It seems lately that the lines between reality and hypereality are becoming increasingly and inextricably tangled. With reality shows, fictional TV dramas about reality shows, tabloid magazines that report about the real lives of reality stars, and blogs and news outlets reporting about the tabloid coverage of the real lives of reality stars— not to mention, you know, real life… “reality” is becoming quite the relative term.
The recent Jon and Kate Plus 8 media circus is particularly mind-boggling. Ever since Us Weekly broke the news about Jon Gosselin’s affair, the tabloids have been covering the unraveling marriage of Jon and Kate Gosselin, parents of 8 adorable children documented on the TLC show Jon and Kate Plus 8, with frightening fervor. Media attention concerning Jon’s alleged affair with a 23-year-old Reading, Pennsylvania teacher led to affair rumors concerning Kate: apparently, the bodyguard who Kate has hired due to the increased media attention receives more affection from Kate than her own husband, if you know what we mean.
With real-life drama in the magazines and blogs, Jon and Kate have drawn even more viewers to their TLC show, where rubber-necking TV watchers witness first-hand the crumbling marriage they have read about. The premier of the fifth season of Jon and Kate Plus 8 this past Monday drew a whopping 9.8 million viewers— that’s bigger than the Lost premier the night before.
This ongoing tangle of “reality” and reality is a perpetuating downward spiral: viewers tune in, the pressure of the network cameras hurts the marriage in real life, the real-life drama begets real life headlines, the head lines draw viewers to the TV, and even more cameras hone in on Jon, Kate and the eight innocent victims that are their children. And the cycle continues…
Many people (read: bloggers and commenters on the web) have targeted Jon and Kate with scorn— for their respective infidelities, for her temper, for his parental inattention, for both objectifying their children from the outset, for her heinous haircut… the list goes on and on. But the sad fact that stands out from the whole situation is that much the damage done to this family is the result of good (if naïve) intentions.
“We want our kids to have opportunities that we didn’t have growing up, which is why we participated in the show in the first place,” said Jon. The Gosselins are paid $25,000-$50,000 per episode, and in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Kate cited “feeding the kids” and “college” as two reasons the family has kept filming since 2007.
The irony of the situation is clear as millions of Americans watch this family of 10 fall apart. The question is: when will the cameras—both the TV and the paparazzi— stop rolling so these parents can actually do right by their kids… and themselves?