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Gosselin Children are a great side-show — but at what cost?

http://elitestv.com/pub/2009/06/celebrity-scales-the-%E2%80%98jon-kate%E2%80%99-sideshow-star-studded-legal-commentary-for-the-celebrity-obsessed

CELEBRITY SCALES: The ‘Jon & Kate’ Sideshow: Star-Studded Legal Commentary for the Celebrity Obsessed

By Matt Semino, ESQ. • on June 26, 2009

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On Monday night’s much hyped episode of TLC’s wildly popular “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” the Gosselins announced that they are divorcing.  Documents to initiate a legal split were conveniently filed in Pennsylvania on the afternoon just prior to the show’s airing which drew a record 10.6 million viewers.  A mutual “agreement” on child sharing arrangements also appeared magically by the show’s scheduled time slot.  Monday night’s episode was the most-watched program ever in TLC’s history and it had the highest ratings for any cable TV show this year.  The episode also broke the record set by the “Jon & Kate” season premiere which brought in 9.6 million viewers.  Even with all of its ratings records and devoted followers, the season five spectacle has had a tacky, carnivalesque quality to it.  Fruitless attempts have been made to masquerade the underlying sadness of the troupe members’ actual lives through illusionary tricks and sparkling costumes.  It is really hard to take this shtick seriously anymore.  The Gosselin’s adventures, filled with gratuitous cross promotions and product placements, are simply not genuine, enjoyable to watch or even believable for that matter.  Anyone who still thinks “Jon & Kate” is a cute depiction of an authentic American family needs to get a reality check on this reality mess.

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Despite stellar ratings, TLC made the surprise announcement that it is placing “Jon & Kate” on hiatus and will resume filming again in August.  The channel claims that the break will give everyone time to regroup and that when the show returns, a new modified schedule will be in place to support the family’s transition.  Is a one month pause even enough for this disaster in the making?  Given the Gosselin’s fragile circumstances, should this circus continue rolling?  If so, what message does that send about the values espoused by Jon and Kate as parents as well as all parties involved in promoting the show?  By continuing to peer at the “Jon & Kate” sideshow, is the public also complicit in enhancing the Gosselin’s notoriety at the expense of their non-consenting children?

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This season’s viewers have witnessed the rapid but predictable deterioration of the Gosselin’s marriage.  While the children are still adorable, Jon and Kate have demonstrated less sympathetic personality traits.  The extensive media coverage of the couple’s crumbling relationship has been replete with rumors of infidelity and petty fighting.  The tension between the two parents has been evident in the tone, body language and emotions that each has displayed during their separately filmed interviews.  Adding to the chaos was an investigation by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor into the show’s possible violation of child labor laws, an allegation that TLC as well as Jon and Kate have vehemently denied.  All of this negative reporting has only further exposed this family’s internal discord and led some segments of the public to look less favorably on the couple, their parental choices and their stated motivations for continuing with the show.

The decision to move forward with filming the Gosselin’s separation process is undeniably an exploitation of a family’s deterioration for financial gain.  Many will chalk this scenario up to the whims of a free market.  While Jon and Kate’s exhibitionist tendencies may give them the resolve to endure this type of exposure, their motivation to keep their children at the center of the public malaise is highly suspect.  These are children who will be experiencing one of the most emotionally vulnerable periods of their lives in front of a camera simply to continue satisfying their parent’s personal and material desires.  Doesn’t it seem odd that any parent would justify this form of invasiveness as a character building exercise or positive life learning experience for their young ones?  That the show is the Gosselin’s primary source of income is also a feeble excuse for these actions.  Just like many other devoted parents do, there are multiple ways to support a family without resorting to such crass forms of exhibitionism.lentini_banner

The legions of “Jon & Kate” fans have responded to critics by claiming that the show brings to light the joys and difficulties of raising children and now possibly even the sensitive issue of divorce.  Many Jon and Kate supporters feel that they can relate to the Gosselin’s experiences, both good and bad, and are even inspired by their story.  Jon and Kate, at this point in time, are relatable to other parents only in so much as they have kids too.  The impact of their tabloid celebrity and new economic status on the family’s personality and life experiences has removed them from the day to day realities of the majority of their audience.  Jon and Kate have undone themselves.  Ultimately, the Gosselin’s have allowed their life to become more of a carnival curiosity than any model of what a cohesive family should follow or aspire to be.

What began as an endearing yet honest account of a young couple confronted with the triumphs and stresses of raising multiples has also morphed into a multimillion dollar business led primarily by Kate.  The “Jon & Kate Plus 8” franchise is now complete with merchandise, best selling books, overflowing book signings at malls, public speaking engagements and repeated tours of the national talk show circuit.  The public can’t seem to get enough.  The commercial success of “Jon & Kate” has even spawned a series of copycat shows centered on families with multiple children thereby creating a disturbing and just plain weird new genre of reality TV.  From statements made during many of their interviews, it is evident that Jon and Kate believe at their core that the opportunities provided to their children as a result of the show are a trade off for the microscopic coverage of their personal lives.  Kate has admitted that she knew this type of scrutiny came with the territory but believed it was worth the benefits her family could derive from the exposure.  While Jon and Kate love and discipline their children in much the same way as other good parents do and should be commended for those qualities, it is their judgment concerning what constitutes positive opportunities for their family and how to attain them that is seriously misguided and damaging.

Although the “Jon & Kate” drama has been a publicity and financial windfall for TLC, its advertisers and the Gosselins, it is obvious that the show’s success has come at a severe cost to the stability of this reality TV family.  The sad story told in this week’s episode is just the tip of the iceberg of the more complex problems to come, particularly those that are legal in nature.  As the couple moves forward with their formal divorce proceedings, difficult questions over child custody, visitation rights, alimony and the division of $10 million worth of marital assets will be debated.  These complicated issues are likely to be battled out publicly between Jon and Kate and their respective lawyers.  If history is the litmus test for the future, most of these battles will even be staged for the cameras.  To be sure, the tabloids and paparazzi will be lurking outside the gates of the Gosselin’s pristine multimillion dollar home just waiting to capture every sordid twist and turn of this ongoing saga.

Ultimately, what has recently emerged from the Gosselin’s circus tent is the evident difference in aspirations and future life goals held by Jon and Kate, exposing the modern rift between a career-minded mom and a stay-at-home dad.  While Jon clearly embraces the financial rewards of his involvement with the show, he is now seeking freedom from the daily constraints and responsibilities of the family and marriage that generated this success.  The weekend prior to the Gosselin’s announcement, he was seen looking for luxury apartments in New York City.  On the other hand, Kate, with burning ambition and drive in her eyes and a somewhat delusional sense of self-importance, is using the show as a platform to become a bona fide television personality.  She is working to symbolize and capitalize on the experiences of a target demographic; mothers with young children and now even single mothers.  The role seems to be a natural fit for her and in a peculiar way she is finding success with it.  Perhaps Kate will achieve new heights in expanding her brand.  It is still too early to tell.  What is clear now though is that Kate has managed to liberate herself from the image of a simple mom raising multiples in suburban Pennsylvania and transform herself into a much more polished, media savvy and jet-setting persona.  Perhaps Kate provides a glimmer of hope to some mothers that they too could become like her some day.  This phenomenon makes sense as Hollywood’s currency has always been its aspirational element.

As it was the cameras that mixed and then baked the ingredients of Kate’s new found celebrity, it seems logical that she would refute claims that those same cameras had anything to do with her failed marriage.
“It’s the next chapter, not a chapter that’s been brought on by our show,” she said. “I believe that it’s a chapter that probably would have played out had the world been watching or not.”

helga_olgaWhatever the real reasons may be for the end of Jon and Kate’s relationship, it is undeniable that their love of the limelight, particularly Kate’s, mixed together with a voyeuristic media circus has exposed the chasms in their partnership and contributed to the downfall of their marriage.  Despite continuous statements by Jon and Kate that they only did the show for their children and that the children remain their number one priority, it was Jon and Kate, not their children, who invited the cameras and the subsequent mayhem into their home in exchange for fame and fortune.  In fact, Jon and Kate have been the primary beneficiaries of the show’s financial success.  The children have simply been the props used to lure viewers in and then keep the reality train moving forward.  The intense interest in the Gosselin family is understandable though.  It is not everyday that the public is able to look into the private home of a multi-racial family composed of a set of twins and sextuplets living in suburban Pennsylvania.  They are definitely different.  With just two boring kids, everyone knows there would be no “Jon & Kate.”

Placing the entire family and now its dirty laundry on public display has become the Gosselin’s livelihood.  The decision to continue with the show is proof that Jon and Kate do not want to bite the hand that feeds them.  Unfortunately, they lack a certain level of introspection necessary to be the positive role models of parenting that many hold them out to be.  Jon and Kate just don’t seem phased by or willing to accept the fact that the show has and will continue to create problems for their family’s life.  While it is an admirable goal for parents to want to provide their children with more material wealth and life experiences than what they may have had, to what lengths should they go to achieve this goal?  Also, where is the line drawn between what a parent is trying to achieve for their own personal gain and societal advancement versus what they are doing solely to promote and protect the best interests of their children?  Jon and Kate have fooled themselves and tried to manipulate the public into thinking these two outcomes are one in the same.  They are not.  While it may not be illegal but should be, it is highly unethical to use children, who have no true decision making capacity, as the tools to generate the primary source of income for a family.  This is particularly so when the basis of the income generation is through the blatant public exposure of those children’s private lives and emotions?  For the Gosselin children, unlike child actors, there is no separation between their real life and their work.  People need to wake up and be reminded that we no longer live in a feudal society where it was important to have multiple children to perform the labor of the fields.

bill_durk_bannerSure, the Gosselin kids now live in a multimillion dollar home with sprawling land to drive around on their motorized miniature cars and play house.  Sure, they have been on all-expenses-paid ski trips and jaunts to Hawaii.  Yes, in this sense, they are very fortunate.  On the flip side, they also now live in a home environment facing the ugly consequences that result from chasing notoriety at the expense of family unity.  Despite Jon and Kate’s public protestations, it becomes hard to believe that all of the free toys, comped vacations and money in the bank can feel as good to possess knowing that the very thing that brought those material possessions into your family is also contributing to its demise.  If the Gosselin children are going to continue to be exploited and exposed to the media storm engulfing their family, they should at least have their future rights to any income earned from their participation in the show and as subjects of the books and products affiliated with the series be legally protected.  What mechanisms, if any, have been put in place by Jon and Kate to ensure that the majority of the funds generated off of their children’s names are set aside and waiting for each of them once they reach adulthood?  This topic oddly never seems to be relevant or an important point of discussion for Jon and Kate or their show.  Perhaps everyone in the Gosselin family is too busy having fun traveling to the next destination to focus on some of the life planning issues that actually matter.

The uncertainty about what the Gosselin’s future will look like and how it will be depicted through their show will likely keep many viewers on the edge of their seats eager with anticipation.  Their scheduled return to primetime in August will undoubtedly be couched in drama and suspense to ensure another TLC ratings record and a flood of advertising dollars.  Now and until that time, the same simple question remains.  Is it all worth it?  At the height of their fame and wealth and just hungering for more, Jon and Kate have answered this question with a resounding “Yes!”  Should we even be surprised?  Absolutely not.  Jon and Kate were aware from the beginning of the murky waters they were jumping into with their children.  They still dove in heads first.  The Gosselin’s attitude and world view are merely a reflection of a value that has come to pervade our society.  Attaining wealth and fame for many is the blinding end goal to be achieved at any cost and no matter what you have to peddle to get it.  In this case, the peddled pieces are the Gosselin children.  The overarching sentiment embedded in this precept is that the negative consequences of the pursuit can be endured as long as the pot of gold is waiting on the other side.  Jon and Kate are the newest case study of those willing to push the boundaries of this interesting sociological development.  We’ll just have to wait and see how their eight children feel about being the test subjects of their parent’s experiment.

Matt Semino is a New York attorney and legal commentator.  He is a graduate of Columbia Law School, Cornell University and is a Fulbright Scholar.
Follow Matt Semino on Twitter: @MattSemino
Contact Matt Semino at Matt@MattSemino.com

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June 28, 2009 - Posted by | Gosselin, Gossip, Greed, human rights, Reality TV | , ,

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