there’s what’s right and there’s what’s right

10/18/09

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.

12 thoughts on “there’s what’s right and there’s what’s right

  1. LFMD

    This is MY KIND OF POST! Can we talk about the Balloon Boy tomorrow???
    I have watched every episode of this show. I love it. I love the little family, I love the kids, and I was rooting for Jon and Kate. It breaks my heart to see this lovely little family show that my daughter and I watched together turn into “Breaking Bonaduce.” Ugh.
    While I don’t agree with everything you said, (I for one LOVE Kate’s hair), I think you hit the nail on the head when you said:
    >>However, he was ultra-primed to be completely game-changed by fame.<<
    So true! How else to describe the quick reversal from the renewal of marriage vows in Hawaii to the diamond-studs-in-the-ears, Ed-Hardy-shirt-wearing, hanging-out-with-Michael-Lohan Jon that we now see in the news.
    I mean, he was some middle-management IT guy when the show started. Escaping his crazy home life to go to work each day. He probably had a cube just like me. Now, he fancies himself to be a suave globetrotting celebrity/clothing designer. It is as if his mid-life crisis is being lived out in front of all of us.
    I don’t really like the backlash against Kate. So many times I hear, “she was mean to him, he was hen-pecked, she emotionally abused him.” I don’t see it that way. When you have 8 kids to take care of each day, someone needs to make sure things get done. So she was short-tempered with him sometimes. I would have been too! Think of all the diapers, bottles, laundry, the crying, the doctors visits,etc that they have been through. It is enough to drive a sane person mad. Plus, I never got the impression that Jon HATED Kate. The two of them were under an incredible amount of stress taking care of and providing for 8 kids. Yes, they bickered, but there were also moments of laughter and fun and love.
    What saddens me the most about the trajectory of this show is how it has unraveled at the exact time when things should have been going swimmingly for the family. When we first met Jon and Kate, they lived in a cramped house and could not pay their bills. They were overwhelmed and overstressed. They agreed to the show, which provided financial security for the family and opened up a world of opportunities for the family (trips, vacations, etc.). By all accounts, the children enjoyed the show, and the arrangement was agreeable for everyone.
    The children are now at the point where they are all attending school. I don’t know about all of you parents out there, but the infant to pre-school age years were the hardest. It is so easy for the parents to lose themselves in the sheer unending demands of caring for a baby: bottles, nursing, diapers, potty training, dr. appointments, wiping of butts, bathing, etc. Imagine that times EIGHT. The children are now somewhat self-sufficient and spend their days in school. The family was financially secure thanks to TLC and the show (which only taped 2 days a week). If Jon and Kate had made it through all of that, this would have been the time when they could have re-grouped and spent more time as a couple. However, everything imploded instead of improved.
    On one of the recent episodes, it was the first day of school for the sextuplets. Kate and Jon were both there to see the kids onto the bus, but they did not speak or spend time with each other. Kate said something to the effect of “the saddest part was that there was no one to turn to and say ‘We did it.'” I cried because I could completely understand what she meant! Their little family had made it out of the woods, but the woods burned down in their wake.
    And now, the show is over, the family is broken, financial security is gone (will Jon go back to working IT? Kate go back to being a nurse?), and I don’t think they will be able to pay the mortgage on that lovely, private new house of theirs. I don’t even know who to blame. . . but I think you were exactly right about Jon being ready to be game-changed.

    Reply
  2. Schultz

    I never planned on watching it unless I was flipping channels and found it. Then I would get sucked into watching 5-6 episodes out of pure curiosity.
    As LFMD says- it was touching (at first) to see them lean on each other to get through difficult days. As the money, fame and security crept in, they relied less on each other and more on the cameras.
    Sad ending….but then again it was a “reality” show. I suspect both of them have serious regrets about doing the show given how it turned out.
    As for balloon boy, I said “something’s up” to my wife the minute I saw balloon boy’s parents being interviewed. Wacko central.

    Reply
  3. Anne

    I’ve never watched the show and thank LFMD for such a cogent synopsis!
    As for Jon: Google “Dan Kiley” and “Peter Pan”. John aka Peter Pan married a mom figure to run his life and now has rebelled against her.
    /pop psych analysis

    Reply
  4. LFMD

    I have to admit that when Jon pierced his ears and started fooling around with younger women, I blamed him for a lot. Peter Pan! Mid-life crisis fool! But, I harkened back to the older episodes wherein he was the epitome of calm and patience. There were times when Kate would lay into him, and he would respond calmly and in a manner designed to defuse the situation. My own husband would have been screaming right back and/or get in the car and drive off. I think that Jon time and time again would defer to Kate and be passive in order to keep things moving along.
    Jon seemed interested in working as a team up to a point. As Schultz noted, over time, they relied less on each other for support, and more on the cameras. Especially when Jon left his IT job and became the stay-at-home parent while Kate pursued her book deals and speaking obligations. . . he was obviously floundering.
    During one of the last episodes, he told the camera that he was done being the passive partner and was sticking up for himself. . . and he was proud of it. I could not really blame him. I guess that when you have a Dominant/Passive dynamic in place for years, it doesn’t equalize easily. It is just too bad that he and Kate did not get some marital counseling before everything became a crockpot of crazy.
    Truthfully, I think that we all need to give Jon and Kate more credit for hanging in there for so long. There is a high divorce rate among families of multiples, and thanks to infertility treatments gone berserk, there are a lot of families with more kids than financial resources and coping skills. If the show were called “LFMD and Husband Plus Eight”, husband and I would have been divorced somewhere between season 2 and 3. I know our limitations, and there is no way he and I could have coped with the stress and the constant demands of parenting. We would have been at each other’s throats. . .I shudder just to think of it. I think Jon and Kate did a better job than most. Which really makes me sad that they could not stick it out just a little bit longer . . .

    Reply
  5. dean

    Wife and I watched this show back-in-the-day. A few quick thoughts:
    Kate’s hair is stupid. Period. It wouldn’t be that bad if it didn’t have that rooster tail at the crown of her head. I do notice that the rooster tail disappears when she appears on other TV shows.
    Kate was a henpecker — if you believe what they show on the TV show. She always gave Jon looks that say “you are a stupid motherfucker” or she was always slapping him when they did their interviews. He really needed to tell her to “get off my fuckin’ back . . . dayum!”
    Kate then writes a book, goes on a book tour, gets more fame and leaves him at home with EIGHT FRIGGIN’ KIDS. He is jealous and she continues to treat him like shit. One of the babysitters probably flirts with him, maybe even imitates Monica Lewinsky one night, and a light goes on his head — I am merely conjecturizing. He becomes a paparrazi-chasing douchebag who frolics with young ladies who won’t give him shit about anything.
    Meanwhile, Kate plays the victim and never acknowledges that her henpecking played some role in the split.
    Ironically, part of the problem was the numerous blows to the head that Kate delivered when they sat on the couch for the cameras while it was (again conjecturizing) a nanny’s blow of the head that made Jon’s light go on. Go figure.

    Reply
  6. Salem

    I think it’s time for them to go away.
    At this point they will simply behave as badly as they can AFFORD to behave, until we turn off the TV.
    I’m hoping their fame runs it’s course before the children are permanently damaged. I don’t want to find them huffing paint behind the middle school gym, with an iPhone full of old party pics with the Disney stars.

    Reply
  7. ms four

    “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.”
    Quit spying on me!

    Reply
  8. LFMD

    Kjf – I love Kate’s hair . . .on her! She is a pretty woman and the style suits her! Did you guys see Kate during the first season? That hair has come a long way!
    So I am watching the show right now, and TLC is advertising it as “one of the few special episodes remaining.”. They are also pimping a new show under way called “12 at the Table” or Party of 12 or some such . . . Yet another family with many multiples, this time with a child with special needs. Kind of turns my stomach to think what is ahead for these folks .

    Reply
  9. Salem

    Craighill- The only thing sillier than me having an opinion about Jon and Kate, is that my only exposure to them comes from the CNN.com home page!
    cnn.com’s home page “Latest News”, averages 2 Jon and Kate headlines per day!
    I even have a problem with Kate’s hair from my CNN exposure.

    Reply
  10. craighill

    salem – u may want to change home pages. i have yet to see any jon/kate references on espn.com and i know you like sports, so….
    speaking of sports – john henson is the real deal.

    Reply
  11. Sean

    Craighill, why do you have to be suck a …
    What’s that you say? Henson is the real deal?
    I… I feel like we’ve been very good friends for a long, long time!

    Reply
  12. jen

    why are gen x husbands motivationally defunct? i’ve met quite a few…it’s heart-breaking actually. in your line of work did you bypass the gen x career trajectory? gen x men have it pretty rough. i know what i went through in my nearly 20-year stint as a bureaucrat. it was much worse for the xmen.
    but, about jon. did you hear that interview where he said kate wouldn’t let him talk to his mother? this marriage had some really complicated issues. kate overcompensated for his lack of whatever. my 5-cent Lucy psychology sez that she sought to control EVERYTHING b/c she felt so out of control with him. Like she sensed he wasn’t completely sold out to her and those eight kids. this is what women do when we know someone isn’t fully present in the relationship. we control, control, control to keep the house of cards from falling. i think they both have a lot to answer for, but honestly, i think kate’s demons are easier to wrestle. the biggest culprit of jon’s emasculation appears to be jon-the-boy. i truly feel terrible for him – more so than for kate.
    that paragraph about her hair is hilarious. thanks for commenting on this. i bet it was painful for you. hahahaha!

    Reply
  13. CM

    “the diamond-studs-in-the-ears, Ed-Hardy-shirt-wearing, hanging-out-with-Michael-Lohan Jon that we now see in the news.”
    Yes, yes, yes, LFMD! I never watched the show, but this guy really loves himself, doesn’t he? Bleah.

    Reply

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