The premiere of the fifth season of Jon and Kate Plus 8, which aired this past Monday, was its most watched episode ever.
That right there is a sign of what’s wrong with America today.
Somewhere within the past six months, Jon and Kate, previously a modestly successful cable reality program about a couple and their adorable multiple birth children, grew into a pop culture juggernaut. First, it was revealed that their biggest fans tend to be rabid Jesus freaks who flock en masse to attack anyone who dares to criticize them on the internet, even forcing one blogger to lock her posts. Then the show began to portray Kate Gosselin as a nagging control freak who constantly belittles the laid-back Jon and has meltdowns over grass stains on her kids’ pants. Then the rumors started, many of them spread by the Gosselins’ family members, claiming that Kate cut out of her life anyone she felt was stealing too much of her spotlight, including her brother and aunt, and during a renewal of their wedding vows in Hawaii, supposedly forbid Jon from spending time with his own relatives. Finally it was revealed this past month that not only did Jon supposedly cheat on Kate with a younger woman he picked up at a bar, but Kate is allegedly getting it on with her bodyguard. They are now officially tabloid celebrities, with Us magazine dedicating no less than four covers to them, under such inflammatory headlines as ‘FROM MOM TO MONSTER’ and ‘INSIDE JON’S PRISON.’
I can’t think of a better example of the strange “neither/nor” existence of reality television. Jon and Kate aren’t actors, but they’re not entirely “real,” either. They gave up on being “real” once they signed a contract allowing cameras to follow every moment of their lives, because for that $25,000 they make per episode they’ve agreed to let their producers run the show. Frankly, I can’t believe there are still people who still accept what they see on a reality television program as 100% authentic. In seventeen seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette combined, only one has resulted in a couple getting married, with the majority of the relationships barely making it past the absurd “giving of the rose” ceremony, yet people still claim to be shocked and heartbroken whenever the couples break up. Viewers are still appalled whenever a participant on team-based shows like Survivor or The Biggest Loser betrays someone who trusted them in order to win, as if that doesn’t happen every fucking season.
Virtually every couple who ever had a reality program based upon their relationship, already famous or otherwise, ended up breaking up afterward. Even the Loud Family, arguably America’s first reality TV participants, fell apart, with parents Pat and Bill divorcing and son Lance becoming a crystal meth addict, eventually dying at age 50 of AIDS. Why are we surprised that the Gosselins seem to be on their way to the same fate, albeit hopefully without the crystal meth and AIDS? Why are we surprised to discover that Kate Gosselin has a staff of nannies, bodyguards and a personal chef, apparently ruling them with an iron fist? Did anyone really buy for a second that she’s raising eight children, all of them under the age of ten, with no help, while still finding time to go on book tours and speaking engagements? How naive are we willing to make ourselves look?
Kate seems to be taking a particularly hard thumping, from both the media and fans who have since turned their back on her. Tabloids are running with every kernel of mostly ludicrous rumor offered by mostly ludicrous sources, such as an ex-co-worker of Jon’s and the brother of the woman Jon supposedly cheated on Kate with, and all of it paints Kate as a ruthless, money-crazed ogre. If you believe the tabs, Kate passed off one of her sons, injured and bleeding, to a staff member because she “didn’t want to deal with him,” complained about having to show affection towards her children for the cameras, put Jon on a five dollar a day allowance and traded in a donated van because she “hates the color burgundy.” The thing is, whether Kate was a nice person who became twisted and corrupted by her minor celebrity or if she was already kind of a bitch whose less pleasant character traits were magnified a thousand times bigger under the glaring eye of a camera, it wouldn’t have happened if she didn’t have cameras in her household. Yes, true, she and Jon agreed to it (and sympathetic claims that Jon “didn’t know what he was getting into” when he signed the contract are probably the biggest lie of all in this whole situation), but TV shows don’t stay on the air without an audience.
If you watch Jon and Kate Plus 8, you have no right to complain about what a terrible person Kate Gosselin is, because you’re partially responsible for it. Foster Kamer of Gawker wrote this excellent article basically saying that it’s asinine to criticize Jon and Kate for not being quick to get out of their contract when the show started having a negative impact on their relationship, choosing to continue cashing in on their success instead. Well, why not? Did I mention they make $25,000 per episode? That’s more than a lot of people make per year. They got a million dollar house, designed and built especially for them. Jon and Kate both got cosmetic surgery to make them look younger and more attractive. Kate gets regular spa treatments. They’ve gone on first-class vacations to Hawaii and Florida. Their children are flush with material items, and you can bet they’re set for life financially. Most of these luxuries haven’t even come out of their own pockets. Is this a fair price to pay to have your personal problems aired out for others’ entertainment? Think long and hard before you answer.
If you think Kate Gosselin is such an awful person who should be taken off the air, here’s a novel idea: stop watching her show. Encourage other people to stop watching it. That friend of yours, the one who claims she hates Kate but just can’t help watching the show? Yes, she can help it, and she should. TLC doesn’t care if Kate will end up the biggest reality show villain since that asshole who claimed his grandmother died to get sympathy during an episode of Survivor, all they know is that Jon and Kate is their biggest cash cow, and they’re probably hard at work right now thinking of how they’ll rework the show should the couple actually split up: Kate Plus 8 Minus 1, perhaps. It’s a program where the majority of the audience watches it for the sole purpose of talking about what an awful show it is, and that doesn’t make a damn bit of sense. It’s like continuing to eat at a restaurant that gives you food poisoning, just so you can tell people how sick it made you.
If I sound self-righteous, I am, at least when it comes to reality television. I don’t think anybody should be watching that shit, and I’m not one of those “I don’t own a TV” snobs. The appeal is completely lost on me. I flipped past an episode of VH-1’s Daisy of Love, a spinoff of Rock of Love, which in itself is a spinoff of Flavor of Love, which in itself is a spinoff of The Surreal Life, and the best I could surmise is that it seems to be about a bunch of douchebags with bad hair clamoring for the affection of a drag queen who has all the charm and intelligence of a bag of rocks. On the new season of MTV’s Paris Hilton’s My New BFF (because apparently last season’s BFF didn’t work out), contestants compete for the honor of standing next to Hilton at the opening of a renovated bathroom at the Hard Rock Casino by pole dancing and sobbing over their love for the STD-ridden, ex-con star of National Lampoon’s Pledge This! Who are these people? They’re not “real,” inasmuch as they don’t do or say things that real people would do or say. They’re merely looking for their blessed few minutes of dubious fame, and we just keep giving it to them.
Let’s not kid ourselves, people who watched the season premiere of Jon and Kate wanted to see blood, at least figuratively, quite possibly even literally. They wanted to see Kate flip out and confront Jon about his alleged infidelity, perhaps even get into a catfight with his rumored mistress. That didn’t happen, apparently, as reviews of the show reported that it centered mostly on the planning of a birthday party for the younger Gosselin children, and Jon and Kate looking glum and strained. People will keep watching hoping that the final implosion of their marriage will be caught on camera, and I have to say that’s a little fucked up. As an unwilling bystander to a few public spats between my parents when they were divorcing, let me tell you, there’s nothing funny or entertaining about what that does to children. You want to watch people fight? Go see a boxing match. Let this show die so these people can fade into obscurity. No doubt their kids will thank you for it later.