The Only Duggar Spinoff That I’d Watch

by Nicole Plyler Fisk

June is National LGBT Pride Month, and TLC has yet to make a decision about the future (or not) of its hit show 19 Kids and Counting. Josh Duggar, who recently resigned as Executive Director of Family Research Council Action, has spent the past two years lobbying against LGBT rights, among other conservative causes. From suggesting that marriage equality will destroy the American family to fighting against anti-discrimination bills designed to protect the LGBT community, Duggar’s ethos as the “Face of Faith and Politics” has crumbled in light of a molestation scandal.

On May 21, In Touch Magazine published police reports from 2006 that detail an investigation against Duggar, who was accused of (and subsequently confessed to) molesting five underaged girls, some of whom are his sisters. While we should no doubt offer words of support to these (and all) victims of sexual abuse, and respect their privacy accordingly, we should also — as Alexandra Petri argues in The Washington Post — ”start pushing back against” an ideology that privileges a son’s reputation over a daughter’s safety; that equates one’s worth with one’s “purity”; and, I would add, that maligns families like Zach Wahls’s by wrongly suggesting they’re inferior to traditional families.

The best way to push back is to demand that The Learning Channel cancel the show, which — in a touch of irony — filled the time slot left vacant by Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, another popular “reality” show that was cancelled when the family matriarch began dating a convicted child molester. Fans of 19 Kids and Counting will argue that the situation is different — that Duggar was only 14 and 15-years-old (never mind the fact that, even at this age, he fits the medical definition of a child molester); or, that he made “mistakes,” turned back to God, and is consequently cured (never mind the fact that he initially received no professional treatment — which not only did a disservice to his victims but also to him).

For these reasons alone we should demand the show’s cancellation. But, if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we should have demanded the show’s cancellation even earlier — in solidarity with the LGBT community. We should have said “no” to 19 Kids and Counting when Josh capitalized on the success of the show by scoring a position with FRC, which has been designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center — or, more recently, when Michelle joined her son’s campaign against an anti-discrimination bill by recording a robocall that compared transgendered people to pedaphiles.

While the Duggars are free to think and preach whatever they like, we — as the viewing public — do not have to sponsor them financially. In fact, I would argue that we have a moral obligation not to do so. 19 Kids and Counting has made the Duggar family wealthy and influential, and they’ve used that wealth and influence to become political players. See, for example, their 2012 video “19 Reasons and Counting to Vote for Rick Santorum.” There is something particularly noxious about watching children who are much too young to vote pledging to support a presidential candidate because he’s promised to secure our borders and has an A+ rating from the NRA.

We should have responded by voting “no” with our remotes years ago — because TLC is supposed to be the learning channel, not the propaganda channel.

Unsurprisingly, the Duggars are fighting hard against cancellation by encouraging their fans to contact the network and “make your voices heard.” Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar have scheduled a Fox News interview with Megyn Kelly for Wednesday night. And, according to rumors, TLC is considering a spinoff featuring daughters Jill Dillard and Jessa Seewald, and their respective husbands.

Here’s the problem: Jill and Jessa are devotees of the same branch of archaic, conservative Christianity as their parents. We felt culpable when we realized that we’ve promoted, through our viewership of 19 Kids and Counting, a patriarchal system that is dangerously sexually repressive; that first ignores female accounts of victimization and then responds inadequately once they’re (of course) repeated. I, for one, am not interested in promoting, though my viewership of a “Jill and Jessa” spin-off, that same patriarchal system with only different key players.

The only Duggar spinoff that I would be willing to watch would be one in keeping with The Learning Channel’s namesake: Episodes might include:

the Duggar girls take a gender studies class at a state university

the Duggar boys take a gender studies class at a state university

the Duggar kids read the Harry Potter series

the Duggars study the Living the Questions progressive Christian curriculum

the Duggars hang out with __________ (fill in the blank: Zach Wahls, Bill Nye, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, etc.)

Because here’s the thing: “secular” America has let the Duggars into their homes and has seen them humanized. We can understand and disagree with the Duggar family’s ideology while enjoying the cute kids, empathizing with the family when they grieve (e.g. over Michelle’s miscarriage), and appreciating all those moments in the universal human experience, like young love, that play out on screen.

We’re only interested in a spinoff if they’re willing to offer the same courtesy to us, to learn about different ways of seeing the world in a way that humanizes rather than demonizes. The Duggar kids should be able to choose differently from their parents without fear of losing their parents’ love, ruining the family image, suffering eternal damnation, etc. Granted, they should also be able to choose similarly to their parents, but the key word is “choice.”

My wish for the Duggar kids is that all of them will be free, sans television camera, to explore and experience the world more fully, that they’ll become “pro-choice” in the most basic sense of the word, and that having the freedom to choose their own way in life will make them more willing to accept and protect the choices of others.

In that spirit, Happy National LGBT Pride Month.