*On a personal note, I have been on national television every week for nearly three years in relative obscurity, and I would be completely shocked if some photographer started digging through my garbage or following me to the grocery store. So the idea that the Gosselins might be overwhelmed or feel surprised by the paparazzi's interest in their everyday lives actually seems pretty reasonable to me.
Even Mitch Albom weighed in his Detroit Free-Press column,
"Now, forget for a moment, the sheer audacity of a woman whose family gets paid, reportedly, $75,000 an episode to let cameras follow them around all day, to act surprised that gossip magazines follow her around as well. What did she think? They were making home movies?"
(Ironically, this was a 650-word column in which Albom discusses why discussing Jon & Kate is a waste of time. But hey, he's funny, so we'll let him slide on this one.)
After more than a month of media coverage, it seems to me that Jon is getting the better end of the deal: The angle on Jon is that he cheated. But oddly enough, the brunt of the media fire has been on Kate; how difficult it has been for poor Jon to be married to Kate, whether or not Kate is a terrible mother, and why her trendy haircut and French manicures are proof that she is a selfish, shallow excuse for a human being. She's been accused of having an affair with her bodyguard. Of being a perfectionist task-master. Of berating Jon on his paunch, his lack of attention to detail, and his hairline. She's been accused of being publicity-hungry, freebie-hungry and money-hungry. And now, the AP is reporting that the Pennsylvania Department of Labor is investigating whether the hit reality show "Jon & Kate Plus 8" is complying with child labor laws.
This week's US WEEKLY headline is "INSIDE JON'S PRISON." A couple weeks ago, it was "MOM TO MONSTER"
Personally, I feel that using your kids for a reality show is, well, exploitative. I can't fathom a situation in which I would make that choice.
But I also have a pretty hard time imagining what my life might be like if I had eight children. Or how desperate/panicky/fearful I might feel as a mother if I had to worry about how I might feed, clothe, provide health care for, and pay for college for eight kids spanning just three years in age.
I don't believe I'd make the same reality-show decision that Kate did, but I'm not facing her same reality: supporting eight children and a husband who is an unemployed college dropout.
Here's why I am defending Kate:
Yes, she barks orders to Jon. Probably she loves getting stuff for free (and good gawd, who doesn't?) Maybe, she even loves being famous. (The jury is still out on that one.)
Jon doesn't seem particularly happy to be doing the show, and Kate has said in interviews that Jon doesn't really know what he wants to do. He's doesn't seem inclined to finish college, even though they now have the means for him to do so. He hasn't warmed to any particular profession other than "TV dad", even though his TLC producers could probably hook him up with a variety of instant opportunities.
Kate has written two books, and works regularly as a paid speaker. She was, in fact, out of town on a speaking gig while Jon was picking up girls at the Chill Lounge. Originally, Jon & Kate booked speaking engagements together, but according to Kate, Jon didn't care much for the work, and told her he'd rather she do it alone.
The tabloids are chiding her for traveling on book tour for 21 days out of the last month, but it seems that most media accounts are oblivious to the fact that she's WORKING.
She works, Jon is (supposedly) home to take care of the kids. I have to wonder, if Jon was a Manager at a Widget Corporation traveling every week for work while Kate was home with the kids, would he be painted as a monster? Probably not.
As for the berating Jon in public and on TV, well, I think Kate should work on that.
I'd be happy to send her some pointers on getting her husband to take out the trash without chipping away at his manhood.
Frankly, Kate snaps at Jon sometimes - but honestly, what mother among us hasn't yelled at least once at her shell-shocked husband to run downstairs for washcloths and the throw-up bucket, while rocking a feverish toddler doused in vomit?
I also understand that feeling experienced by mothers everywhere, being completely exasperated because you have 67 things that need to be done yesterday on your to-do list (frequently accomplished simultaneously while nursing, fighting a nervous breakdown, and/or baking cookies for tomorrow's school bake sale) only to find your husband sitting on the couch mindlessly watching basketball after he's forgotten or done a half-assed job at the one (bleeping) thing you've asked him to do.
Now imagine you have 8 kids instead of 3.
But while the media and much of the public outcry has been "poor Jon, poor Jon" I keep wondering if any other woman wouldn't do the same thing in Kate's shoes?
A friend of mine has five children, and she runs a pretty tight ship. I think Kate is probably the way she is because if she doesn't take charge, no one else will.
If my husband seemed incapable, or unwilling to provide for our family, I'd do whatever I needed to do to make that happen. Even if it made me look like a bitch on national TV.
I understand that many in the public and the media see Kate as a Martha Stewart Mom type of character - berating her husband, trotting her kids out like show dogs, and stocking up on all the free goodies she can get her hands on.
But I wonder if Kate & Jon aren't just an overblown example of a classic mommy-daddy dynamic. Dad likes to be Mr. Fun Guy, so he feeds the kids cotton candy for dinner or ignores bedtime without thinking of the consequences or realizing that his irresponsibility sets mom up to always be the heavy for enforcing necessary boundaries, ensuring proper vegetable consumption and making sure everybody gets regular dental care.
I see a woman carrying a pretty big burden on her own, socking away as much cash for her family as she can during a recession, while the cameras are still pointed at her fifteen minutes of fame.
I don't agree with all of the choices she's made, but I think she might just be doing the best that she can.
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