Criticism and Controversy
Due to the amount of publicity it gives to this unconventional family whose members base their lifestyle of off an extremely conservative interpretation of Christian values, the program 19 Kids and Counting has sparked significant controversy. The primary, widespread critique of this show is that it conveys a message that supports and idealizes an unhealthy way of life. The birth of the Duggar’s youngest child, Josie Brooklyn Duggar, recently incited criticism from viewers and media. The discovery that Michelle Duggar had pre-eclampsia, a condition that can threaten the life of the baby and the mother, prompted the doctor’s decision to perform emergency, premature delivery during her 19th pregnancy. Subsequently, the infant was born three months premature and weighed 1 lbs and 6 oz. A four-month hospital stay followed her delivery in December 2009.
Despite the fact that Michelle is 44 (past the age that a woman can safely give birth) and underwent a high-risk pregnancy within the last year, both she and her husband have expressed their willingness to continue having children. The couple has also spoken openly about their decision to refrain from using birth control and allow God to determine the size of their family. The risks associated with this decision are not limited to the prospect of physical harm that often results from such irresponsibility. Because of the amount of children in the family, it is impossible that Michelle and Jim Duggar can adequately serve as parents to each child individually. Consequently, the older members of the Duggar brood are often responsible for the upbringing and care of their younger siblings. Some critics argue that this is both unfair and unhealthy for all of the children.
The emergence of sub-cultures that exhibit behavior and belief systems that deviate from mainstream social norms is not unusual, and because it generally occurs on such a small scale, it has little potential to impact society overall. However, by taking this anomalous family and transforming them into reality TV stars, TLC has endowed them with cultural significance they would otherwise lack. The decision to showcase and glorify the abnormality of the Duggar family has drawn as much, if not more, criticism than their lifestyle itself. The show’s popularity prompts questions about why a show that portrays the life of members of such an extreme and unusual subculture appeals to so many people. Some viewers claim they are impressed by the couple’s ability to conduct a household with so many children, and others say they appreciate the Duggar’s values that emphasize a strong commitment to family and Christianity. To critics, 19 Kids and Counting is not an example of simple or benign entertainment. Some argue that the show appeals to a perverse interest in a voyeuristic perspective on someone else’s strange life. Others see it as the glorification and propagation of outrageous and irresponsible behavior that draws viewers because of its shock value and disregards the implications that result from the public affirmation of such a lifestyle. In an article for the Huffington Post, Chez Pazienza writes,
“But maybe the real problem with what the Duggars are doing in their bedroom and the media’s complicity in allowing them to parlay that into a kind of TV and publishing empire is the one thing I never would’ve seen coming — the one result I feel naive for not having been able to imagine.
To support the legitimacy of this concern, Pazienza references Nadya Suleman and John and Kate Plus 8 (currently re-named Kate Plus 8) to demonstrate a growing trend that links queer, unhealthy behavior to media exposure. He argues that this is a self-propagating cycle that not only fosters acceptance of lifestyles with a variety of implicit, detrimental, ramifications, but it also serves as a model that influences mainstream value systems about what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behavior. And for the average individual in pursuit of the instant fame that follows a memorable appearance on the stage of American reality TV, the Duggar’s represent a method by which these individuals can achieve this dubious goal.