While scrolling through my Facebook news feed the other day, I came across a post from a Christian friend wondering why people were so angry with the Duggar family and petitioning to end their Television show. This question puzzled me. “How could they not know,” I thought. While I continued and read the comments, it became clear to me that these people genuinely don’t understand. I suddenly realized that all of the pushback against religion, the outrage over homophobia, the revulsion to conservatism … is just noise to them. They really don’t get it. On the off chance that I might be able to catch their attention, I thought I would do my part in trying to explain.
If you haven’t heard about the Duggar family, they are an ultra- conservative American family with a television show called “19 Kids and Counting.” That’s right, 19 and counting, and that’s just the beginning of what makes this family unusual. You see, the Duggars are fundamentalist Christians (not unusual yet, keep reading), and the ways in which their values manifest in their behaviour has led to the adoration of many fans; who uphold them as the ideal picture of a Christian household. For example, none of the kids can go anywhere, with anybody, unless a sibling tags along as a chaperone to make sure they don’t do anything contrary to their values (ie: kissing). They are only allowed to “side hug,” so that there genitals do not line up with the person they are embracing (this applies to family as well as non-family). Instead of dating, they have to engage in courting. Courting involves interviews with both the parents and the family as a whole, to determine whether or not the prospective pair will be a suitable match. Once officially courting, all rules concerning physical contact must, again, be observed and enforced by a chaperone (no kissing, side hugs only, etc). Yes, the Duggars are unusual, but that’s not what I wish to talk about today. This family has come under fire recently for their homophobia, and as happens with these things, there is now a rather large petition calling for TLC to cancel the show.
Now, I wasn’t surprised to discover that the Duggars are homophobic. With values like theirs, I would be stunned into a coma if they weren’t. I was shocked, however, when I learned that Michelle Duggar (the matriarch) went to the trouble of recording transphobic robocalls, and sending them throughout her Arkansas community. Then came the already-infamous Facebook incident, where the Duggars asked the public to submit pictures of couples kissing … could they really not foresee what was going to happen? Same-sex couples started submitting pictures … and the Duggars started taking them down … and everybody got upset. Add to that their insistence and firm stance on this ever since, and you have a big mess in which progressives and conservatives are at each other’s throats.
So why the outrage? People in positions of power, oftentimes religious power, make homophobic statements and spread hate everyday. Why target the Duggars? Well, while it’s true that people in positions of power demonstrate bigotry everyday, the Duggars are a unique case. This large family has managed to do what no other “reality tv” family has. When we watch the Robertson family on “Duck Dynasty,” we see the embodiment of some qualities the religious right loves, and other qualities that appeal to many non-religious people. Outrage was sparked over Phil Robertson’s homophobic remarks, but criticism of his praying at the end of every episode was short-lived, and many people still watch the show. In “19 Kids and Counting,” we see something truly unique: The embodiment of everything the religious right holds dear, and everything the secular world is disgusted by. It’s not something for everybody with the Duggars, it’s everything for some and mental ipecac for others. You may be able to overlook some things about the Robertson’s and still enjoy “Duck Dynasty.” I haven’t yet met a person watch an episode of “19 Kids and Counting” and not have strong opinions to express afterward. Never before have we seen a family inspire so much emotion on such extremely opposite ends. In this case, an old cliché is true. You either love them or you very strongly dislike them, and although the outrage was sparked by homophobia and transphobia, the reasons for that love and dislike go much deeper.
I don’t think we dislike the Duggar family for what they have done (and continue to do), although what they do is disturbing, dishonest, and troublesome at best. We dislike them for what they represent, and what they represent is precisely what the religious right loves them for. Phobic and fear-mongering as they are, this family represents what is demonstrably wrong with the world. They run their lives by archaic religious principles and use their positions of influence to push those ill-informed values onto everybody else (ie: the robocalls and every other form of publicity they can get). This insistence on enforcing one’s values on the rest of us is precisely what has caused so much inequality and division in our society. The core problem with religion is that it is exclusionary. It is counter-productive to the unity it claims to value, and the Duggars are a 21-strong unit bent on furthering that cause. Why are they disliked so much? Why is there a petition to cancel their show? Because they represent everything that keeps us from coming together. What they do is a big problem that should be addressed, but what they represent is what upsets us so much. If you are one of the “if you don’t like it don’t watch it” crowd, consider this: 21 people can do a lot of damage. 21 people with a TV show can do even more damage. I’m not concerned with the effect that watching their show may have on my own sensitivities, I’m not that selfish. I’m concerned with how they are effecting others, how they are influencing pop culture, and how the ripple-effect is going to play out as it ruins even more lives. I watch because it’s my business. When somebody is hurting others with misinformation and hate, it’s everybody’s business.
As a final note on this, I was actually surprised at Michelle Duggar’s actions in making and sending those transphobic robocalls. That she would go to such an extent just to demonize an already misunderstood segment of the population, is nothing short of disgusting. If I ever get the chance to meet her, I have something to say that I have already said to many phobic evangelicals and fundamentalists. If the Christian God does exist, he’s probably not very happy with you. You may find Jesus leaving you to hold that noose all by yourself.