Duggars, Truman Show, and Entertainment

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on June 16, 2013.

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 CountingI 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.

16 thoughts on “Duggars, Truman Show, and Entertainment

  1. Rachel June 17, 2013 / 9:37 am

    I know what you mean…I do not like the show because it also triggers horrible memories for me. I do use it to explain to people though what I went through. I also use it as a platform to explain how terrible their views are, especially for women.


  2. Headless Unicorn Guy June 17, 2013 / 9:59 am

    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.

    And before “Twenty Kids and Counting”, there was “Jon and Kate Plus Eight”, complete with (ghost-written) Celebrity Bible Study Guides about How Our Faith in Christ is the Core of Our Life (which disappeared from the Jesus Junk store shelves right after the messy divorce).

    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 see people sitting in trailer parks laughing at the freak show. Because now they have someone they can feel superior to, which they haven’t been able to since high school.

    It’s not only chickens who peck the defectives to death in the barnyard.


    • Lana June 17, 2013 / 9:32 pm

      yup, and that just makes me angry.


  3. Lois Manning (@lmanningok) June 17, 2013 / 1:03 pm

    Managed intelligently, satellite television is a rich mine of information, a window into today’s world: Pick and choose the TV channels you watch. Try LinkTV for documentaries, movies, and in-depth national and international news analysis. Current TV has great documentaries from around the world. Some reality shows like Breaking Amish expose America’s religious cults. That show heartens me because even these young, uneducated people know that normal, free lives are there for those brave enough to sacrifice deeply for it. As a secular humanist liberal, I get most of my news from MSNBC and watch Fox (Rudolf Murdock’s personal mouthpiece) only rarely because their constant, off-the-cliff right-wing indoctrination raises my blood pressure.

    Thank you for this web site. As disheartening as the stories are, they, too, expose authoritarianism for the horror it is.


  4. Lois Manning (@lmanningok) June 17, 2013 / 1:11 pm

    An example of Michelle Duggar’s pathetic lack of analytical thought: She answered an interviewer’s point about world overpopulation by stating that, standing shoulder to shoulder, the world’s entire population of seven billion would take up no more space than Jacksonville. (She didn’t specify the state.) Of course there would be no over-population problem if humanity COULD SURVIVE WITHOUT MOVING. Homeschooling without public oversight is a recipe for America’s downfall.


    • brbr2424 June 17, 2013 / 1:51 pm

      Is that even true. I find it hard to believe that the worlds population could all stuff themselves into Jacksonville, phone booth style.


      • sylvia June 28, 2013 / 1:01 am

        Jacksonville, FL, is actually the largest city, by area, in the US. According to Wikipedia, 747 square miles of land area. So yes, if you do a back-of-the-envelope calculation, it’s true that everyone would fit in phone booth style.


      • Headless Unicorn Guy July 29, 2013 / 11:37 am

        Sounds like the rationale behind the title of the Sixties SF novel “Stand on Zanzibar”, an overpopulation dystopia. (You’d know it as the B-Movie “Make Room, Make Room” starring Charlton Heston.)


  5. Katie June 17, 2013 / 5:51 pm

    “Homeschooling without public oversight is a recipe for America’s downfall.”

    Seriously?! How about all the people that are pulling from the system without contributing back to it? As a homeschool grad, homeschool parent of 10 years, with a husband who makes plenty and pays plenty of taxes AND a foster mom I can tell you that homeschoolers are far from the ones that are pulling America down.

    There is good and bad in all arena’s in life and homeschoolers are finally being honest that there are those who aren’t so perfect in the homeschool world. But for every bad family you will find many, many more that are truly good people with really great and happy children. You can say the same for the public schools as well but even with all their oversight there are still messed up kids and messed up, broken families. Oversight isn’t the answer…encouraging integrity in the family unit is.


    • Lolo June 8, 2015 / 9:33 pm

      I agree with Katie. Homeschoolers home school for many different reasons. We know plenty of kids that are not doing well in life on both sides of the educational aisle. We also know kids that are doing well. It really is about the family. We homeschool… And we do not keep our kids away from other kids. We dont make them dress as though they are living in 18th century. Our kids don’ t have curfews, weird I know. We are Christians but that was not the reason why we home taught. We wanted to send them to private school but could not afford it so this was the next best option. One reason was that their dad worked really late, this way they could see him and stay up late if they had to. Our kids were super active, we didn’t want to have to contend with the whole ADHD med situation. We wanted them to be able to be outdoors and learn anywhere, not just at a desk. Our kids play many sports for the local public school. Our kids love their public schooled friends. To make matters even better, we live in a district where kids are here from all over the world. It is a big city for refugees. I believe there are around eighty plus languages spoken in this city. To add to this with a sense of humor, many of our homeschooled kids friends are (gasp) African American. Our kids are whiter than white, and as far as people go they are color blind. Look during any point during a track meet and you will see my kids hanging out with the African American ( who BTW call themselves black) kids. I do think that some home schooled folks have control issues. So do some public school parents. People that use programs like ATI have been misled. I don’t think that they go into this whole thing trying to harm their children…. They are just ignorant as to how ATI actually squares with scripture (it doesn’t) and unless someone points out the errors, they keep on doing what they are doing. I don’t see anyone getting up in arms and blaming the public school for all of the sexual immorality that goes on amongst American teens. Trust me there iis plenty of that. If you don’t know what twerking is, well you might want to look it up. That kind of thing goes on all the time in public school, so does really bad language, There are certain things like that that I didn’t want my kids to think was ok. I wanted them to be strong thinking people. Some of my kids have made some pretty bad choices. They learned and are learning from their choices. I don’t think it was because they were taught at home. many of their PS friends made the same bad choices. Balance is the key, again, on both sides of the aisle. And just for the record, most home schooled kids take classes outside the house. They have co ops, take online classes, are tutored, and avail themselves of many opportunities outside of the house.


  6. Bethany June 18, 2013 / 5:12 pm

    Oversight is necessary. Think of how bad public school system would be without ANY of it. It doesn’t mean telling people what to do. It means ensuring that they hold certain standards of education (i.e. parent teaching should have some education, children should be learning to read, write, do basic math etc.) but much more importantly it means protecting children from isolation and abuse. (not that that can’t happen in public school, but the situations can become so much more dire and awful if there are no outside witnesses to report, no one outside the family’s trusted circles to report to). As an avid supporter of libraries I generally think the more access to information the better.


  7. Heidi Underhill June 19, 2013 / 5:10 pm

    I actually think public school was better with less government oversight. I like the Druggards. I like that Michelle is a patient and kind Mom. I feel bad for all kids on reality TV and for many child stars. It is not a childhood I would choose for my kids. Yet I still watch shows with children stars so who knows. I think it is far worse for Honey Boo – I could only watch about 3 minutes of that. I watched a couple episodes of Toddlers in Tiaras and could not watch it. IDK:-0


    • Headless Unicorn Guy July 29, 2013 / 11:40 am

      “DRUGgards”? Freudian slip there?


    • Headless Unicorn Guy July 29, 2013 / 11:42 am

      I watched a couple episodes of Toddlers in Tiaras and could not watch it.

      I can’t even hear the title without thinking of the Jon Benet Ramsey murder. (Which after the botched investigation sounds like it was done by a fanboy stalker.)


  8. A.Roddy July 6, 2013 / 11:57 pm

    Honey Boo Boos mother is saving money for the kids’ college and they turned down an offer from TLC to build a new house. You don’t see the Thompsons on expensive trips the average person can’t afford without a loan. Honey Boo Boo and T&T are far from perfect, but thats the whole idea of reality.These kids have a chance at college and an enriched life. The Duggars have no chance at college. They legal age kids aren’t even trying to be independent.. I think the midwife and firefighter thing are covers to make the kids look busy,.You have to remember Michelle seems ‘patient’ because she has lots of help. The Duggars are not real.


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