It’s hard to remember now, but there was a time — back before so-called ‘reality shows’ took over the TV universe — when The Learning Channel actually made viewers smarter. Nowadays, you have to wonder just what in the world TLC’s management thinks their viewers ought to be ‘learning’ from their content. Abuse? Exploitation? Mendacity?
Take the show 19 Kids and Counting, which uses the magic of editing to put Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar in a wholesome spotlight while leaving out all their bigotry, ignorance, and patriarchy; the family’s conspicuous piety is never examined in a close-up, lest the illusion of Christian humility be dispelled like so much smoke.
But TLC will not be able to sustain the facade anymore. On Tuesday, Radar Online revealed that the Duggars’ eldest son Josh had been investigated for molestation and sexual assault of four of his sisters, as well as another underage girl, when he was 17. Then yesterday, In Touch Weekly reported that Jim Bob had waited more than a year after his son’s confession to report it, then later refused to let police interview Josh. As Chez Pazienza points out, Jim Bob was running for the US Senate when Josh first confessed to him in 2002, and running for Arkansas state senate when he blocked the investigation in 2006. Clearly, the potential political effects of the scandal weighed heavy on his mind.
Josh has admitted his past actions and resigned his position with the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council as a result of these revelations, but the story isn’t going to die. Not only has the Duggars’ homophobia been exposed as an epic hypocrisy, but this is only the latest sex scandal connected to their cult of the womb. Bill Gothard, a Christian homeschooling leader whose ‘educational’ materials have helped the Duggars raise their brood of zealots and has appeared on the show, has also been revealed as a sexual predator. So has Doug Phillips, another ‘Christian’ homeschooling expert and close friend of the family who was accused in a lawsuit last year of grooming a 15 year-old girl to be his sex slave.
What makes all of this especially icky is the way the Duggars enforce happiness in their children:
One key idea teaches the importance of a joyful countenance and a light in your eyes. This is a measure of how mighty you are in spirit. Not only that, it is also an indicator of your respect for authority. Bill Gothard explains in the Basic Seminar session on How To Relate to Four Authorities that if you look unhappy, you are publicly shaming your authority. In parenting, that means that if the kid looks unhappy, it is a personal offense against the parents. He also teaches that unhappiness is the result of ungratefulness, and that anger comes from not yielding our rights to God. This boils down to the idea that if you are not cheerful, you are not pleasing God.
The Duggars also strongly recommend S. M. Davis in their Family Favorites link under Solving Family Problems. Although he is perhaps not as well known as Gothard or the Pearls, his teachings are similar. Along with the strong insistence on father rule and corporal punishment, he is adamant that not only must the child immediately obey without question, but that it must also be done with a smile.
In advising parents of young children, he says, “They need to learn to obey what you say, do it right away and do it with a smile. Maybe that is a statement that you should have your children memorize and even hang in your home. ‘Do what I say, when I say and with a smile.’” A few lines later, he repeats it, “After all, isn’t the goal immediate obedience with a smile? If it isn’t that, it isn’t obedience, and the child has won.”
Until now, TLC has been able to ignore the scandals and keep the disturbing reality of this family off-camera. Rather than organize to can the show, until now most critics have instead asked that producers simply do a better job of showing the truth about the Duggars. As one Patheos.com writer explained in November,
I would like to see TLC be honest in its portrayal of the Duggars. I would like them to be clear about the fact that their star family supports the ministry of a serial sexual predator. I would like them to be clear that the girls are not given any semblance of true choice when it comes to leaving home or going out with a boy. I would like to see them be honest about the child rearing practices the Duggars support, rather than allowing the Duggars to smile and hedge every time someone asks them about spanking. I would like to see them be brutally and painfully honest about what Michelle and Jim Bob are teaching their daughters about their role in life, as women. I would also like to see more attention paid to the quality of education the children are receiving, and why none of them have attended college.
Indeed, as much money as the Duggar children have made for the channel and their parents since the show began, none of them have received the first dollar of it, and TLC has never taken steps to look after their interests.
It’s worth remembering that another hit TLC show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, was canceled last year just because the child star’s mother was photographed talking to a former boyfriend who had been convicted of child molestation. If the channel’s standards require them to avoid even the potential appearance of supporting abuse or exploitation, then what about this enormous family that is entirely organized around systematic abuse and exploitation?