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Jon & Kate plus disgrace
Reality stars Jon and Kate Gosselin (from TLC’s “Jon & Kate Plus Eight”) have all but tarnished their once infallible image as do-no-wrong parents in the last year into money hungry “famewhores” in search of fame and fortune. Perhaps entering the show with good intentions, the Gosselins have found themselves in a real-life nightmare that has played out in front of the media and their eight children. Fighting, alleged affairs and even questions about child abuse have all arisen in the last few months. It was only a year ago when a very special episode of “Jon & Kate” aired, which featured the family in Hawaii celebrating the vow renewal between Jon and Kate. So, where did it all go wrong for the Gosselin clan?
The Gosselin family was originally featured in a one-hour special, “Surviving Sextuplets and Twins,” on Discovery Health in 2006 before turning into a weekly reality program for TLC in 2007. Episodes ranged from trips to the zoo, dentist and even Disney World. Oftentimes looking frazzled and overwhelmed, Jon and Kate still made raising eight children look fairly easy. The program had been a stable hit for the cable network and garnered so much attention that Oprah Winfrey had the family on her talk show (subsequently, an episode surrounding the trip to meet Oprah was filmed).
The seemingly normal lifestyle the Gosselin family lived through every day appealed to viewers. They fought and made up. They cleaned the house and saw the kids make it a mess again. These simple day-to-day events mirrored the lives of the millions of viewers who watched them every week.
Scene Editor Mary-Catherine Dolan lives just a few miles away from the Gosselin family.
“For a small Pennsylvania town that is used to corn fields and Amish folk, Jon and Kate have certainly given us a lot to talk about,” Dolan said.
For the last two years of the show, it seemed like Jon and Kate had it all. Neither of them continued their former day jobs: Jon, a computer technician, and Kate, a registered nurse. The show provided for the family and helped pay for expenses. However, all seemed to change last winter when the first rumblings of Jon partying with college girls at Mimi’s bar in Huntington, Pa., came to fruition.
“It is certainly hurtful for people to spread rumors and lies about us,” Jon Gosselin said in a statement following the allegations last March. “It certainly makes me reluctant to live my life like the average person would.”
Jon also emphasized how much he cared for his wife and family.
“As you can see on the show, I am not perfect, but I am a part of a loving family and couple,” he said.
Like a train just waiting to crash, the impending wreck followed soon enough when reports of an affair with 23-year-old school teacher Deanna Hummel exploded through tabloid pages all over the country in May.
Dolan worked a shift at her local Hooters on Sept. 27 when she waited on Jon.
“He made no indication to me that he had eight children or a girlfriend,” Dolan said.
Dolan adds that Jon complained to her about having to pay for Ultimate Fighting Champion tickets.
“[Jon] is taking his 15 minutes of fame way too seriously,” she said. “A man famous for being a family man is now a sleazy single guy trying to pick up females.”
Jon’s cavalier approach to picking up women was transparent to Dolan after he invited her to use VIP passes with him.
“I used to really think Jon was a wonderful, committed father,” she said. “But, his actions have proved different.”
Despite numerous denials, the Gosselins came to terms with the fact that their marriage was in dire straits. According to Nielsen, 9.8 million viewers watched an emotionally separated Jon and Kate confront rumors in the fifth season premiere on May 25.
When “Jon & Kate Plus Eight” first began, it was simple for TLC and Jon and Kate to control what was shown to viewers. However, the rising interest in the family has allowed the tabloids free reign on the family. Jon and Kate have essentially lost all control.
The heightened fascination with Jon and Kate is not so surprising given the media’s love of tearing down public figures.
“Historically, the public builds heroes just to tear them down,” said Lisa Burns, associate professor of media studies. “[Jon and Kate] are paying the price for their fame; they got beyond themselves. They became famous and started acting famous. The public doesn’t like that.”
While the tabloid industry is feeding the public’s curiosity for Jon and Kate drama, Duyen B. Vo, adjunct professor of psychology, finds that there is a voyeuristic tendency in all of us.
“As a culture, the paparazzi and the public share a mutual influence on one another; wherein the former produces what sells and the latter consumes what is sold.
This dynamic seems to all the more magnify this voyeuristic tendency,” she said. “[We] all have envy and what’s called schadenfreude [gloating of others’ misfortune] built into us. Perhaps, it has a little bit to do with the culture, but it also seems to reveal more about our basic nature.”
Since May, when Jon and Kate appeared at a loss for the slow crumble of their marriage, the duo has been leading vastly separate lives.
Jon has been gallivanting around the world with different girlfriends, including 22-year-old Hailey Glassman, the daughter of the surgeon who performed Kate’s tummy tuck. (Also, Jon has apparently taken on the role of Ed Hardy spokesman, often photographed wearing the clothing brand, while “rocking” two diamond stud earrings.)
Alternatively, Kate has toured the states promoting her books and even co-hosted two episodes of popular daytime talk show, “The View,” last September.
“[Their marriage] came about the show and the money. Not about their relationship,” Burns adds.
Burns believes that public sympathy sided with Jon at first, but has seemingly shifted toward Kate over the last few months.
“Jon comes off as a scumbag…and looks ridiculous” she said. “Kate is sort of coming off as [the] victim.”
With the public feuding between Jon and Kate and the rampant tabloid stories about the family, the only factors not being accounted for are the actual stars of the show: the children (Cara, Mady, Alexis, Hannah, Aaden, Collin, Leah and Joel). Not only are the children becoming stars in their own right, but they are forced to deal with the dissolution of their parents’ marriage privately and in front of the rest of the world.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the divorce rate is currently 3.5 per 1,000 population (with 44 states reporting) as of April 2009.
Speaking on speculative and tentative terms, Vo counters that children of divorce are not always headed for trouble as they enter adolescence and adulthood.
“[Children] will tend to experience some natural reactions of confusion and sadness,” she said. “However, if given age-appropriate explanations and adequate emotional support, children, as resilient as they are, will probably be able to adapt and grow up to be well-adjusted adolescents and adults.”
Whether the children come out of the whole ordeal unscathed is only a matter of time and will depend on Jon and Kate to either continue with the show or end it before it is too late.
As Jon and Kate say before every episode, “it might be a crazy life, but it is our life.” If only they realized how true this statement would be two years later. Jon and Kate have welcomed the crazy and neither seems to be inching away from it.