Saturday, May 23, 2015

All unhappy families: The downfall of the Duggars

On Thursday, news broke that Josh Duggar, the oldest son of the Duggar family's 19 children, had, as a teenager, allegedly molested five underage girls. Four of them, allegedly, were his sisters.

The information came to light because, in 2006—two years before 17 Kids and Counting first aired on TLC, and thus two years before the Duggars became reality-TV celebrities—the family recorded an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Before the taping, an anonymous source sent an email to Harpo warning the production company Josh’s alleged molestation. Harpo forwarded the email to authorities, triggering a police investigation (the Oprah appearance never aired). The news was reported this week by In Touch Weekly—after the magazine filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see the police report on the case—and then confirmed by the Duggars in a statement posted on Facebook.

The Duggars, Jim Bob and Michelle, knew what Josh had done; prior to the Harpo incident, however, they had handled the matter privately. But that their sad secret would be revealed because the family did an interview with Oprah seems, in retrospect, appropriate. All reality TV—and reality TV about families, in particular—revels in the systemic collision of intimacy and publicity, the none-of-your-business and the everybody’s-business. All famous families are alike; all famous families are unhappy in their own way.


Not so the Duggars, who use their fame—their TV show(s), their book(s), their various political appearances—as platforms for evangelism. And evangelism not just for a religion, but for something more basic: a lifestyle. A lifestyle that is so inflected with moral messaging that we might as well call it A Way of Life. The Duggar children are home-schooled. Michelle Duggar, who recently recorded a robocall arguing against protections for LGBT and transgender residents of Fayetteville, Arkansas, doesn't allow her daughters to wear shorts or skirts with hems that fall above the knee because an exposed thigh, she has explained, amounts to "nakedness and shame." The girls generally avoid beaches and swimming pools under the same logic. Jessa Duggar (whose recent wedding TLC treated as a Very Special Event, dedicating multiple episodes to it) married her fiancĂ© not just having never had sex with him, but having never kissed him. Full story...

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