Okay, okay, okay okay, okay, OKAY! After hundreds of emails and gnashing of teeth and beseeching of gods both mono and polytheistic, I give in. You’ll finally get what you have been asking for: MY OPINION OF THE JON AND KATE GOSSELIN SITUATION.
I am oddly well-suited for this task, not just because the Gosselins in all their glory were very much like my Mormon cousins, packed to the attic insulation with kids in nondescript McMansions. No, the weird thing is this: I accidentally watched a shitload of episodes in the years long before all this craziness hit the fan. For season one, I was doing work on the farm for a month, and caught at least three marathons while I was re-finishing the floors. It served so well as background noise that I used it in LA for similar purposes over the next two years.
What’s bizarre is that I don’t even like the show, I only liked watching Jon Gosselin try in vain to hide his barely-contained hatred for his wife – whose haircut I found so violently putrescent that it gave me nightmares. I remember doing Google searches in 2007 for “Kate Gosselin” and “worst haircut ever” and wondering why I was the only person alive who was so emotionally affected by it.
All this to say, here’s my take: Jon Gosselin is somebody who would be fine if it weren’t for this show. Not fine, mind you – he would still have subconsciously loathed Kate, but lacking any serious alternative (combined with genuine love for his kids), he would have muddled on. However, he was ultra-primed to be completely game-changed by fame.
When the windows of American fame, a modicum of power, and the possibility of money are all opened to you, it takes a very special person to remain unaffected by it, and Jon was not that person. He was shown a glimpse of an alternate life, where he could still have some dominion over his children, and also be with a variety of women who actually worshipped him (or the idea of him). No judgment from any of ’em. When that door is opened, many men would rather claw their own faces off with the business end of a weed tiller than go back to their old life.
Plus, Jon is, at heart, kind of a slack ass, fairly crippled emotionally, and not very happy. In essence, the exact wrong match for Kate. And here’s the thing about Kate: being the mother, she gets all the props on god’s green earth for having borne twins and then sextuplets. She goes through organizational quandaries that Jon could only dream of, and she keeps the trains running on time. She is also petulant, whiny, judgmental, and constantly after emotional affirmation that Jon was never going to provide.
In some ways, this makes them the average Generation X marriage writ large: over-functioning wife trying to bark some sense into a motivationally-defunct yet charming husband. I feel like I see it over and over in our culture and by watching other relationships, and not just because I’m obviously projecting.
It might have something to do with our biology – for men, it’s excessively easy to stay 28 years old, well into your late 40s. Video games, endlessly recycled nostalgia, internet jobs, telecommuting and awesome skate shoes ensure your self-curated vitality. But for women, the fertility clock starts getting uncomfortably screwy at 35 no matter what. In Hollywood meeting-speak, they have a “hard out” by 43 no matter what shoes they’re wearing.
And it was the very question of fertility that led to the fall, rise and fall of Jon & Kate, when they both might have fell victim to Oscar Wilde’s admonition that “when the Gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers”. Or better yet, Nathan Arizona: “you just gotta keep tryin’ and hope medical science catches up with you, like Florence and me. It caught up with a vengeance.”
It’s too bad most of us only learn how to be functioning, decent people just as we start getting too old to effortlessly reproduce. But I’ll take it over the alternative: having a million kids when we were too young to stay sane when the bright lights shone.