Recent days have seen an upsurge in outrage against TLC for returning the Duggar family to the airwaves on its network, as TLC ramps up the hype for the shows. Since TLC made the announcement on September 24 that the Duggar family would be returning for two or more specials, protestors have not been shy about voicing their opinions.
The network’s publicity in recent days revolved around the birth of Jessa Duggar and her husband Ben Seewald’s baby, which is the subject of the first episode in the special, Jill & Jessa: Counting On. This has increased attention on the Duggar family from naysayers. TLC has born the brunt of the opposition on its Facebook page.
What would seem to be an innocuous posting announcing the name of Jessa’s baby drew hundreds of derogatory comments about the name choice and the Duggar family in general.
The Duggar family is criticized for hiding and minimizing sexual abuse, for child neglect, for its controversial homeschool curriculum, and for outspoken comments and actions against the LGBT community, Catholicism, and women’s equality.
The TLC specials are supposed to primarily feature two sisters, Jill Duggar and Jessa Duggar, and their lives with their husbands and new baby sons. But the Duggar sisters are not without controversies of their own.
This summer when Jessa was wrapping up an appearance contract with the Southern Women’s Show, the event’s Facebook page had to remove about 200 comments that denounced Jessa and her husband Ben Seewald. For the second scheduled appearance this summer, the event’s Facebook page did not even mention Jessa, though she and Ben Seewald showed up as planned.
Jessa was criticized for making excuses for her sexual abuse as a child by her brother, Josh Duggar, for being set up as a role model though she has little education and no career, and for her desire to do nothing in her life but have 20 children. She was also criticized for marrying a teenager who has no career and whose only work is doing odd jobs for Jessa’s father, Jim Bob Duggar.
By the third scheduled show, Jessa reneged and sent her sister Jinger and her brother Josiah to take her place. She and Ben stayed home and appeared at a baby shower in their honor, which was filmed by TLC for the upcoming special.
Jill Duggar and her husband Derick Dillard have come under sharp criticism for soliciting donations for their missionary activities in an undisclosed location in Central America, while spending most of their time in the U.S. Donors to their newly registered non-profit organization, Dillard Family Ministries, angrily protested the couple’s lack of disclosure concerning their activities and finances. Some people publicly asked for a refund of their donations. Others objected to their presence in Guatemala where the population is 100 percent Christian and most people are Catholics. Their work is viewed by some as an attempt to convert Catholics to Protestantism.
Others have commented that the little time Jill and Derick have spent in Central America looks more like a vacation at a resort than actual missionary work. The couple has posted more pictures of their baby and their meals than of any contact with locals.
So far, none of this appears to have had an effect on TLC’s decision to continue with the special and the first episode is still on the lineup for a December airing. TLC might be operating under the old adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity. However, an online campaign directed at TLC’s advertisers by Duggar family objectors must surely have the attention of network executives.
One report indicates that over 600 sponsors have pulled their advertising from TLC, either from the network or from any show featuring the Duggar family. A Facebook group, “No More Duggars,” keeps a running list of sponsors that opponents can contact and it boasts success in getting hundreds of large advertisers to cancel ads, including Coca-Cola, Fisher Price, Hershey’s Chocolate, Kraft Foods, Maybelline, Payless, Pepsi (Pepsico), Pillsbury, Sara Lee, and Vtech.
Outside of their small circle of Bill Gothard followers and organizations Gothard founded, speaking engagements for the Duggar family have completely dried up. Those appearances at churches, family conferences, and political events were a lucrative source of income and brought in $10,000 to $20,000 per event. The canceled TLC show, 19 Kids and Counting, paid the family tens of thousands of dollars per episode.
Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar, parents of the 19 kids, stated that being on television was an effective way to share their religious beliefs. However, their TV presence started no religious trends, nor did it inspire new followers to their beliefs. Their reality TV series was just one of many featuring the odd and the bizarre that are the staple of TLC’s reality show lineup, such as My Big Fat Fabulous Life (stars a 380-pound woman), Our Little Family (a family living with dwarfism), Sister Wives (a polygamist family with four wives), and the like.
The present effort by TLC to present the Duggar sisters as more mainstream in appeal is seen by critics as a ruse to bring back the Duggar family and its values to the small screen. Detractors point out that the young couples do not represent a new generation of thinking, but a continuing of the same Duggar value system to the next generation.
In a promo, TLC attempts to elicit sympathy for Jill and Jessa Duggar as victims of the press instead of as victims of incestual child sexual abuse which their parents allowed to continue for more than a year. It remains to be seen if TLC will have enough sponsors and viewers to support the new Duggar family special episodes.
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[Image via TLC]