For nearly a decade now, the Duggars have served as TV’s most high-profile representatives of a certain segment of the US population.
Television execs rarely seek out arch-conservative, evangelical middle Americans when they’re casting reality shows, but the Duggars found a way to secure a massive platform for their highly controversial views.
In a sense, they snuck their beliefs in through the backdoor.
At first, it wasn’t the Duggars extremist views that TLC was interested in, but rather their proclivity for breeding.
After a one-off documentary special generated controversy and attracted higher ratings than expected, the Duggars were contracted for a full series.
Originally entitled 17 Kids and Counting (the Duggar brood would eventually balloon to an astonishing 19 children), the show proved to be a surprise hit for the network, and it ran for 10 seasons before being canceled as a result of public outrage over the Josh Duggar sex scandals.
It’s a testament to the popularity of the show that TLC proved reluctant to cancel it amidst a child molestation scandal, and then gave the Duggars another shot with a spinoff series entitled Counting On.
Of course, from Octomom to the Bates family of Up TV’s Bringing Up Bates, large families are not in short supply, but none has captured viewers’ imaginations quite like the Duggars.
The reason for this seems to be that their shows are less about the size of the family, and more about the devoutly religious–some would say cult-like–way in which Jim Bob and Michelle raise their children.
It’s safe to assume that were it not for their ultra-conservative views, fans likely would have lost interest in the Duggars long ago.
Some “hate-watch” to gawk at bizarre dress codes and “courtship rules,” while others take copious notes in hopes of pursuing more godly lives.
But the head honchos at TLC likely aren’t interested in the reasons that viewers keep tuning in, so long as the ratings hold steady.
Of course, these days, most Americans are savvy enough to know that “reality TV” is a misnomer, and the events depicted in shows like Counting On are frequently scripted and staged.
It’s impossible to determine just how inaccurate our impression of the Duggars is, but it’s a certainty that not everything we’ve seen on their various series is true to life.
We at THG have conducted interviews with former associates of the Duggars who spoke of behind-the-scenes conflicts, compulsive spending, and other aspects of life on the Duggar conduct that are carefully hidden from public view.
With a few notable exceptions–the Josh scandals being the most obvious–the Duggars have done an impressive job of sweeping the more unsavory aspects of their lives under the carpet.
As their children grow up and leave the nest to start families of their own, however, new cracks seem to appear in the family’s carefully-constructed facade every day.
And the situation has left some fans wondering if the Duggars are really as conservative as they seem.
The questions began around the time that Jinger Duggar started wearing pants in photos posted to social media.
As fans of the family know, Duggar women are required to wear long skirts at all times, even when playing sports or engaged in other outdoor activities.
Jinger’s public act of defiance was seen by many as a brazen rejection of the values with which she was raised.
Seemingly inspired by her younger sister’s example, Jessa Duggar began wearing pants shortly thereafter.
Just last week, Jill Duggar mounted a minor rebellion of her own, sporting a small facial piercing on Instagram.
Obviously, these are all very tame and innocuous acts of disobedience, but coupled with other indications that the younger generation is more liberal than expected–Ben Seewald’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement being a prime example–the sisters’ public rejection of their well-known dress code raises a lot of questions about just what the Duggars believe.
Jim Bob Duggar has worn many hats over the years, but for the past decade, he’s been first and foremost a media mogul.
He has a keen sense of what sells and what viewers want from him.
He also knows that it’s his family’s extremist belief system that keeps viewers coming back, not the astonishing size of the Duggar clan.
To be clear, the Duggars are almost certainly far more conservative in their religious and political views than just about any other family on television.
But it seems more and more as though they’re concealing their more moderate views for the sake of preserving their public image.
Watch Counting On online for more from reality TV’s most famous family.