The long national rubberneck is over. Yesterday, TLC announced the end of “Kate Plus 8,” the reality series that has entranced viewers by offering us a portal to express all our pent-up judgments about parenting and marriage.
When Kate and Jon Gosselin were first glimpsed publicly in a television special in 2005, they seemed far more innocent than the rest of us. We were dealing with a war gone terribly wrong, incendiary cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, a certain Gulf Coast hurricane. It was understandable that so many viewers retreated from true reality by embracing the manipulated reality of what was then a guileless and overwhelmed (and natural-hair-colored) couple.
In the early years, the Gosselins were so naive as to film themselves creating and reading a family “mission statement.” Here’s an excerpt from what was then called “Jon and Kate Plus 8”:
What became addictive to so many over the years, as Kate and Jon trekked from Discovery to TLC to tabloids, was that the Gosselins’ parenting choices were more fascinating than their parenting circumstances. Corralling twins and sextuplets is extraordinary, but it has nothing on exposing all those children, and the marriage that ostensibly held them together, to public scrutiny.
The Gosselins became the canvas upon which million of viewers painted their own judgments about child-rearing and marriage. Were the couple communicative enough? Was there too much barking in the house? Was the exposure justified if it brought needed financial support?
When Jon and Kate announced their intention to divorce, the show’s audience climbed to 10 million. That doesn’t even begin to include the non-audience members who found the family unavoidable in popular culture. At that point, the canvas opened for judgments about divorce and ex-spouse behavior. Who among us has not chosen a Kate camp or a Jon camp? Despite never having seen the show, I still feel strong in my allegiance.
Once the marriage wreck was cleared, the desire to gawk vanished and the audience dropped precipitously. “Kate Plus 8” was apparently reaching about a million viewers this season.
Yesterday, Kate Gosselin tweeted that “it is very sad for me and the kids (there were many tears at the breakfast table this morning!)”
Perhaps it is hard for her to lose her status as a national Rorschach test on mothering. But won’t the children be better off without the cameras?
Ah, that sounds like I’m judging the Gosselins. Now that the family will soon return to private life, there’s no reason to judge.