Jon and Kate Plus 8 Plus Hate
Usually with deep embarrassment and lately with great regret, I have watched “Jon & Kate Plus 8″ for the past couple of years, mainly because my wife loved the show and because the behavior of the sextuplets was just slightly ahead of the actions of my own preschooler — predictive on a massive and scary scale. Before the show devolved into a self-referential meditation on the caustic effects of 21st century tabloid/reality television fame, “J&K+8″ was the cutest little horror show on television — parents of young children could look at Jon and Kate Gosselin and their massive brood and think, “There but for the grace of limited fertility go I.”
But last night’s episode confirmed what our supermarket checkout experiences had been trumpeting for weeks: the Gosselins are a 20-legged disaster. While the couple announced on the show (in isolated interviews) that they were separating, a placard appeared shortly afterward indicating that the Gosselins had filed papers on Monday to dissolve the marriage. Quick and ugly.
Even from the limited understanding we are allowed if we choose not to read the rags, this was still not a surprise, given that Kate was increasingly surly and self-absorbed last season and Jon has been uninvolved and enunciating like he just got stuck with a tranquilizer dart. Plus, the kids started looking a lot like window dressing on the show, which is a fairly pathetic but obvious outcome in the reality television age.
We’ve seen all this before in the paleolithic era of reality television. The historical precursor to all this was “An American Family,” a 12-episode series that ran on PBS in 1973, in which the Loud family of Santa Barbara, Calif. fell apart. The documentarians weren’t counting on the Louds being a mess when they arrived, but that’s what they got when Pat asked Bill to move out and filed for divorce.
The Gosselins are a different kind of loud, and even without the cameras or the couple’s personality mismatch, the odds were against them — parents of multiples are reportedly three times as likely to divorce. Throw camera crews into the mix, and Monday’s outcome was predictable as sunrise.
What bothers me about this meltdown is the terrible Faustian deal the Gosselins entered into with this show. The couple reportedly made nearly $50,000 per episode, which should provide some security for the kids provided that the cash doesn’t get wasted on legal fees and/or excessive living. But then there’s the toxic aftermath: the sextuplets and the twins will grow up with an obnoxious truth — the dissolution of their family can be Netflixed by everyone they know, and far too many people that they don’t know.
Isn’t reality television wonderful? Two decades ago, when TLC was still “The Learning Channel,” the network used to broadcast surgeries. It’s a toss-up as to whether “J&K+8″ or those chest-cavity shots were more invasive.
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