Another television season is upon us again and that means one thing. More of the Duggars “19 Kids and Counting”. The show starts anew on Tuesday, August 28th on TLC Channel at 9 pm est. This year their friends theBates have a show too – “The United Bates of America” There are preview videos for both series up now on the TLC website.
Looking through both videos I have noticed one thing, both families have changed a great deal in the short time they’ve been in the spot light. Which is ironic considering how Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar have stated from the beginning that they are to be a light shining out to the world, a shining city on the hill. That’s not quite what I’m observed through the years, I’ve noticed that they tend to respond to criticism of the show by changing in the next show series/special.
Look at the changes wrought in Michelle Duggar. No more the higher the bangs the closer to heaven, a more natural and modern look.
When the TLC channel unleashed the Duggar family into the television viewing audience they were very different and almost identical to many fundamentalist quiverfull families I knew. In fact, at my old church there was a lady that could have been a dead ringer for Michelle Duggar in the early specials, same hair, same clothing, same little girl voice and same brood of stair step children. She was as absolutely quiverfull as you could possibly get. Sweet lady. But she’s still the same as she was, Michelle Duggar has changed as the viewer input has remarked upon things.
The first special, “Fourteen Kids & Pregnant Again!” showed the Duggars, who were just like a million other home schooling, bible believing, fundamentalist quiverfull families scattered around the United States. Michelle explained so many aspects of their lives that have since either disappeared or been downplayed enormously. I remember in that first special seeing the Duggar girls and Michelle herself dressed in those voluminous cotton jumpers over white shirts with enormous collars tricked out with lace, ribbons or embroidery. Michelle explained to the viewers that this style of dressing was to preserve modesty and the large fancy collars were meant to drawn attention to the countenance and away from the body. As time when on and people commented on the TLC message boards, in reviews and around the internet the family started gradually changing the way they dress. Except for the fact that the daughters are donning denim skirts instead of tight jeans they could be any teenager. Gone are the hideous calico jumpers and ‘countenance’ enhancing huge collars.
Every special, every season something was critiqued and the Duggars changed. In that first special they were extolling the virtues of an ATI based education, never to be mentioned again. Michelle explained a version of Michael & Debi Pearl’s ‘To Train Up a Child’ discipline, explaining about blanket training and smacking the small child or baby that would not lay contentedly on the blanket with a wooden spoon. Never mentioned again. Complaints that the kids were only ever glimpsed eating processed crapola food and no vegetables or fruit and lookie see, the next special contained images of the kids getting oranges and baby carrots with their white bread sandwiches. Over and over and over again America commented negatively upon some aspect of the Duggar family and before you knew it that very thing was modified.
The Duggar family as they are shown now on TLC are almost unrecognizable if you compare them to their old first television special selves. I wonder if they’ve considered how much they’ve morphed and how they are mentally parsing it with their faith. Fame has changed the Duggars. I’m just not sure if it’s for better or worse, this change, but it’s surely been interesting. I’m looking forward to see where this season brings new changes. It’s a slippery slope.
And now we have the Gil and Kelley Bates family to add to the mix. At first glance during the Duggar specials it seemed like the Bates family was even more modest than the Duggars. The Bates girls didn’t wear those calico jumpers with countenance enhancing collars, they wore very old fashioned dresses festooned with ruffles and covered with coordinating pinafores. Very “Little House on the Prairie wear. But do not confuse the Bates with Prairie Muffins!
Searching the internet I was unable to find still shots from the first few times the Bates family appeared with the ruffly aprons and dresses. This photo of the Duggars and the Bates and mixed broods at that favorite Duggar-approved vacation spot Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo is the closest I came. You can see most of the young ladies in the shot that weren’t Duggars wore very old fashioned dresses, just not as extreme as the early episodes.
Looking at the still photos from the TLC channel website I think it’s pretty safe to conclude that the Bates, just like their pals the Duggars have been seduced by their budding fame and have already started the process of metamorphosis in the harsh glare of the spot light of popular culture. Both families have not made a genuine change to pop culture, except to show a rosy false picture of patriarchy and quiverfull lifestyles. There is not much of a grain of truth to it, the Mary Poppins spin, hiding the endless work that falls to the kids, the penury that seems to accompany living the life, no showing the probable educational neglect, the control, the subjugation of women, the realities of reducing men to petty tyrants and the list goes on. It’s not likely they’ve won anyone over to their culture via this show, only built up the self esteem and ‘that’s right’ self righteousness in the other quiverfulls watching.
But the culture has impacted them in ways I’m betting they never imagined, much more than they’d impacted the culture. Both families have become very much more worldly than they started out. The kids cannot help but be impacted by the excursions and experiences that they’d have as a result of their television show and celebrity. You can see it in the clothes the daughters now wear in both families, the new homes, in the behavior of the teens more like normal teens now than teenaged programmed robots.
I’ll be watching this year, both shows, just to see what type of shift, organic growth towards the world will be happening this year. I’m hoping ten years out after the shows are over that we’ll hear something of these kids. I’d like to see how an expanded view and opportunities ultimately resolved. Most kids of quiverfull families never get the chance to go to the Grand Canyon or any of the Duggars other trips. The farthest they’ll go from home in most families is to a nearby homeschooling convention.
Change is part of life but I often wonder how much change a family can take and not fall apart or warp.
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Calulu lives near Washington DC , was raised Catholic in South Louisiana before falling in with a bunch of fallen Catholics whom had formed their own part Fundamentalist, part Evangelical church. After fifteen uncomfortable years drinking that Koolaid she left nearly 6 years ago. Her blog is Calulu – Roadkill on the Internet Superhighway
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce