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Thread: Jon and Kate plus Hate: an overview of the situation

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    Friend of Gossip Rocks! buttmunch's Avatar
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    Default Jon and Kate plus Hate: an overview of the situation

    The word rubberneck, H.L. Mencken said, is "almost a complete treatise on American psychology; it reveals the national habit of mind more than any labored inquiry could ever reveal it." Over the past month, most of the country has been emotionally rubbernecking at some particularly ghoulish cases: Farrah Fawcett, the Octomom, and Elizabeth Edwards, all of whom have been complicit - almost downright accommodating - in the public vivisection of the most private aspects of their lives. (It's a delicate art, professing moral indignation at public intrusiveness while courting it, kind of like mastering a complicated algorithm.)

    JON & KATE SLAPPED BY CHILD-LABOR PROBE

    But these are cheap thrills, the antics of B-list celebrities or willing civilian freak-shows, and their narratives often fail to sustain long-term interest. In each of the above cases, for example, we know what there is to know: Fawcett's terminal; the Octomom's crazy; Elizabeth Edwards is in denial over who probably fathered that baby. Unsurprising, then, that we have all moved on to a new national fixation: The implosion of a suburban couple from Pennsylvania with eight kids and a reality show.

    PHOTOS: Jon and Kate Plus Eight

    PHOTOS: Reality TV's Relationship Roadkill

    Until this week, "Jon & Kate Plus 8" - which chronicles Jon and Kate Gosselin as they raise their vast brood - was a modest success for the cable channel TLC. But as is often the case with reality TV, the most compelling, truthful moments occurred off the air. In the weeks leading up to last Monday night's fifth-season premiere, tabloids caught Jon drunkenly leaving a nightclub with another woman. He denied an affair, but the other woman's brother told journalists that, regrettably, he heard the two loudly having sex. Frenemies stepped forward, alleging that Kate has been having an affair with her married bodyguard, that Jon doesn't even live in the house but in a space above the garage, and all either of them care about is money.

    So Kate went on the Today Show and Larry King to say her husband wasn't handling his newfound fame very well, nor is she cheating. Also, that the tabloids are evil. Right after that, she gave an exclusive interview to People in which she sat for photos looking forlorn and doe-eyed, wounded images perfectly juxtaposed with hostile headlines - albeit ones that shrewdly helped extend the narrative - such as "We Might Split Up" and "I Have a Lot of Anger." Monday night's 74-minute episode, in which a defeated, seemingly-drunk Jon and a bitter, martyr-like Kate discussed the unlikely survival of their marriage, garnered 9.8 million viewers. That's the most in both the show and TLC's history, and approaches the record for cable television set by the finale of "Sex and the City," which won 10.6 million. (It's interesting to note that "SATC" ended its run with each of its four sozzled libertines happily coupled and domesticated.) TLC has ordered 40 more episodes.

    Mencken's theory on our national character aside, what is it about this particular domestic disturbance that America finds so grotesquely captivating? Especially given that the bulk of people under 40 - Jon and Kate's main viewership - have already lived through the traumas of parental infidelity and divorce from the discomfort of their own homes? We have some theories as to why this least exotic of American melodramas - 50% of marriages end in divorce, after all - is resonating so deeply. That a young, interracial couple with two sets of multiples (twins and sextuplets), a pious Christianity and a marriage that is rotting from within makes for great TV is but a mere part of it.

    1. GENDER ROLE AGITA

    Jon is a stay-at-home dad; Kate is the earner, traveling on book tours, speaking engagements, talk show appearances. Jon is the more passive spouse and the more nurturing, physically demonstrative parent; Kate is the disciplinarian, the taskmaster, the critic (she has berated Jon, on camera, for buying a shower curtain without a coupon and for breathing too loudly). In conducting their amateur autopsy of the relationship, fans have taken to the web, diagnosing Kate's domineering, emasculating tendencies and Jon's passive-aggressive behaviors as the cause of death.

    Put another way: Kate's taken on the masculine role (provider, authority figure) and Jon the feminine (caregiver, peacekeeper). This week's US Weekly cover ran with the headline "Inside Jon's Prison" and featured such humiliating details as the $5-a-day lunch allowance Kate gave him. He is a tormented man, and clearly lots of other men alternately recoil and relate. On the premiere, he kept reiterating that he was only still in it "for the kids" - how many men in loveless marriages saw themselves in Jon?

    That said, Kate - who bemoans, on camera, the strains of work and family obligations - sometimes seems like she could be a case study out of the groundbreaking 1989 book "The Second Shift," which examined the societal expectations that result in working women still shouldering the bulk of housekeeping and child-rearing. (A study, released last week, showing declining rates of happiness for women over the past 35 years seems especially relevant.) Kate's on the meridian of second- and third-wave feminism, and is in many ways thoroughly modern, yet most media coverage casts her as the villain, the castrating shrew who drove her husband to commit adultery (in tabloids that are edited and bought by women!).

    But women also see Kate as a cautionary example, her husband's alienation the direct result of her treating him like another child to be managed. Jon, who appeared on the season premiere bloated, flushed and exhausted, seems like the epitome of the trapped '50s housewife who is overly-reliant on mother's little helpers.

    2. THE MARRIAGE QUESTION

    There's a lot of anxiety about marriage right now, especially around the issue of same-sex marriage - a byproduct of the insane degree to which the culture values the institution. It's perceived as the final rite of passage, an outward signifier of full maturity and societal stability. "Jon & Kate," which starts off as a paean to the traditional American family and devolves into a pornographic chronicle of anger, sexual betrayal, child neglect and general hypocrisy, gives lie to the idea that marriage is, by definition, a delicate, sacrosanct institution - or even a necessarily desirable one.

    It's interesting that one of the country's most famous nuclear families, the Jolie-Pitts, remain unmarried. The 2005 US Census reported 89.8 million single Americans, with 60% never having been married. Since 1970, worldwide marriage rates have declined 50%. In 2007, more than 1.7 million unmarried women in the US - more than ever before - gave birth.

    Jon and Kate Gosselin, ages 32 and 34 respectively, are on the tail end of Gen X - that first generation to come of age during widespread divorce. In many ways, it's surprising that they would embark on a marriage at such tender ages (he was 22, she 24) and thoroughly unsurprising that they're headed for divorce. They are members of that generation that aspire to succeed where their parents failed, and are failing anyway.

    Maybe being privy to the gory details, the causes that have effected the end, allow us a microcosmic examination of the merits of marriage as a whole. And, at the very least, anyone who is or has ever been in a failing marriage can look at this charred hunk of roadkill and feel a little bit better.

    3. THE COLLECTIVE NEED FOR MORAL OUTRAGE ... The people and things that are truly deserving - thieving hedge funders, predatory lenders and amoral CEOs; record unemployment rates and dwindling industries on the verge of extinction; the unrivaled incompetence of the MTA - all the collective moral outrage a general populace can and has mustered has also changed nothing. But we can all get productively outraged over two solipsistic famewhores who bleat about how much they're doing all this for their children - while simultaneously ignoring what is most likely in the best interests of those children - and publicly flay them until we are satisfied by their regret and humiliation. (Much as Kate's brother and his wife are doing on national TV and in tabloids, excoriating Jon and Kate for exploiting their children. The in-laws, it's been reported, are asking $30,000 per interview. Meta-moral outrage!)

    4. ...ALONG WITH A NATIONAL MENTAL BREAK We are recently off a 16-month-long national obsession, one of the greatest competitive reality shows ever: The race for President of the United States. Primaries, debates, policy positions, polls, blog posts, Op-Eds, what demographic is breaking where - the stresses and strains involved in following the minutiae of the most fascinating and historical election were thoroughly exhausting! It's like we're back to what passed for news coverage before 9/11: Shark attacks and missing kids.

    5. THE BABY BACKLASH

    A recent spate of disappointed-mommy-memoirs ("Perfect Madness," "Bad Parent," "It Sucked and Then I Cried"), coupled with web sites and online threads for the stressed-out parent, have begun to limn a long-taboo topic: Ambivalence about child-rearing or even wanting children. A 2007 Newsweek piece cited Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, author of "Stumbling on Happiness," whose research revealed that people expect having children will increase their happiness - when, studies show, the opposite holds true. (At least, these same studies show, until the kids go off to college).

    A 2005 Florida State University study reported that parents exhibited more symptoms of depression than those without children - even those parents whose children were grown, or who lived with their ex. Another academic study published in the Journals of Gerontology showed that older people who were childless did not suffer markedly more loneliness or depression than those who had children. An exaggerated case like the Gosselins' allows for a voyeuristic look at the impact of children on a marriage - Kate herself remarked that parents of multiples have three times the divorce rate - and a larger discussion about the exalted status children, and having children, holds in the culture at large.

    6. BAD-MOMMY ENVY

    The conceit of the show - two young suburban Christian parents of modest means struggle to raise eight children, all under the age of 10, with little to no outside help - would seem to dictate that both parents look haggard, worn-out, last on their priority list. As established, only one of these parents looks like this, and it's not Kate. Not only does she favor platform flip-flops (!), mani-pedis, denim miniskirts, white sunglasses and professional hair and make-up (plus a tanning-salon habit extensively detailed by the tabloids), Kate has also had a lot of plastic surgery. In short, Kate's attention to her appearance represents something lots of other mothers wish they could indulge, but can't or don't, in part because we still think a good mother is a self-sacrificing one - one whose appearance should no longer be beautiful or sexual - and in part because most mothers are so overwhelmed and sleep-deprived they literally don't have the time or energy. Kate Gosselin - no matter the shortcomings of her character - is giving the finger to all that. How many moms envy her?

    7. TV, THE WEB, AND THE CULTURE OF OVERSHARING To paraphrase one online observer, "Jon & Kate" went from being a reality show about a couple who had eight kids to a show about a couple with eight kids who have a reality show. In recent months, we have been exposed to the bloody innards of John and Elizabeth Edwards' marriage and watched Farrah Fawcett hover near death on primetime network TV (a special that gave NBC some of its highest ratings this season). This week, all of the major tabloids had Jon and Kate on their covers; US Weekly has put one or both of them on the cover for the past six issues, which rank among this year's bestsellers. (This week's "Inside Jon's Prison" sold about 1.3 million copies.) Meanwhile, breakups, makeups, childbirths and family deaths are now routinely announced via Facebook or Twitter.

    Reality shows - once the province of the average person looking for fame - have been infested with celebrities looking for a career boost. And now that more stars have taken to the web to share their innermost thoughts, (often banal), feelings (usually outrage at the paparazzi), or catalogue whatever it is they're doing at the moment (crying over Susan Boyle; breaking up with Jennifer Aniston), the membrane between celebrity and civilian, and by extension public and private, is tissue-paper thin. Kate Gosselin stopped being just a suburban mom of eight the minute she began complaining about the paparazzi on her season premiere.

    8. KATE'S HAIR

    Seriously, what is up with that?JON & KATE PLUS HATE - New York Post
    Number 8 is a given but the rest is an interesting breakdown of the whole thing.
    'Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.' Ben Franklin

    "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."
    --Sinclair Lewis

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    Elite Member McJag's Avatar
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    I wonder what will become of them. Not enough to actually watch the show...
    I didn't start out to collect diamonds, but somehow they just kept piling up.-Mae West

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    Friend of Gossip Rocks! buttmunch's Avatar
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    They'll divorce, drop out of the spotlight for a bit then both will come back with books, accompanied by a full-scale media blitz including spots on St. Oprah, Tyra, Larry, etc. and the covers of all the usual rags. The kids will write their own tomes a few years later and the cycle will continue. I predict a great falling out between the kids when they're older, with some siding with her, some with him and some just opting out of the whole damned mess.
    'Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.' Ben Franklin

    "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."
    --Sinclair Lewis

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    Elite Member McJag's Avatar
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    Or,the parents could actually salvage this marriage & write new "How to Save Your Marriage" books for the next 10 years.
    I didn't start out to collect diamonds, but somehow they just kept piling up.-Mae West

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    Elite Member NicoleWasHere's Avatar
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    Good to know they're trying to keep things friendly for the kids, and everything.

    Wait...

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    I can't believe it's taken 3 seasons for somebody to finally say "Hmmm...perhaps some child labor laws are being broken here." I detest Kate and I think it's kind of funny that she just keeps getting kicked while she's down. Though far from innocent, I have more sympathy for Jon. I think somewhere along the way, he at least realized that things were out of control.

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    Elite Member aabbcc's Avatar
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    There's a lot of anxiety about marriage ... a byproduct of the insane degree to which the culture values the institution.

    This is laughable. People value marriage so much that 2 out of every 3 marriages end in divorce. They get married for dumb reasons and don't even try to make it work because it's easier to get divorced and move on to the next chump.

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    Quote Originally Posted by McJag View Post
    I wonder what will become of them. Not enough to actually watch the show...
    one of the twins will give a tell all interview in 5-10 years that will bring them to the forefront again temporarily.

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    Gold Member IceQueen's Avatar
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    6. BAD-MOMMY ENVY

    The conceit of the show - two young suburban Christian parents of modest means struggle to raise eight children, all under the age of 10, with little to no outside help - would seem to dictate that both parents look haggard, worn-out, last on their priority list.


    Right.... are people still stupid enough to believe that JK8 don't have outside help (or very little of it?) They've got food delivered in, people folding laundry, babysitters - basically a whole child-army.

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    ^^Nannies, cooks, personal assisstants...

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    Elite Member msdeb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by buttmunch View Post
    They'll divorce, drop out of the spotlight for a bit then both will come back with books,
    kate will never ever drop out of the spotlight. she's a media whore.
    Basic rule of Gossip Rocks: Don't be a dick.Tati
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    Elite Member sparkly's Avatar
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    These people suck and I wish they would go away. Maddie is a bona fide asshole, and the other kids are desperate for attention from Mommy and Daddy, not just a camera crew and nannies.
    Everyone is entitled to be stupid, but some abuse the privilege.

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