The Truman Show is one of my favorite movies because the whole world just sits in their tubs, in their cafes, and in their homes watching a man growing up in a bubble. Truman is owned by a corporation; he is the star of a movie show, only he has no idea. The movie set is his reality. It’s all he knows.
By working for the movie set, everyone (except the girl to leak out the truth) on the movie set betrays him, but in a sense, so has the whole world betrayed him. They sit there and watch, all at their own entertainment.
I grew up without TV, and almost no movies, and honestly, I do not feel I missed out on much. The idea of making nightly news and violent films entertainment makes my skin crawl. This does not mean my parents did not take this a bit extreme – perhaps so – but I do find American TV lacking in clear boundaries.
One of those boundaries is the show 19 Kids and Counting. I met the Duggar kids the first time at an ATI homeschool conference when there were less than 10 kids – back in mid 90s. At that time, our lives were not much different. We wore jumpers. They wore jumpers. We homeschooled. They homeschooled. We did character training books. They did character training books. Our ATI conference was an exciting time because I met boys and girls from all around the US who grew up like me. It thrilled me.
Like Truman, the homeschool fundamental world was our reality. Most people in America lived radically different lives while we did natural medicine, made our food from scratch, and studied law and medicine in third grade. Our reality was so odd. It was not fake. I was there. It was real. But to the outsider, it might feel like a movie set.
The thing is – the Duggar’s TV show turned the Quiverfull lifestyle into some kind of Truman Show. You know the plot: crazy parents have 15 too many kids, make potty training into a self-control game, and believe in Young Earth Creationism. It’s entertainment. My uncle said it is a great show, my friends from college said it was a great show, and pretty much my whole town talked about the Duggar family. My college professors would tell me, “Did you hear the Duggar family is coming to our town next week?” And I would try to plug my ears and not listen.
I never laugh, and I don’t think the show is funny.
On the opposite end we have people like Doug Philips of Vision Forum who gave Michelle Duggar the “Mother of the year award” for bringing her family into the public light and sharing the joys of motherhood in front of millions. Recently the Duggars themselves echoed that the show exists to share their faith with the world. (Thanks Ahab for sharing the link.)
The Duggars got their first taste of the spotlight when Jim Bob was running for the U.S. Senate in 2002 after serving three years in the Arkansas House of Representatives. That year, the whole family went out to the polls on election night. Michelle, who homeschools the children, was using the opportunity as a lesson in civics.
Jim Bob lost the election, but a photographer snapped a photo of the family that ended up in the New York Times.A freelance writer for Parents Magazine spotted the photo, which led to a feature article in the publication. A documentary request from Discovery Health Channel followed, and later, the reality show on TLC.
Each step of the way, Jim Bob and Michelle prayed, asking God whether they should accept the publicity. They kept sensing a call to use their newfound platform to share their faith.
“We said, ‘We’ll do it as long as you don’t edit out our faith, because our faith is the core of our life,’” said Michelle Duggar.
More than ten years and 11 television seasons later, the Duggars continue to stay true to their faith, viewing their time in the spotlight as a divine appointment.
I am totally okay with free speech, and people using media to share their faith and perspectives. But I gotta say, these poor Duggar kids. They are props, and if these kids ever want to leave the Quiverfull-Christian-Patriarchy-Fundamental-Homeschool lifestyle like I did, they will do so with the whole world on their faces.
The parents were wrong. So was the TV show for coming up with the dumb idea.
But back to the Truman Show, I also put part of the blame on the American people for making spiritual abuse nightly entertainment. I grew up in the same program, remember. I memorized the same character qualities and went to the same homeschool conferences. Sure we had way more fewer kids, but I still remember what it was like. I remember what it was like when our ATI teacher told all the girls in my small group that we better never ask again to go rock climbing with the boys, or they would tell our fathers. I remember when ATI told us kids that rock music was from the devil after they had us sew a quilt in different groups (some of us with no music, some with classical, and others with beat music). (The Duggar girls would have been in the same room with me that day.) I remember when the children’s program asked us to promise to be more attentive, and I was the only person in the room who would not raise my hand and promise because I was tired of failing at the character traits.
I kind of remember a lot.
So the Duggars are not entertainment to me. Instead the show rather triggers me.
All I can see is people sititng in their bathtubs, their cafe’s and their couches — just like the Truman Show fans – while the daughters and sons suffer from rigid rules and legalism.
I’ve been out of the country for three years, so perhaps the show is dying off at this point. Perhaps I have nothing to fear anymore. But I do find it sickening that the Duggars were ever brought to reality TV. It’s okay to study the Quiverfull faith movement and watch a few episodes to learn a bit. But I think there’s a lot more bathtub-cafe-couch watchers than we care to admit.
I recommend turning off the TV.