The Duggar family is well into the second full season of their new reality show, Counting On, and some viewers are asking how the family can possibly stay relevant. The oldest son, who preached “family values” at political rallies, was outed on a site devoted to cheating on spouses, only a short while after the release of a police report detailing his alleged abuse of five young girls — including four of Duggar’s own sisters. The family is consistently rocked by scandals, from inappropriate commentary about the Holocaust to sponsors distancing themselves from the Duggar brand.
Still, only months after Josh Duggar’s police file was released, the family returned to television. With sponsors backing away from the show and businesses that displayed connections to the family receiving backlash, it seemed possible that the Duggar family fame was nearing an end.
That’s not what happened, though. Instead, the three special episodes of Counting On became a springboard for a full season. Ratings dropped as the season progressed, and sponsors reported their ads were being used without permission.
What could keep the Duggar family on the air through all of that?
Maybe one factor is the Duggar haters — people who do not agree with the family’s way of life but find themselves drawn to the latest scandals and news. Of course, among these are people who have problems with the Duggar family for a wide variety of reasons: they feel that the Duggar children (or in some cases specifically the daughters) are being raised in a harmful way, they are protesting Josh Duggar’s anti-gay activism or Michelle Duggar’s actions in helping prevent an ordinance for protection of transgender people, they feel that Josh Duggar is a hypocrite for preaching that homosexuality is a danger to families with molestation of children in his own past, or that Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar endangered their daughters by keeping Josh in the home after the molestation. Others have left fundamentalist religions themselves and see echoes of their own experiences. For these and a variety of other reasons, the Duggar family consistently attracts attention from an audience that can simply not be called “fans.”
This isn’t to say that there are no true Duggar fans. There clearly are.
@duggarfam love your family. If God brings you to it, he will bring you through it
— Blessed45 (@ToBlessed45) August 30, 2016
— Kerri Feldman (@kerri59) July 25, 2015
Still, there is a large contingent of viewers who do what they call “snark-watching” or “rage-watching.” Blogs such as Duggars Without Pity, the Duggar and Bates Confession Tumblr, the Facebook page Duggar Family News: Life Is Not All Pickles And Hairspray, and the discussion boards at Free Jinger — a site literally named for the fantasy of helping Jinger Duggar “escape” her family — all serve as examples of groups of people who might list the Duggar family as an “interest” but perhaps not as a “like.”
How much, then, does this audience drive the Duggar brand?
Some social media posts from the family make it clear that they consider “hate” a positive motivation, such as this one quoting the Bible.
— The Duggar Family (@duggarfam) August 21, 2016
“And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake; but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. Matthew 10:22 (KJV)”
This seems to indicate that the Duggar family believes the opposition to their fame is because of their faith, a widespread attempt to suppress Christianity or Godliness, and that it is their duty to endure.
Comments on their social media seem to support that this is a part of the Duggar family’s appeal for at least some viewers.
“You guys have dealt with this definitely!! The world can be so hateful!”
“There are lots of people who love this family. God bless you.”
“The victory is ours, but it’s not an easy road… we’re hated for His name’s sake… But we win in the end!!”
Thus, perhaps the “haters” do increase the value of the Duggar brand for some fans.
What about the direct value — the monetary value of the show?
Obviously, when it comes to ratings, one view is one view — it doesn’t matter whether the viewer is cheering Michelle Duggar’s parenting, or shaking their heads at the idea of Jessa slipping off to have her wedding kiss in private because it was her first kiss.
Whether you’re rooting for one of the Duggar daughters to run away and get a college degree or starry-eyed at the sight of Jinger Duggar explaining the rules she and Jeremy Vuolo maintain for their courtship, all viewers sell the same to advertisers.
In that sense, it could be said that Duggar haters drive the brand.
Here, though, is where the “but” comes in.
What have serious Duggar detractors done?
While snark-viewers might result in more people watching the show than if only true Duggar fans were watching Counting On, it’s the folks who have truly opposed the Duggar family’s public influence that have been at the front of the action to remove sponsors. A Facebook group was formed to coordinate efforts by people who wanted the Duggar family off the air. The members sent messages to hundreds of companies, saying that Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar had endangered their daughters by keeping Josh Duggar in the home. They asserted that the daughters were taught, in the Duggar family’s homeschool lessons, to blame themselves for being attacked. These Duggar — can we call them “anti-fans” perhaps? — told corporations that to advertise on Counting On would be to support child molestation, and would turn away business.
“We stopped running our advertising in the show as soon as news of this issue arose.”
“….we do not plan to advertise on any specials that TLC may launch.”
“…previously removed all commercials from 19 Kids and Counting. We have also alerted the appropriate personnel about this new upcoming program.”
In other words, the haters made things happen. Yes, the show is still on the air. There are still advertisers. However, the viewers who oppose the Duggar worldview and want to prevent the family from having a television platform on which to promote it have actively pressured companies to say no to more sponsorship.
In the long run, what is the overall effect of the Duggar anti-fans on the Duggar family brand? They may drive fans to be more fervent and defensive, but at the same time, they have brought certain activism — like Michelle Duggar’s anti-transgender robocall — to light that perhaps ardent fans were not aware of, and have made large corporations consider whether this is a positive association for them.
It would be to each viewer to decide whether eventually driving the Duggar family off of television would be a positive impact, and it’s clear that it isn’t an impact that has been reached. However, the Duggar family’s vocal detractors may just be the driving force that does achieve that goal.
[Image via TLC/YouTube]