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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Has our penchant for turning everything into entertainment finally ended with the backlash against octuplet mom Nadya Suleman?

This Sunday’s Los Angeles Times ran a story with this disturbing headline and blurb:

Publicists for octuplets’ mother quit over death threats

Brentwood couple say they received threatening e-mails and phone calls soon after they began representing Nadya Suleman and set up a website for her.

I say “disturbing” because, of course: death threats? Cripes. I find the whole Suleman saga beyond bizarre and not worth making merry over and understand why some might feel the same way I do, but threatening death to a publicist is no way to express that.
On the one hand, you do have to wonder at anyone who would take the job of representing Suleman, since the vibe almost from the moment the news of her eight babies was announced has been sour. On the other hand, why the hell not? The Learning Channel has a hit (by cable standards, at least) with its Jon and Kate Plus Eight, which, from all appearances (I’ve never seen it), celebrates raising a litter of kids as a lark — or, if nothing else, its existence suggests that a family of extreme multiple births is something worth producing a TV show about.

But it seems there’s something of a backlash developing around Jon and Kate, too. It feels to me like only a few years ago, the octuplet mom and the obvious train wreck of her life would have been turned into grand spectacle by our mass media, and it would have been gobbled up by audiences. It feels to me that today, however, that’s not going to happen.

Has our penchant for turning everything into entertainment finally ended with the backlash against octuplet mom Nadya Suleman? Have we finally sickened of train-wreck “entertainment,” and does this signal an end to the more mean-spirited of reality shows?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)

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  • bitchen frizzy

    Death threats are becoming commonplace with the anonymity of email and blogs.

    Any publicized event that touches on a social issue will generate death threats, and they come from all over the social and political spectrum. There’s no end of people who believe that their cause is right so ends justify means, and it’s pretty quick and easy to fire off an anonymous death threat.

    –“Have we finally sickened of train-wreck “entertainment,” and does this signal an end to the more mean-spirited of reality shows?”

    No, and no.

  • JasonJ

    I think the backlash stems from the current economical times. With all the bailouts and hardships, both real and perceived, her timing if just bad. Had this happened 4 years ago, her timeslot would be right between Jon & Kate plus 8 and Little people, Big world.

    My immediate reaction to Soleman was disdain, and that was before we all found out she is a social parasite. I repulsion only grew upon hearing she had no means of income and was paying for babies with saved up disability money. The doctor that accommodated it is even worse, he should be disciplined at least. I am not surprised the publicist is threatened, she is sticking up for someone who has selfishly made one bad decision after another, and the tax payer gets to pay as usual.

    I am hoping this personal invasive-tainment will end. I don’t watch any of it, I could care less about the artificial lives for profit that these shows are.

  • the rook

    a more cynical person might conclude that there were no death threats, and that suleman and her pr people cooked up the scheme to gain attention when it became clear that there wasn’t going to be a teevee deal nor any sponsorships.

    people do lots of stupid things to get attention and make money. risking a complicated pregnancy with multiple births would not be far down on the list of dumb things someone might do for attention and/or money.

  • Bmcd

    The answer to your question is “probably not”. Reality TV still seems alive and well judging by the new ones I see advertised nearly every week. The whole dismal mess is fairly bizarre and was morbidly fascinating for a few days… no longer however. The backlash against the mother was indeed inevitable in this economic downturn. The mother seems a bit on the disturbed side. I hope fervently that California CPS will be keeping a weather eye on these children.

  • Bill

    I think that maybe the novelty of these train wrecks has worn off a bit and we may on the downslide in the cycle (like everything else these days:). I don’t pay much attention, though. I may not know what I’m talking about. It just seems like the train wreck market has been flooded and there are fewer new train wrecks emerging with each new season. Again, I don’t have any numbers. Just an impression. My guess is that it will amp back up as soon as someone makes a breakthrough in tastelessness.

  • Hey, I’ll just step in and defend Jon & Kate, since you said you hadn’t seen it. It’s actually quite a fun show. And they certainly weren’t trying for 8 kids, they had a set of twins, wanted one more kid, and had sextuplets. I don’t blame them for taking the opportunity to make some money off the TLC show and ensure they can provide for their kids. It’s hard enough to pay to raise 1 or 2 kids, especially if you’d like them to go to college, let alone 8. The blog you linked to just seems like so much “jumped the shark” wanking. Clicking around on the outbound links, those people seem a little psychotically obsessed. My favorite bit was the forum for people to bitch about the show and how awful Kate was, but one of the terms of signing up was that you aren’t allowed to bash any other mother. This forum is only for calling one mother a bitch, make sure you’re nice to everyone else! Kinda hypocritical.

    Anyway, the creepy TLC show about way too many kids is “17 Kids and Counting”, which is about the awful, creepy Duggars who keep on having kids because they think that’s what God wants them to do, and are now, in fact, at 18 kids, and will be trying for 19 as soon as they can. And all of the kids have names starting with “J” for some reason. And the oldest just got married off and proudly talked about how he had never so much as kissed his wife before the wedding. And presumably they’ll be attempting to pump out some grandkids as soon as possible, because all women can do is be baby factories.

  • joey

    Wow, count, sounds like they’re well on their way to becoming the Tleilaxu.

    In any case, the answer sadly is no. People don’t care as much anymore because it doesn’t quite give the same feeling of smug superiority and schadenfreude when you’re in a bad enough position. But that doesn’t mean we’ve been cured.

  • I can answer this question with one word: No! The 24 straight hours of plane-crash coverage we just got (complete with horrifying graphics) proves that.

  • Althea

    Agreed, this will not stem the tide of trashy reality TV, as long as there is cable and UHF. But “Jon & Kate” seems to me a bit of serendipity. They weren’t angling for sextuplets, they’re both intelligent, presentable and engaging people who already had the resources to take care of a family, and putting together an entertaining show demonstrates that they’re smart enough to turn a potential strain on their resources into a win-win for everybody.

    I think the Octuplets backlash reflects an upending of the situation. After the first curiosity and then shock at all the details that came pouring out, We have realized that we are in a lose-lose situation. Granted, only the people of California will be obliged to pick up the slack in caring for the kids (and their mother, whatever her “plans”), but in the greater scheme of things we all lose. We can’t turn away from this thing and let her stew in her own juices because as upright citizens we have to stick up for the innocent kiddies.

    The manufacturers of baby and children’s goods are without doubt already providing freebies for thousands of multiples across the country, and they can’t avoid this batch either. She’ll never be able to afford them regardless of what degree she imagines she’ll attain while raising them. (Of course you can tell I don’t think she’ll ever do it.) Dozens, if not hundreds, of volunteers will be obliged to help with the work – including the nurturing, cuddling, and bonding they need. (Hmm.) People all over the country will feel obliged to send in money to funds that I hope will be used for the kids – especially the special-needs kids she already has, with the likelihood of special needs arising from the octuplets.

    She really does convince that she believes she’s good for all this, but she’s either dreaming or in serious need of psychiatric help. And that’s the nail in the coffin of our resentment.She doesn’t give us a heartwarming “we were so desperate to start a family” story, her current living conditions are pretty off-putting. Nadya’s off in her dream world, and we’re not getting any entertainment out of it.

  • Paul

    If the populist wing of the GOP took over, I could envision their fear of White America being overrun leading them to pay women to have more children, and tweaking the qualifications to make sure the right women got the jobs. Professional motherhood.

    I remember a religious family just down the street from where I grew up. Nine boys and two girls. I avoided them as a kid because a couple of the boys were bullies, but the girls grew up a couple of sweet, pretty Baptists. I sort of double dated them with a friend until the one I liked said she wanted to marry a minister. That put the Amen on our relationship.

  • JasonJ

    My grandmother had pumped out 16 head of kid, and the stories my mother has are horrific. That is with a generation where they lived on a farm and were almost fully self sufficient. I hate to say it, but it is irresponsible to have that many kids these days. In my fragile mind, it is far better to give a few kids a great upbringing than a lot of kids a mediocre to poor upbringing. Whatever, I had my 1 kid, I have propagated the species, she is almost 18, and I secretly pray she doesn’t have any kids. Not in this world.

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