Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Of Heisenberg and the Gosselins

A year ago, I'd never heard of the Gosselins. Although I watch plenty of crappy television, shows about weird, large, or Christian families, or any combination thereof, don't appeal to me. Even though it turns out Jon and Kate and their eight live only about 50 miles from me, I knew nothing about them or their reality fame. Then, suddenly, in March, their names jumped from the cover of every tabloid that stood guarding the supermarket checkout line. Bored one rainy Sunday, I noticed a marathon of their show running on TLC, and watched a few epsiodes throughout the day and evening.

There was Kate during what must have been the first season, struggling to change and dress and feed six babies, showing off her disgusting stretched-out stomach, working long weekend shifts as a nurse to keep them all in diapers and baby food. There was prematurely balding Jon, getting up at the crack of dawn to trudge off to work, helping out evenings with the kids. Everyone looked exhausted, but the babies were certainly cute.

Several hours later, there was a Jon who had clearly gotten hair plugs, quitting his job to "work from home" and help out more. Kate, meanwhile, was suddenly dressed with much less frump, and the family had acquired all kinds of expensive kid stuff, stuff it was hard to imagine a family of 10 with no working parents could afford. Finally, at the end of the night, there was the family getting ready to move into a new million-dollar house, taking a week-long vacation at the Outer Banks, everyone looking even better dressed and better coiffed.

Then the deluge. Jon is cheating on Kate! Kate is cheating on Jon! The kids are being exploited! Kate charges people $20 for an autographed photo! And last night, the premier of the new season, filmed approximately two weeks ago, where Kate, currently sporting some kind of weird Soccer Mom's Mullet (business in front, spikey in back) and Jon, driving a Nissan Nismo, celebrate the sextuplets' 5th birthday while avoiding any kind of contact whatsoever with each other. In confessionals, Jon admits he behaved stupidly, Kate cries and ponders the divorce rates of parents of multiples. The episode was undoubtedly viewed by millions.

Why do we watch this? By watching this we are ensuring an outcome for those children that will almost definitely include drug and alcohol abuse followed by eight memoirs detailing the nightmare that was growing up Gosselin. I have no doubt some are fans of the show because the kids are adorable, and because watching the struggle to get out of the house with eight children, let alone to raise them responsibly, must appeal to parents of one or two or three kids. Some people watch because they see themselves in Jon and Kate, just parents doing the best they can.

Most people probably watch instead because no one can turn away from a train wreck. No matter what the producer's intentions may have been, the show is not documenting the everyday struggles of raising two sets of multiples, it's documenting the way fame and fortune is destroying a marriage, changing the spouses before our eyes. We're watching people become "famous," and not dealing with that very well. We're watching two people go from cute spats to barely tolerating each other. We're watching what looked like decent, normal folks turn into entitled assholes.

In 1973, PBS broadcast An American Family and inadvertently invented reality television. The series was to document the lives of a typical American family, but then during filming one son came out and ran off to the Chelsea Hotel, and then by the end the marriage fell apart. It was a huge hit not because it depicted "real" life but because it depicted real life falling apart. The act of observation changes the nature of that which is being observed. There's no better demonstration of this principle than reality TV.

1 comment:

tunsie said...

people tend 2 act in their erratic behavior even when observed.the key 2 changing that behavior is 4 someone 2 say 2 them this is how u behaved,how second grade of u.i didn't think u acted that way.money,not children, is a big impetus 4 changing someone 4 the worse.I remember a very dear friend of mine,cyril roth,who said 2 me"you r on your way brother,don't get lost".what he meant is not 2 get 2 comfortable.be good 2 those people going up the ladder,because YOU will see them on the way down,if that ever occurs.don't get arrogant.i have seen money change people so many times.I have money I don't need anyone.sometimes it is good these people learn the hard way.tunsie.tunsie.tunsie