October 17, 2008
New crossovers: 'Fireproof,' Love Dare, Jon & Kate Plus 8
How cool is Christian marriage? Film book, TV series suggest this answer: Very Cool.
Update: Friday, 17 October 2008, noon, cdt
If you follow popular culture, you know that the new feature film, "Fireproof," the related book, "Love Dare," and the TV series "Jon & Kate Plus 8," (and the related new Zondervan title), are hot media properties.
This weekend may be the third in the row that 'Fireproof' makes it into the all-important list of Top Ten grossing films. The plot-device book 'Love Dare' also is topping best-seller lists in the how-to and advice categories. "Jon & Kate Plus 8," broadcast on The Learning Channel with new episodes airing on Mondays, is now in its fourth season. The program follows a couple (who are Christians, but don't make a big deal out of it) as they raise 8 kids.
All three of these media entities are crossing beyond the typical boundaries for a low-budget film, yet another marriage-saver title, or a cable TV show. The one thing they seem to have in common is the obvious reality that:
Keeping a marriage healthy in today's America is near impossible.
But why has the Christian angle on traditional marriage captured the popular imagination? This is the bigger question in my mind. Has Christian marriage come full circle and now become cool enough to be counter-pop cultural? What are the other appealing elements, for example, for a program such as "JK+8"?
Here's what my journalist colleague Corrie Cutrer (now a mom of 2 in South Carolina) had to say on the topic of the Gosslin family in particular:
As a sometimes-harried parent of two young children, I was not initially hooked on The Learning Channel's (TLC) reality show Jon & Kate Plus Eight. My sister, also a young mom, had suggested I watch the program, which features the day-to-day chaos of a couple in their early thirties parenting eight (yes, eight) children as the result of fertility treatments: a set of twin girls (age 8) and four-year-old sextuplets (three boys and three girls).
Yet curiosity occasionally drew me back. Just how, I wondered, would these parents manage to potty training six toddlers?
It also felt a bit comforting to see a fellow mom muddle through the daily tasks of wiping, diapering, feeding, consoling, correcting, and nurturing her children. Like many viewers, I'd think, If they can manage with eight, surely I can with two!
TLC's formula of unveiling this family's life unscripted (marital arguments, toddler stomach viruses, botched vacations and all) may be the secret to the show's success. What began as one of the network's many reality shows has now catapulted to TLC's top program. Two million viewers watch each week, including many who tuck their own kids into bed before collapsing on the couch to watch Jon and Kate Gosselin do the same.
Ironically, the family's ability to engage viewers in the mundane has transformed them into celebrities. The October 13 edition of People magazine includes a sprawling article on the family and their recent trip to Hawaii, where Jon and Kate Gosselin renewed their wedding vows this summer.
Also, a recent episode of the program revealed behind-the-scenes footage of prepping the family for a Good Housekeeping photo shoot. The entire clan will grace November's cover.
Meanwhile, Kate Gosselin, along with coauthor Beth Carson, will release a book this month, Multiple Blessings (Zondervan), that serves as a precursor to what life was like for the Gosselins before taping of Jon & Kate Plus Eight began.
It also reveals what until now only has slightly been observed on their show: the Gosselins are born-again Christians.
Interestingly, even the idea of a book by Kate Gosselin has mirrored the kind of feedback the show itself receives as seen on myriad blogs across the internet. People either love it or strongly oppose it. Some moms can't get enough of Kate Gosselin's no-nonsensical approach to organizing her household and her determination to provide outings and vacations for her bulging brood.
Others disapprove of the tone Kate takes with Jon (like many stressed parents, we see a fair share of eye-rolling and sarcasm between the two of them.) Response to Zondervan's choice to publish Multiple Blessings is no exception. Upon the publishing company announcing its release of the book last spring, bloggers immediately reacted. Some disagree with the Gosselins for allowing their children's lives to made into a television show. Additionally, much of the controversy centers around the Gosselin's complete forthrightness on camera.
"My wife would never treat me with such disdain and disrespect as Kate treats Jon," one blogger wrote. "This goes against everything we strive for in our marriage and family, within our faith and our church. I can't get to how Zondervan thinks that this couple is a good example."
Yet Zondervan is not without support for Multiple Blessings. "I look forward to the book," wrote one blogger. "I think the Gosselins are a loving family that has been fortunate enough have a happy ending to their story."
Their story, as described in Multiple Blessings, reveals details about the early and trying days of Kate Gosselin's fertility treatments (the couple chose intrauterine insemination.) Pregnant for the second time, Gosselin describes the intense pressure their doctor put on them to consider selectively reducing the number of fetuses in her uterus. "They stood the risk of suffering premature lungs, blindness, cerebral palsy, and mental retardation--just to name a few possibilities," she writes of the developing babies. "I realized that I had become a fertility doctor's worst nightmare, and dawn was a long way off."
Gosselin shares her determination to give each baby a chance to survive and how her faith carried her through a brutal 10-week hospital stay as she remained on bed rest in the months leading up to her delivery. She doesn't shy away from revealing the tension created during her hospitalization between her and the medical staff, at times heightened by her own stubbornness.
For the most part, the Gosselins have chosen not to specifically respond to their critics. "Right now, there are so many opportunities for us to repay evil with evil, but we refuse," they write on their website. "It hasn't been easy to keep our mouths shut, but it's what God is asking us to do--continue to overcome evil with good. Things like love, prayers, and kindness instead of retaliation and exposure."
In addition to releasing Multiple Blessings, Jon and Kate Gosselin also have begun speaking at select churches nationwide. In coming weeks, Kate Gosselin will be speaking in Louisiana and in her home state of Pennsylvania.
Kate Gosselin knows she's not perfect, but still believes she and Jon can encourage couples in their marriages and families. "I battled with my insecurities, and every time I'd lose my patience, I'd hear a nasty voice in my head saying I couldn't do it, that only people who exemplify goodness, grace, and gentleness can stand up in front of a crowd as an inspirational speaker," she writes in Multiple Blessings. "That's when I had an epiphany: possibly for the first time in my life, I realized that it was exactly because I wasn't perfect that God was willing to use me."