When people say that Jim Carrey can’t act and that his movies are terrible, I always point to “The Truman Show,” which is not only a great movie, but has a great theme, a warning of the pernicious influence of reality television. In some ways, the movie was prophetic in anticipating the atrocities to come, the exploitation of human beings in the name of entertainment. But if we could see shows such as “The Bachelor” and “The Apprentice” coming, who would have dared guess that “Jon and Kate Plus Eight” would ever be possible?
In the pursuit of instant fame and easy money, it is hardly surprising that people would subject themselves to various forms of ridicule. After all, in our culture, there is no greater wish that can be granted than to become famous, whatever the reason and by whatever means necessary. If someone is willing to eat a bowl of slugs, drink goat blood, or have their physical imperfections pointed out with a laser pointer by Lorenzo Llamas in front of a hooting audience, these are their own choices. The right to degrade one’s self is one bonus of being an American. You get to choose.
Choosing it for your own kids, well, that’s another matter. That is my objection to “Jon and Kate Plus Eight.” In the interest of full disclosure, I had better add that my wife is a fan of the show. Last year, I began noticing a bunch of episodes piling up on TiVo, and I asked her about it. She gave me her pat response.
“But those kids are so CUTE,” she said, so breathlessly that I feared if I pushed it, we might soon be talking about converting the upstairs bedroom back into a nursery.
“I’ll bet they are!” I said. “Have fun watching them.”
One afternoon, I walked in mid-episode and decided to give it a try. I didn’t want to be accused of passing judgment on something I’ve never seen. Then again, I’ve never eaten a bowl of slugs or drank a pint of goat’s blood. Still, I watched for about 10 minutes or so until I got a good whiff of Kate’s personality, Jon’s maddening passivity, and the show’s only real reality, which is that these children are a bunch of little Truman’s, whose lives are being recorded for the entertainment of others, without their consent.
Please don’t tell me that the children actually LOVE this and that it is good for them. Children would also love ice cream for breakfast, and to attend Chuck E. Cheese rather than school. We don’t let them because — all together now — we are the ADULTS, and as such, we are responsible for deciding what is best for them. It is best for them not to have ice cream for breakfast. It is best for them not to have their lives become a source of entertainment for the voyeuristic masses.
Even if you could make a convincing argument that they are accustomed to the cameras since they have always been there, what happens when the cameras — and the attention that goes with them — are suddenly taken away? Have either Jon or Kate ever done the slightest bit of research on the troubled lives of child stars? Go ahead and Google Danny Bonaduce. I dare you. For every Ron Howard, there are 12 Danny Bonaduce’s. Google the three child starts from “Different Strokes.” It’s not pretty, and these were child actors, not kids whose own lives are the plot and theme of the show.
Given the recent tabloid stories about alleged infidelity on the part of both parents, and the admitted friction between them, surely there is some squeamishness among even the most devoted fans. “Tune in NEXT week when the Gosselin children break down in tears while Daddy packs his clothes!” Riveting television! Maybe they’ll save the divorce proceedings for sweeps week.
I understand that raising eight kids poses a financial burden I can barely imagine, and that the appeal of getting some help — not to mention moving into a million dollar home, among who knows what other perks — must be very great indeed. But what price can be placed on an ordinary, healthy childhood outside the glare of the lights, away from the fawning masses all crowding in to hug children they know from seeing them on television?
I admit that I watched the premier of season two a couple of weeks ago, just out of morbid curiosity. I wanted to see how the producers — not to mention Jon and Kate — would handle the publicity frenzy surrounding their troubled marriage. It was a thoroughly depressing experience, and I immediately felt guilty for whatever part I might have played in keeping the ratings for this show high enough to keep it on the air.
If you really care about these kids, send a donation for their college fund, and then turn the channel. Let’s do the right thing and put this show out of its misery. Free the Gosselin Eight! Kick the reality TV habit, while you still can. Renew your library card. Become part of the solution.