On Monday, 9.8 million Americans tuned into the otherwise obscure TLC for the season 5 premiere of Jon & Kate Plus Eight. I suspect most could care less about witnessing a normal day in the life of this reality-television family comprised of twins and sextuplets. The ratings were certainly fueled by the tabloid drama currently following John and Kate Gosselin. Rumors of infidelity, verbal abuse and impending divorce have turned this otherwise family friendly show into a reality-based soap opera.
The very next day, however, the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8 outlawing same sex marriage. Rather than following the lead of Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont, Connecticut, and Maine (as well as New York, New Jersey and New Hampshire that are leaning toward honoring gay nuptials), California elected to allow a heterosexual majority dictate and determine the freedoms and protections of a gay and lesbian minority.
These seemingly independent events, to me, reveal the idiocy and hypocrisy of America’s so-called culture wars. On the one hand, those who protest gays and lesbian matrimony cite the “sanctity of marriage” as their primary defense. Opponents profess that America must uphold the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman in order to protect the traditional family. On the other hand, the same folks who would oppose gay marriage, flock to their televisions like drama-obsessed voyeurs to see the octoparents drop-kick one another over tricycles and strollers. Few stop to wonder whether our fascination with Jon and Kate—not to mention the celebrity and financial benefit they derive from us—may in some part contribute to the apparent demise of this particular family.
I point this out neither to castigate or condemn the Gosselin family. I pray they work through their struggles which are particularly common among parents of multiples. But I do believe this reality-show (and its overnight success as a result of the public nature of their personal disputes) demonstrates how heterosexual couples and “traditional families” are failing as a result of our own cultural values and material-driven impulses. And our resistance to Jane walking down the aisle with Paula clearly has nothing to do with how much we value the well-being of the beautiful Gosselin children.
Alas, the show’s success is now predicated on family strife not stability. Thus I suspect our protest against same-sex marriage in California has less to do with valuing the sanctity of families like Jon and Kate, but has more to do with our own levels of homophobia and hate.