Kate, ‘Octomom’ made their realities

Kate Gosselin of “Jon & Kate Plus 8’’ (left) and “Octomom’’ Nadya Suleman could not resist the reality-show temptation. Kate Gosselin of “Jon & Kate Plus 8’’ (left) and “Octomom’’ Nadya Suleman could not resist the reality-show temptation. (Richard Drew/Associated Press (Left); Nick Ut/Associated Press)
By Mary McNamara
Los Angeles Times / August 19, 2009

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Listening to Kate Gosselin stutter and sniff her way through her recent chats with Meredith Vieira on “Today,’’ it was hard to keep a straight face. Kate doesn’t blame the decision to participate in TLC’s “Jon & Kate Plus 8’’ for the disintegration of her marriage; it probably would have happened anyway.

Really? Your husband would have left you for a Star reporter and/or the daughter of the plastic surgeon who gave you a tummy tuck (free, because it was filmed), even if you had just remained some obscure churchgoing Pennsylvania family with a bunch of kids?

Vieira, meanwhile, nodded, as if the answer made perfect sense, and moved on to other matters. Of which there were plenty, because even as Kate and Jon and Jon’s girlfriends saturated the entertainment media, Fox announced a two-hour special on Nadya Suleman titled “Octomom: The Incredible Unseen Footage.’’ It airs tonight at 8.

Promising, as it does, to illuminate the many pressures and anxieties that accompany the birth of octuplets into a family that already had six young children, Fox should include the following warning label: “BEING THE SUBJECT OF A TELEVISION SHOW IS DANGEROUS TO YOUR FAMILY’S HEALTH.’’

It won’t, of course, because we are in the midst of a crisis of either public health or education. There is nothing in the history of television to suggest that being part of it makes your personal life any easier and plenty to suggest otherwise. Yet people continue to hand over the keys to their homes to camera crews. Are they insane or just not paying attention?

Looking back, it’s easy to see that “Jon and Kate’’ was a mistake from the very beginning. Not for the ratings, not for TLC, not for the bottom line, which enriched the bank accounts of many people, including the Gosselins. Just for the marriage.

Now that the relationship has imploded, the question becomes how real do we honestly like our reality TV? Will our interest in the Gosselins founder now that they have become more ordinary? Cheating husbands are a dime a dozen at the checkout stand, and he’s not even that cute.

The ratings for Suleman’s show should offer a good indication. There is nothing to be learned from the Suleman story, no connection to be made with average parents. She is, mercifully, an anomaly, tempted, perhaps, by the attention society increasingly pays to large-number multiples, but certainly responsible for her own actions, an easy person to judge from afar, to pity or vilify as the mood strikes us. But surely this special is a mistake.

It is all too easy for us to imagine the tensions and anxiety her situation creates, to do the math and realize that Suleman and her children have no chance of surviving except through the kindness of strangers. But that aid rarely comes without lethally honed strings of television attached.

Just ask the Gosselins.

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