Reality television thrives on controversy, whether the on-screen kind that ends in hair-pulling or the off-screen kind generated by television executives. Now, thanks to the enormous Duggar clan, reality television has delivered us a controversy that is far less superficial. And, in its own way, much more troubling.
Here’s the background:
Earlier this fall, parents Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, stars of the TLC show “19 Kids & Counting,” announced they were expecting their 20th child. A few weeks later, the deeply religious couple announced that Michelle had miscarried.
Anyone following the sad news might have thought there would be a period of media blackout for the grieving family. In fact, the public attention was just beginning.
The Duggars next announced they would hold a memorial service for the fetus that had been miscarried in the second trimester. TLC told the Daily Beast that the service was a “private” matter. But it wasn’t so private since People magazine reported on it.
The couple also took “artistic” photos of the fetus, whom they named Jubilee Shalom, and handed them out at the service.
A family member shared photos on Twitter and the gossip Web site TMZ got hold of them.
“There is no foot too small that it cannot leave an imprint on this world,” says one of the photos over a picture that looks like an up-close shot of tiny feet between Michelle’s fingers.
Though at first the family said they never meant for the photos to become public, one was soon featured on the family’s promotional Web site. The site also featured an audio letter from Michelle to Jubilee Shalom.
“We are blessed because you lived,” she says to her daughter.
The family’s decisions raise questions about the lines between public and private. A miscarriage can be devastating. Here, the sadness may well be heartfelt, but is it also being used as fodder for “reality” drama?
Reality television has been blurring the public-private line for years. With the Duggars, I’m not sure if it exists at all.